Na'abba Faces Graft Panel
The News (Lagos)
September 30, 2002
Posted to the web September 30, 2002
By Henry Ugbolue
Original article updated with commentary by Mobolaji Aluko, PhD
A moral dilemma confronts members of the House of Representatives this week as sitting resumes. Predictably, the planned impeachment of President Olusegun Obasanjo for alleged constitutional breaches would dominate proceedings on the floor of the House. Indeed, the 10 additional days the lawmakers gave Obasanjo to either resign or be impeached have since elapsed. But then, should the diminutive but tough-talking House Speaker, Alhaji Umar Ghali Na'Abba be allowed to preside over the affairs of the House this week? Who really should the members be thinking of ousting: President Obasanjo or Speaker Na'Abba?
These questions became pertinent as the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) announced that it was launching a full probe of charges of "gross and unjust enrichment, illegal withdrawals of public funds, extra-budgetary spending and official corruption" against Speaker Na'Abba. The charges, the commission said was contained in a 50-page petition filed before it by a Member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Samuel Onazi Obande.
"From the evidence so far collected by the Commission in the course of its preliminary investigations into the petition, there exists sufficient reasons to interrogate the Speaker to clarify some issues out-standing to him. Grounds exist for him to be confronted with the issues," Mr. Kalu Otisi, the anti-corruption commission's spokesman offered last week.
When the news first broke that Na'Abba would soon be a guest of the very dreaded commission, the Speaker's media aides had dismissed this a false and a ploy by the Executive branch of government to distract the nation from the on-going move by the House to impeach President Obasanjo for constitutional breaches. But early last week, the Speaker's Acting Chief of Staff, Mr. Sebastian Agbinda confirmed that the anti-corruption commission had indeed invited the Speaker to its Abuja head offices to answer to charges of corruption. In a letter to the commission, the Acting Chief of Staff confirmed the Speaker's acceptance of the invitation. "The Hon. Speaker has directed me to inform you as follows...that the Hon. Speaker will make himself available to Sunday F. Chukwura, DSP, in the offices of the ICPC, Tuesday, 24 September at 4 p.m," the Speaker's Chief of Staff wrote in the letter.
But why is the Speaker under probe? What are these allegations the anti-corruption commision seeks to confront him with? The petition to the commission by Hon. Obande, this magazine can reveal, contains gory details of extra-budgetary spending by Speaker Na'Abba. Of the lot however, the most amazing appear to be the huge expenses the Speaker and 17 others incurred on a trip to Libya in April this year. The trip was ostensibly to attend the International Spring Festival for Freedom and Peace. For this vague trip, Speaker Ghali Na'Abba, through two of his aides claimed separately the following sums of money: N8,330.000 "being cash advance granted to Hafiz Shehu as contingency to enable the Honourable Speaker and his entourage travel to Tripoli, Libya to attend Spring Festival of Freedom and Peace..."; the sums of $79,410 and N8,193,472 were equally paid out to the same aide of the Speaker for "estacode, contingency and air ticket for the Hon. Speaker and his entourage" for the Libyan trip.
Curiously, however, these huge sums of money were obtained by the Speaker for the trip in spite of the advice of the National Assembly's Director of Finance and Supply that the account of the House of Representative was in the red and that the Clerk of the National Assembly left orders that there should be no borrowing from banks. "Please see minute 'H'which confirms non-availability of fund in the House of Representatives Account. Also find attached, a memo from the CAN advising management on the effect of bank facility,"the Director of Finance wrote on the memo bearing the Speaker's request for money for the Libyan trip. The money, it was gathered was eventually borrowed from the Societe General Bank of Nigeria (SGBN).
Equally contained in the petition pending before the anti-graft commission is the evidence of budgetary breaches by Speaker Na Abba. The most revealing is the Speaker's authorization for the release of the sum of N2,130,000 (two million, one hundred and thirty thousand naira only) to his Chief Legislative Assistant, Bashir S. Wali, "for the maintenance of website." On receiving the request in March 2001, National Assembly's Director of Finance wrote the Speaker, reminding him that there was no provision for the amount in the year's budget. "There is no provision for the website in the H/Reps 2001 budget. And the contingency vote for the Honourable Speaker is in red," the Director of Finance held. But the Speaker muscled his way through and on 31, May, 2001, the Assembly's treasury paid to Bashir Wali the sum of N2.130 million for the website.
