N1tn petition: Senate Rumbles, Splits Over Lamorde Probe By NIYI ODEBODE AND SUNDAY ABORISADE

EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Lamorde

A fresh crisis looms in the Senate.

Members on Monday appeared divided over the planned probe of the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Ibrahim Lamorde, over alleged diversion of stolen funds recovered from looters.

While the Senate leadership said the probe would proceed as scheduled on Wednesday (tomorrow), members of the Peoples Democratic Party in the upper federal legislative chamber kicked against the probe.

The EFCC boss, according to a petition before the Senate, has been accused of diverting N1tn said to have been recovered from a former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; and a former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun.

The petitioner, Dr. George Uboh, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Panic Alert Security Systems, had petitioned the Senate through the senator representing his Delta North constituency, Peter Nwaoboshi, alleging that Lamorde, in connivance with other EFCC officials, short-changed the Federal Government in the remittance of funds and properties recovered from Alamieyeseigha and Balogun.

The probe of the EFCC boss by the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions has been scheduled to begin on Wednesday (tomorrow).

After an earlier arguments over the propriety of the investigation by the Senate, the PDP senators later in a statement signed by the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio; his deputy, Emmanuel Bwacha; Minority Whip, Philip Aduda; and his deputy, Biodun Olujimi, rejected the planned probe.

The PDP senators’ statement, issued late on Monday, partly read, “It has come to the notice of the PDP leadership in the Senate that the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions would begin a public hearing on Wednesday, August 26, 2015 and the committee has invited the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to appear before it.

“The PDP leadership in the Senate is not against any committee of the Senate performing its oversight duties and or functions but we feel that this is not the appropriate time to embark on the most important assignment, particularly since the same action was mooted and had failed at previous plenary session.

“We therefore urge the committee to suspend its public hearing on this particular matter until further notice.

“The PDP senate leadership reassures the Nigerian public of its support for the war against corruption by the Federal Government of Nigeria but hastens to add that such fight against corruption should be total and not selective.

“Nigerians need peace at this period of economic challenges precipitated by the falling of oil prices and actions that will overheat the polity and generate unnecessary friction between the executive and the legislature should be avoided.”

Our correspondent learnt that there had been a heated argument among senators earlier on Monday with the senior lawmakers divided on the scheduled investigation of Uboh’s petition against Lamorde.

Some members of the committee to probe the EFCC boss were said to have disagreed sharply over the investigation, though the anti-graft commission released a statement to say that the commission under Lamorde feared no probe.

The commission, in a statement by its spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, described Uboh’s petition as mischievous and intended to smear Lamorde.

The statement read in part, “The EFCC as an agency that is founded on transparency is not afraid of any ‘probe’ or request for information regarding its activities by individuals, groups or organs of government; so far as such requests followed due process of law.

“Even if the EFCC had not returned a kobo of recovered assets in its 12 years existence in addition to the yearly appropriated funds from the Federation Account, it will be nowhere near a trillion naira.

“It (the petition) was sent, not to the Senate but to a member, Senate Peter Nwaoboshi, a first-term senator from Delta North.

“Under the Senate rules, petitions meant for consideration by the red chamber are sent to the Senate, not to a member of the Senate.

“Also, petitions meant for the Senate are tabled at the plenary, before they are referred to the relevant committees for further consideration. In this instance, the Senate has been on recess and there is no evidence that the so-called petition was considered at plenary and referred to any committee.”

According to the commission, the   EFCC under Lamorde did not need the prompting of anyone when it commissioned KPMG, an audit firm, to carry out comprehensive audit of exhibits and forfeited assets of the Commission from 2003 to date.

It said that the report of the audit would be made public once it is ready.

The statement added, “Were the Commission to be jittery about its records, it would not have embarked on such audit.

“The EFCC however warns that those who peddle false information with the intent to mislead should be reminded that there is a subsisting law on false information and the consequence for violation is grave.”

Attempts to speak with Akpabio, as of the time of filing this report, were futile as calls made to his mobile phones did not connect while the text message sent to him was also not acknowledged.

A member of the committee, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, explained to one of our correspondents that a motion was sponsored on financial crimes earlier in the month, seeking, among others, the invitation of Lamorde to appear before the Senate.

The senator said that one of the prayers in the motion as it specifically affected Lamorde’s invitation was rejected by the majority of the senators during plenary and that the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, had no option but to rule it out.

He said, “We were however surprised that the probe was channelled through the back door in form of a petition. We had discussed it in our meeting and some of us believe that we should allow the petitioner to seek redress in a court of law.

“If the chairman (of the ethics committee) still decides to go ahead with the invitation of the EFCC chairman, we will have no choice but to write our own minority report at the end of the exercise because we believe it is an issue that could be settled in court.”

But the Chairman of the Senate Ethics Committee, Senator Samuel Anyanwu, told one of our correspondents on the telephone on Monday that there was no disagreement among the committee members and that the probe would go on as scheduled.

He said, “There is no confusion anywhere, we are inviting the EFCC chairman and the man that wrote a petition against him. This is different from the decision taken on the floor of the Senate over a motion.

“Our committee is intact and there is no dissenting voice, we will go ahead with the probe on Wednesday by the grace of God. We have the mandate of Nigerians to discharge our lawful functions as lawmakers; hence we will treat the petition on its merit.”

Also, when contacted, the Senate spokesperson, Dino Melaye, said he was not aware of the disagreement among members of the committee over Lamorde and that the probe had nothing to do with the rejection of an earlier prayer in a motion seeking his invitation by the Senate.

Melaye said, “The rule of the Senate permits its Committee on Ethics and Public Petitions to invite anybody indicted in a petition. It has nothing to do with any resolution of the entire house.

“I am aware that the committee will proceed with the invitation of the EFCC boss as scheduled on Wednesday. A formal letter had been sent to him in that regard.”

The offences alleged against Larmode were said to have been committed when he was the Director of Operations of the EFCC between 2003 and 2007, as well as an acting Chairman of the commission between June 2007 and May 2008.