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AFTERMATH OF BRIBERY SCANDAL:Saving this Senate

Posted by By Emmanuel Aziken, Abuja on 2005/04/19 | Views: 514 |

AFTERMATH OF BRIBERY SCANDAL:Saving this Senate


The tale of Senator Fidelis Okoro with hands on his head bewailing, "We must save Adighije! We must save Adighije! We must save Adighije!" as he ran the stairs of Senator Chris Adighije’s Abuja residence is turning out to be one of the most comical ironies of the unfolding Senate bribery scam.

The tale of Senator Fidelis Okoro with hands on his head bewailing, "We must save Adighije! We must save Adighije! We must save Adighije!" as he ran the stairs of Senator Chris Adighije’s Abuja residence is turning out to be one of the most comical ironies of the unfolding Senate bribery scam.

Senator Okoro, easily one of the most frolicsome characters in the upper legislative chambers, had according to Senator Adighije been brain washed by Senator Adolphus Wabara into believing that, he Adighije, was the central schemer in the bribe-for-budget scam who needed to be saved from the law authorities.

In his testimony before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Adighije narrated how Okoro’s chants of "we must save Adighije," made him realise he was being set up as a fall guy, and hence his chilling confessions of bribery, blackmail and the blackness that enveloped the workings of the Wabara Senate.

As the story of the scam and its consequences unfold, it is now emerging that it is was not just Adighije or Wabara and their fellow indicted colleagues that needed to be saved, but the institution of the Senate.

A body that ordinarily should be the embodiment of virtue, from which the young look up to draw inspirational wisdom, is today at the risk of falling into unneeded disrepute on account of the N55 million bribery scam.

It is not as if this is the first time that the integrity of the Senate would be brought into question.

Allegations of sleaze allegedly involving the lawmakers have been raised in the past.

Tales of extortion of government parastatals, demand for contracts from government institutions that the Senators supervise, non-payment or shortchange of emoluments of their personal staff even when salaries are collected have repeatedly been told.

In the most gripping story to be told before now, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, a minister in the presidency had stunned the nation when in 2003 he accused the deputy Senate President, Alhaji Ibrahim Mantu and the deputy Senate leader, Dr. Jonathan Zwingina of demanding a N54 million bribe from him to enable them demolish the formidable opposition to his nomination as a minister.

That accusation even though the subject of a Senate enquiry, did not turn up any conclusive finding as Mallam El-Rufai could only cite God but no human witnesses to corroborate his story.

However, last Thursday Mallam El-Rufai was upbeat at the national summit on transparency and accountability organised by the Federal Government Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Corruption as he claimed that God had finally come to testify in his favour in his case against Mantu and Zwingina.

"It seems to be, with the greatest respect, that there is a conspiracy of silence within the National Assembly because they believe that all members are equal hence there is no desire to check the misconducts of others.""I believe that legislators have the duty to show strong leadership and encourage the principles of accountability, transparency and openness which no doubt are the necessary ingredients for the survival of democracy."

Observing the failure of the legislative body to show discretion in examining the allegations he raised and his vindication by God, he said:

"The sanity I expected, unfortunately failed to materialise but like everything in life, Almighty God chooses the best time for best things to happen. "What the President has launched currently is a war against a culture of impunity. "When an officer says he will not do his job until you pay him, that is corruption. But when he says I will not pass your budget for education unless you pay me such and such amount, that is impunity and that is the greatest evil that must be fought," Mallam El-Rufai who has himself been dogged by accusations of impropriety in the discharge of his duties at the Bureau of Public Enterprises and in the remuneration of his personal staff said with gusto.

With its immediate past President and four other Senators docked over allegations of collecting bribe to pass the 2005 budget of the Ministry of Education, the reputation of the Senate as a respectable institution of the nation’s most respected persons is at a record low.

Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) speaking at the opening ceremony of the Northern Senators Retreat in Bauchi on April 9, 2005 expressed as much.

In an address laced with sketches of political corruption he said flowed from the presidency, Chief Awoniyi affirmed that the lot of the Senators could not be lower than what it is after the disclosure of the N55 million bribe-for-budget scam.

He said: "What I feel for you today Senators, is sorrow and pity. Not hatred, not anger or rebuke. You are merely the distinguished victims of the flow of spiritual corruption fed into you, individually and collectively and into our institutions of governance by Aso Rock.

"Senators, your credit with the Nigerian populace is abysmally low today. Make no mistake about it, Aso Rock will endeavour to keep your credit perpetually low with Nigerians. It will use its many powerful resources of money and propaganda to make you continue to look very bad in the eyes of your fellow Nigerians."Accept the painful truth that you are down, and that you therefore need fear no fall. Boldly come forward, collectively and penitently, to apologise to Nigeria for your mistakes," Chief Awoniyi said.

