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From Madu Onuorah (Abuja) and Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia) AMID protests from political parties, the legislature and supposedly 'indicted' candidates, the Administrative Panel of Inquiry on Alleged Corrupt Practices by Certain Public Officers and Other Persons yesterday presented its findings to President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja.
From Madu Onuorah (Abuja) and Gordi Udeajah (Umuahia)
AMID protests from political parties, the legislature and supposedly 'indicted' candidates, the Administrative Panel of Inquiry on Alleged Corrupt Practices by Certain Public Officers and Other Persons yesterday presented its findings to President Olusegun Obasanjo in Abuja.
Receiving the report from the panel's chairman, who is also the Solicitor-General of the Federation and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Justice, Prof. Ignatius Ayua at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Obasanjo pledged that his government would remain committed to ensuring justice for every Nigerian.
The committee was set up by the Federal Government at the instance of a finding by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which posted a damning report on the candidates from across the major political parties.
The panel's sitting was shunned by most of the 'blacklisted' politicians in compliance with the directive of their political parties, which described it as a "kangaroo body." They alleged a plot by the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to use it to disqualify their candidates who have an edge over their PDP counterparts in the April general elections.
But the President may have allayed such fears yesterday when he said that the "government believes that everybody who is alleged to have breached the Code of Conduct and alleged to have indulged in corrupt practices must be given an opportunity to have the allegation corroborated, supported or denied with sufficient evidence."
Obasanjo said "justice must not only be done but be seen to be done."
He assured the committee that the Federal Government would establish a panel to produce a White Paper on its findings before a final decision is taken on them.
Earlier, Ayua said the government's emphasis on the clean-up of the public space had impacted positively on the national attitude to public service and improved political and financial transparency.
Other members of the panel were Mr. Ad'Obe Obe (Senior Special Assistant to the President on Servicom), Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) Tunde Ogunshakin, Hajia Najatu Mohammed (a human rights activist) and Mr. Ebele Goodluck (a journalist). Mr. M. F. Mmakwe of the Ministry of Justice was secretary to the committee.
Meanwhile, an Abia State High Court sitting in Umuahia, the state capital, has restrained the Ayua panel from summoning Governor Orji Kalu and nine other Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) candidates to appear before it in connection with their purported indictment by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The trial judge, Justice Onuoha Ogwe, also restrained the panel from considering or acting on the purported EFCC letter, pending the determination of the substantive suit filed before it by Kalu and his PPA members. The applicants sought and received the court's leave to enforce their fundamental human rights.
Others equally restrained by the court are the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its chairman, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, the Inspector-General of Police, the EFCC, its boss and secretary of the panel, who are all respondents in the suit to be heard on February 26, 2007.
The PPA's "indicted" candidates besides Kalu are Orji Ahamefula, Chiefs Arua Arunsi, Emeka Stanley, Dr. Sam Ahiwe, Paul Mbah, Chinedum Elechi, Isaac Ogbonna and Chris Akomas.
In spite of the EFCC's action, both the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) and the Action Congress (AC) say they will field their 66 candidates, who are on the list.
The controversial graft list contains the names of 135 candidates including those of the ruling PDP, lawmakers and governors.
A breakdown of the EFCC list showed that the PDP tops with 52 of its candidates, ANPP follows with 35, the AC came third with 28, the PPA 10, Democratic Peoples Party (DPP) has four and Alliance for Democracy (AD), one.
INEC, which had distanced itself from the list, has repeatedly told Nigerians that it lacks the power to disqualify candidates from seeking elective offices.
The EFCC last week named the politicians, which it said were "unfit to hold public office because of corruption."
The PDP reacted by promptly dropping its candidates blacklisted by the EFCC for the April polls, saying it is "a law-abiding party."
But the opposition says they will not be "fooled" into following the PDP's example.
"Our members whether listed in the EFCC report or not will contest the elections," ANPP chairman, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke, said in Abuja last week.
"If they are waiting for us to drop anyone of them, go and tell them they are mistaken, because, we will not help them achieve their malicious, illegal and unconstitutional acts," he said.
The AC has also rejected the list, saying it will not act on it.
"If these people have indeed been investigated and indicted, as the Presidency and its cohorts would want Nigerians to believe, what is the purpose of summoning them to face a panel of enquiry on the same alleged offences?" AC National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed queried.
On his part, Atiku, who has consistently denied corruption allegations by the EFCC and the Federal Government, says he will sue for defamation.
However, the EFCC boss, Malam Nuhu Ribadu has said the report was "purely advisory."
"We have no powers to stop them from fielding any candidates in any way. What we can do is to advise on measures to take to prevent corruption in our country and we have satisfied that by forwarding that list to the political parties.
"The advice is honest and genuine. But I think that failure to take the advice may end up a major embarrassment in the future for any party that opts to ignore it."
Defending its work, the EFCC said it arrived at the report based on its database on corrupt persons in Nigeria.
Atiku, whose name tops the EFCC list, described the action as "irresponsible, reckless, malicious and part of a deliberate, well-planned and calculated attempt to bring him into public opprobrium and disrepute."
The Atiku Campaign Organisation said: "Vice President Atiku Abubakar has instructed his lawyers to immediately sue, in both his personal and official capacity, the Chairman of the EFCC for defamation of character by listing him as one of those who is unfit to hold public office because of alleged indictment for corruption."
The Senate has also declared as "irregular and inappropriate" an administrative panel of enquiry set up by the government based on a report by the EFCC indicting some public officers.
In a resolution through a motion by Senator Muhammad Aruwa, the Senate said its members would only be answerable to the National Assembly and not the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Ufot Ekaette, who constituted the probe panel.
While endorsing Aruwa's motion, Senate President Ken Nnamani said: "We are not saying that we are shielding Senator Aruwa from answering the charges, but there are certain conventional acts that must be followed."
Nnamani noted that the invitation should have come through the Clerk of the National Assembly who will inform the Senate leadership for onward notification to Senator Aruwa. "This must be done," Nnamani said.
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