By Gabriel Ikese
The House of Representatives last Thursday adopted, in plenary, a report of its Committee on Emergency and Preparedness Response, chaired by Hon. Ali Isa from Gombe State. The report indicted the governing board of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), under the statutory supervision of the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, over an alleged illegal approval of N5.8billion Northeast intervention fund. The House also recommended the dismissal of the Director General of NEMA over the utilization of N33.5billion emergency intervention fund for the agency.
However, a closer look at the report, show that it is full of contradictions, arrogance and smacks of mischief. It is a comprehensive package of lies dubiously cooked up as campaign of calumny to spite the Presidency and smear the good name and reputation of the Vice President of the Federal Republic. Obviously, the report and its content is politically motivated and designed to rubbish the war on corruption and distract the Presidency from consolidating on its rising profile and support of the people towards the 2019 general elections. NEMA, in a swift reaction to the confabulated conjectures from the House of Representatives on Thursday, rejected outrightly the report, saying some of the conclusions arrived at did not reflect the facts and documents placed before the House Committee by the Agency.
Nigerians that are conversant with the developments in NEMA also expressed shock over the hasty conclusions by the committee on the issue, which did not reflect, in absolute term, the facts and reality on ground at the agency. But reflecting on the antecedent of the National Assembly and its battered reputations, it is not entirely a surprise that the Green Chambers could do such a shoddy job of this nature. It is obvious that the existing political acrimony between the Executive and Legislature has frustrated their sense of reasoning.
Persons that are morally debased and have an appetite for financial lucre could sell their consciences for a plate of porridge. No discerning minds will doubt as to the extent to which our members of parliament can behave and blackmail anyone that fails to play ball as usual. It is a recurring decimal in the NASS that is very worrisome and remains a disgrace to our democracy. Record has it that several of the legislative committees, particularly in the Lower Chambers, have been charged with losing sight of their duty of disinterestedness. In times of political passion, dishonest or vindictive motives are readily attributable to legislative conducts, which is repugnant to common sense. Cases abounded in times past in the House of Representatives.
The regrettable action of the House of Representatives is instigated by the tension of the aggressive war on corruption embarked upon by President Muhammadu Buhari led government. President Buhari is reputed for his awful disdain and zero tolerance for corruption, and he has vowed to fight corruption that has eaten deep into the fabric of this country. Some individuals in high places and politicians whose hands are soiled in dubious and sharp practices are jittery and getting agitated as the fight inches closer to their doorsteps. And for fear of prosecution, these elements are bent on frustrating the war on grafts. It is rather shameful and unfortunate that the House of Representatives could offer themselves as willing vessels to thwart efforts of government at dealing with the monster in full throttle. It is a plague that has stagnated growth and development in Nigeria for too long.
The misdemeanor in context occurred on the watch of the former Director General of NEMA and was left unchecked. Alh. Mustapha Maihaja came on board as the new Director General with loads of integrity and honest disposition. He could not tolerate the rots that seems pervasive in the agency under his watch and immediately deployed strategies to cleanse the system. Maihaja brought in the EFCC to interrogate the rot. The EFCC investigations led to indictment of the former DG and some senior staff of NEMA who are culpable and recommended their immediate suspension to the governing board of the agency with Vice President Yemi Osibanjo as Chairman. In line with the letter of the constitution and in obedience to the rule of law, the Board suspended the affected officers at the instance of the EFCC.
Prof. Osibanjo is a man with impeccable character and integrity. He is an erudite Professor of Law and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria who know his onions in the business of law. With his standing in law, he cannot act in ultra vires to statutory provisions and his approval for the suspension of the indicted officers is consistent with the spirit of the law. However, from available reports, it is clear that the House is on a political witch-hunt, and the target is to smear the person of the Vice President. But unfortunately for them, it is a mission in futility as Osibanjo’s uprightness and honesty have never by subjected to any doubt in all his assigned duties as Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State, Vice President and Acting President. His credible reputation always precedes him.
The Presidency suspected this iniquitous and fallacious contraption would be the outcome of the Ali Isa-led committee when it invited the Vice President to appear before it on why the six directors of NEMA who were indicted were suspended. It is either the Committee was blind to, or intentionally ignored the fact that the suspension was clearly based on an investigation conducted by the EFCC. The presidency considers the invitation as an affront to its anti-corruption campaign and a plot to frame up Osibanjo ahead of the 2019 polls. It beats every sense of imaginations that suspended directors who are under investigation could go to the House committee for succour rather than the courts. The committee would have waited for the outcome of the ongoing investigation by the EFCC who is statutorily empowered to carry out such exercise on criminal issues. That is the right thing to do.
Nonetheless, it is appalling that the committee would collude with the dirty officers to stop EFCC from performing its lawful duties. The directors indicted used the House of Representatives to cover their tracks in a bid to distort facts and context of the case to truncate investigation by the EFCC. It is a clear case of corruption fighting back. The affected directors are not happy with the disposition of the Director General and are in cahoot with the House Committee to link the current leadership to the crimes they have committed. The choice was deliberate with the hope that the administration will refrain from indicting itself. So the rogue staff invested so much effort to indict Alh. Mustapha Maihaja, and the board to get at the vice president who heads the Board.
The House of Representatives clearly over stepped its bounds with the overt demonstration of dishonesty and political animosity. As broad as the power of inquiry permits in section 88 of the 1999 Constitution, it is not unlimited and absolute. The power of investigation may properly be employed only in aid of legislative function. Its outermost boundaries are marked by the power to legislate. In principle, the power actually possessed in section 88 is limited to inquiries relating to matters of which the House has jurisdiction and in respect of which it rightfully may take binding actions. That if the inquiry relates to ‘a matter wherein relief or redress could be heard only by a judicial proceeding’, it is not within the range of this power, but must be left for the courts, conformably to constitutional separation of governmental powers.
The antics being deployed by the rogue officers to subvert the course of justice should not be allowed to derail government from its focus in fighting the ugly menace of corruption in the system. The directors should concentrate in clearing their names or establishing their innocence in the court of law. The Lower Chambers must desist from usurping the powers of the EFCC and the judiciary in the spirit of the doctrine of separation of powers. Nigerians must condemned and renounce the criminal plot by the political coupists to unjustly drag NEMA’s current leadership with Maihaja as DG and the Vice President who chairs the Board into unnecessary politicization of a normal probe by the anti-graft agency. There is no wisdom in the direction being bandied in public domain, whereas preliminary investigations by the EFCC have substantially pointed to the leadership of the former NEMA DG and some directors who have since been identified.
Ikese wrote in from Jos