Senator Ken Nnamani who was elected to replace Senator Wabara as presiding officer of the upper legislative chambers could not deny that fact last Thursday when he received a delegation of former Senators on a solidarity visit.

"The challenges we have now though serious but not insurmountable and we will like to start by stabilizing the Senate," Senator Nnamani said.

"We want to reposition the Senate in the eyes of the public and all my colleagues are determined that we want to restore that glory," Senator Nnamani told the former Senators.

Earlier that Thursday, the readiness of the Senate to reinvent itself was brought to the fore when it received what was described as an interim report of its Committee on Ethics, which investigated the scam.

Senator Nnamani as a presiding officer cut the image of one caught between the devil and the deep blue sea as he seemingly stood in the cross fire between Senators who wanted a total cleansing through adoption of the Committee’s recommendations and those who did not.

Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora, chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics had given vent to the determination of his Committee to do a good job of its assignment and to ensure that it proposed recommendations in the report. It could be recalled that the same Committee in its investigations into the El-Rufai allegations against Mantu and Zwingina had fall short of making recommendations and thus attracting negative comments from some Senators and a large proportion of the public.

Incidentally, Senator Nnamani before his election was one of those Senators that repeatedly hounded Senator Mamora for that perceived lapse.

Nnamani who sat very close to Senator Mamora in the chamber before his elevation, made life in the chambers a hell for Senator Mamora with taunts that suggested that jobs should not be given to the Mamora led Committee that has otherwise acquitted itself in other non-controversial matters.

The six Senators named in the bribery scam, namely, Senators Wabara, Abdulazeez A. Ibrahim, John Azuta Mbata, Badamasi Maccido, Emmanuel Akpede and Chris Adighije according to feelers from the Committee’s report all face the prospect of receiving some sanctions from the Senate.

Indeed, before the Senate went into the closed-door session last Thursday, Senator Mbata, had taken what several saw as a honourable option by resigning his powerful position as chairman of the much coveted Committee on Appropriation.

Following his resignation and the closed-door session, other Senators named in the scam were reportedly advised to resign their Committee positions, and they all heeded.

During the session, Vanguard gathered that majority of the Senators were inclined towards dropping consideration of the Mamora report on the technical reason that the case had already been taken to court.

The Senators were acting on the basis of order 53 (5) of the Senate standing rules which gives the Senate President the right to stop consideration of any matter which he in his opinion feels may prejudice the judgment of the court.

Order 53 (5) of the Standing Rules of the Senate states that: "Reference shall not be made to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending, in such a way as might in the opinion of the President of the Senate prejudice the interest of the parties thereto."

However, beneath the veneer of paying heed to the rule as Senator Nnamani and several Senators sought to portray, was the dilemma of the Senators in bringing further misery upon their indicted colleagues who two days before, had been arraigned in court over the scam.

Vanguard learnt the Senators were of the opinion that considering the report and giving concurrence to the recommendations contained in it, could give a pointer to the courts that the Senators were culpable.

Besides, the Senators were equally trying to ensure that "double justice" was not slammed on the indicted Senators.

"By acting on the report and applying the recommended sanctions, we would obviously have been applying double justice on them that is if you consider what they are already going through," one Senator confided last week.

The determination of the Senate to drop consideration of the report, however, posed another problem for Senator Nnamani who did not want to be seen as being weak on dealing with corruption. If not by the public, then definitely not by President Olusegun Obasanjo.

It was such consideration, some suggested, that provoked his unease last Thursday.

Though he trudged along with the majority of the Senators in dropping consideration of the report, Senator Nnamani would, however, affirm during the courtesy call on him by the Senators Forum that his leadership would have little tolerance for corruption.

In that direction, the new Senate President said that Senators would from henceforth not be allowed to solicit assistance from government agencies in the course of their duties. Though the badge of indignity on the Wabara Senate flowed directly from the education budget bribery scam, other recent malfeasances including the request for assistance from the Central Bank for the conduct of a public hearing on the CBN act by Senator Ambuno Zik Sunday, the chairman of the Banking Committee have received equal public condemnation.

"We will be strengthening the chairmen so that people will take them seriously and not as nuisance and we are trying to see when we can make our Senators not to ask parastatals to pay for their airfare anywhere.""We will make sure that the Committees are properly funded so that any Senator who goes to plead for air ticket is being a nuisance on his own not because he doesn’t have the money but he wants to extort money and he will pay for it dearly," Senator Nnamani said.

It is not as if the Senators needed to be told much on the matter not after the Tuesday docking of Senator Wabara and four of his colleagues indicted over the scam.

If Senator Adighije who came round to proclaiming the truth no matter how ugly it is could be saved, the Senate as an institution could well be saved. But it must take up Chief Awoniyi’s injunction, tell the truth and it shall be free.

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Fay(Katy, Texas, US)says...

Actually translates to bravehearted.