As the Senate resumes a new legislative session today following its nine-week recess, it could be embroiled in a face-off with the executive arm of government over alleged attempts by some anti-graft agencies to smear the image of the National Assembly.
One of such issues, according to National Assembly sources, is the current investigation by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) into alleged abuses in the execution of constituency projects.
A recent disclosure by the anti-graft commission about having established cases of abuse and non-execution of contracts, even after money had been paid, is believed to be stirring concern among lawmakers.
In its initial reaction, the Senate accused the anti-graft commission of abusing its powers by resorting to sensationalism in its investigation.
Senate spokesman and chairman of its committee on media and public affairs, Adedayo Adeyeye, told The Guardian it was unfortunate that the ICPC went public with the investigation even when it was yet to contact the leadership of the National Assembly or at least the lawmakers involved in the said projects.
Some lawmakers are reportedly putting pressure on the Senate leadership to allow them raise the matter for debate next week.
“It is sad that having resolved to work together with the executive arm for good governance in this dispensation, some attempts are being made to rubbish the legislature and create wrong impressions to Nigerians. I can’t say how the matter would be handled but certainly we will not keep quiet about it,” said an All Progressives Congress (APC) member from the North East.
He added: “Many of our colleagues are of the view that the issue should be subjected to open debate. But no matter what happens, we must deliberate on it either openly or behind closed doors.”
The Senate had in the past insisted that besides appropriating the funds, it had no hands in the execution of the projects.
Adeyeye maintained that as an anti-corruption body, the ICPC should not ignore fair hearing in the discharge of its responsibilities. He said: “First, I must say that I am not aware of any investigation of constituency projects by the ICPC.
And if there is any, it must be a sort of preliminary investigation. Even at that, the commission ought to have done due diligence by extending an invitation to those lawmakers concerned. If it is about the whole National Assembly or Senate, as the case may be, it should also have heard from the institution concerned before going public.
“The ICPC was established for very serious issues of corruption, not for sensationalism. It is in the best interest of justice to always give fair hearing to whoever or whatever institution is concerned. To just rush to the public about a particular investigation on which due diligence of fair hearing has not been done is to say the least improper.”
The ICPC, which is currently probing constituency projects across the nation, said at the weekend that its investigation had already exposed some shady deals. It promised to make its findings on all abandoned projects public very soon.
The ICPC commissioner in Edo State, Mr. Yusuf Olatunji, cited the state as an example of where a project was awarded to one contractor twice with no job done.
He spoke at a town hall meeting organised by Social Action with support from the MacArthur Foundation. He promised that those found culpable would be prosecuted.
“Just last week, we discovered another contract which we have not made public. We are still working on it to know how true it is. I cannot tell you for now but the commission will make public the outcome of all the constituency projects tracking.
“The idea of investigating the constituency projects is not to witch-hunt anybody. The idea is to examine what they have done with our money. Constituency projects have been a major channel through which public funds are being siphoned,” Olatunji said.
The ICPC had last June begun the first phase of investigation into alleged fraudulent procurement in contracts worth over N15 billion across 12 states. The investigating panel is currently working in Lagos, Osun, Kogi, Benue, Adamawa, Bauchi, Sokoto, Kano, Imo, Enugu, Akwa Ibom and Edo States. The team is expected to look into at least six controversial projects in each of the states, based on petitions and complaints already received by the commission.
The Spokesperson of the commission, Rasheedat Okoduwa, said: “The ICPC is carrying out the exercise with support from the Nigerian Institute of Quantity Surveyors, Budget Office of the Federation, Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation, Premium Times, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, Public and Private Development Centre, Bureau of Public Procurement, Community for Peace and Corrupt-free Society and BudgIT. In Lagos, the ICPC investigating committee is probing the construction of a community recreation centre in Epe, which was awarded at a cost of N720 million in 2016.”
The presidency, meanwhile, has distanced itself from insinuations that President Muhammadu Buhari is influencing anti-graft agencies to investigate the lawmakers.
According to the special adviser on media and publicity, Femi Adesina, yesterday, “By now, everyone should know that President Buhari does not teleguide the anti-graft agencies. Only mischief makers would sing the same song over and over.”
Another issue fanning the face-off between the Senate and the presidency is the insistence of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) to monitor the bank accounts of top leaders of the National Assembly.
Checks revealed that many lawmakers are bitter about NFIU’s move. One lawmaker argued that the entire institution of the National Assembly is being targeted for embarrassment.
“They are saying that the check on the accounts of leaders of the National Assembly and other political leaders is a routine one. If I may ask, why did they not extend the checks to the executive arm of government? Are there no political leaders in the executive arm of government?” he asked
It was learnt that the leadership of the Senate plans to meet President Muhammadu Buhari on the “need to caution” the NFIU to exercise diplomacy in matters concerning the National Assembly.
The NFIU had recently written to all banks requesting information on the accounts of the National Assembly, National Judicial Council, members of the National Assembly, Principal Officers, and the management of the National Assembly Service Commission.
The banks are expected to provide the NFIU with a schedule (account names and numbers) of the agencies, principal officers affected and other relevant politically exposed persons.
The NFIU, however, later explained that Senate President Ahmad Lawan, Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila, Chief Justice of the Federation Tanko Muhammad, and other top public office holders were not under any form of investigation by its operatives.