The petition also reeks of abuse of power. In a letter dated 7 November, 2001, House Speaker, Ghali Na'Abba, directed National Assembly Clerk to pay the sum of 40,000 pounds sterling to one Dr. P.N. Plowman of Cromwell Hospital, London for the treatment of his (Na'Abba's) uncle. "Alhaji Tsoho Tofa is my uncle and guardian and therefore a member of my immediate family. He was referred to Dr. P.N. Plowman at the Cromwell Hospital, London where he is currently undergoing treatment. The estimate for Hospital and Consultant Oncologist fees is Forty Thousand Pounds Sterling (£40,000.00) only. Please pay this amount to Dr. P.N. Plowman of 14 Harmont House, 20 Harley Street, WIG 9PH," Na'Abba ordered the Clerk of the National Assembly.
On 10 December, 2001, the National Assembly treasury paid out the sum of N6,586,400.00 being the naira equivalent of 40,000 Pounds Sterling to one Balarabe M.A, another of the Speakers aides "being cash advance granted as hospital/consultant fees to enable the Hon. Speaker's uncle undergo medical treatment in London." The petition pending before the anti-corruption commission also listed series of charges bordering on "illegal withdrawals" against the House Speaker.
These include: that the Speaker in April 2002 authorised the cash advance in the sum of N28.5 million, which was paid to M.A. Balarabe as imprest for stationary, vehicle maintenance, hospitality, entertainment and contingency for the month of February 2002 for the Speaker alone; that M.A. Balarabe collected as cash advance again for the month of February 2002 the sum of 27.5 million as imprest for the Speaker's upkeep alone and that the sum of N36.6 million was received by the same M.A. Balarabe in December 2001 for the Speaker's Ramadan gift and hospitality, media affairs, entertainment and sundry expenses.
The petition shows evidence that another staff, Muhammed Umar Gumel collected cash advance in the sum of N2,875,000 "to procure the Honourable Speaker's pictures in his ceremonial new regalia"; that Balarabe M.A. collected for the Speaker's Guest House up-keep and imprest for his office for the month of October 2001, the sum of N11.2 million and the same officer collected a cash advance of N10.25 million for the honourable Speaker's monthly printing of portraits, photographs maintenance and vehicle imprest in August 2001.
In a sworn affidavit, Hon. Obande, the petitioner, held that in all of these cash releases the Speaker breached official regulations as well as the code of conduct of public office holders. Even when he had agreed to face the anti-corruption probe, starting this week, House Speaker Na'Abba has queried the independence of the anti-corruption commission. Indeed the Speaker is alleging that the commission has become a political tool in the hands of the Presidency. Speaking through his Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Farouk Adejoh-Audu, the Speaker contended last week that the commission "which is a body considered by all Nigerians in resolving the endemic problem of corruption is being employed to embark on a campaign of intimidation and character assassination." He vowed that the lawmakers would not cave in to pressure to abandon the on-going probe of the constitutional breaches of President Obasanjo.
There are very serious, serious charges against our Speaker of the House, Hon. Ghali Umar Na'Abba (PDP, Kano, Kano Municipal Constituency, aged 44), made by his colleague Hon Samuel Onazi Obande (PDP, Benue, Ado/Ogbadibo/Okpokwu Constituency; age 38).
Let us plow through them in chronological order as available to this writer so far:
- 31 May, 2001
N2,130,000 paid to Speaker's Chief Legislative Assistant, Bashir S. Wali, "for the maintenance of website."
Please see: www.ngspeaker.org
- Between May and August 2001 (?)cash advance paid to Speaker's staff, Muhammed Umar Gumel "to procure the Honourable Speaker's pictures in his ceremonial new regalia";
- August 2001