EFCC, REA And $16bn Power Probe

Sometime ago, I wrote an opinion article entitled “Elumelu: The Hunter Becomes the Hunted”. Since then more information of public interest has come to me, hence this follow-up. A reader reminded me that the missing $16 billion was first discovered by President Umaru Yar’Adua who raised the question with the National Assembly. The speaker of the House confirmed the president’s question and ordered a probe by the House Committee on Power, which was chaired by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu.

I was also reminded that the contracts for which Elumelu was indicted were granted by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), which is under the Federal Ministry of Power. Therefore, it is proper to hear from the REA.

The information gathered from the REA sheds more light on the workings of the agency and raises questions on the viability of the agency as a crime-fighting one. It revealed to me that the EFCC’s modus operandi of arrest first, charge, and investigate later may encourage corruption, intimidation, false arrests and bribery.

It is alleged that the agents of the EFCC have returned to Ribadu era’s vindictiveness or even worse. We know that, during the Ribadu era, the agency was reputed to be the tool of choice of former President Obasanjo for intimidating and outright destruction of political opponents. It has allegedly become worse in the sense that it is now the tool of choice for those who have raided our nation’s wealth for intimidating patriotic Nigerians from improving our country.

It is getting worse than the Ribadu era because it is no longer for one man, Obasanjo, but for many men who have amassed illegal wealth all over the nation using their money to corrupt agents and have their way at the expense of all of us.

As a patriotic Nigerian, Elumelu undertook the responsibility for the probe purposefully, diligently and transparently. Transparency, which is an indispensable aspect of good democratic governance, was the reason interested Nigerians were able to watch the process live on TV. In the first place, it further revealed the excesses of the preceding government, the nonchalant attitude by which government officials stole public funds under the pretext of “contracting”. Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike admitted receiving millions of naira for contracts whose sites were neither known nor visited prior to the House probe. We all saw this simply because of transparency, without which it would have been just another probe.

Most Nigerians, including this writer, were outraged by what we saw and heard that we anxiously awaited the final report. After patiently waiting for the report we were disillusioned at what we saw playing out in the House chambers. Representatives of the people turned the House debate into a playground for charlatans and irresponsible people, oblivious of their responsibility to the Nigerian people.

There exists a credible allegation that on the night preceding the scheduled House debate on the report, some House members compromised themselves by receiving N500 million offered them by a governor who himself was indicted in the power probe report. The governor was quoted as saying that the N500 million was rejected by Elumelu to compromise the report. The childish disowning of the report by some members of the committee lends credence to the allegation of the N500 million scheme alleged above, since we all recollect what we saw on TV.

The result of the chaos in the House chambers culminated in the appointment of a seven-man committee to rewrite the probe report that was painstakingly and meticulously written. The governor’s goal has been partially accomplished, but he had promised that he take care of the rest.

It seems that the rest was achieved when, on the date the seven-man committee’s re-written report was to be submitted, Elumelu and others were publicly indicted and arrested by the EFCC. A critical look at the reasons for their arrest would lead to the conclusion that the EFCC may have been compromised by the same governor. This conclusion can be reached by anyone who cares to take a look at the Rural Electrification Agency’s solar-based rural electrification projects executed in the 2008 budget. There’s also a table of “New Grid Extended Projects executed unde the year 2008 amended budget”. A look at these two documents produced by the REA would immediately render the indictment of Elumelu and his co-defendants frivolous. It puts into question the integrity, credibility and the professionalism of the EFCC. This is because it was alleged that Elumelu and his co-defendants, through fake corporations, obtained contracts from the REA and quickly drew down N5.2 billion without performing the contract.

Had the EFCC taken time to check the two documents, it would have seen that the REA’s record graphically shows all the contracts that it awarded in all geopolitical zones of the nation. The names of projects, the contractors, the number of contractors, the amount committed to date from the start of projects and percentage of projects completed, among others, are listed. A quick look at the document reveals that only the legally permissible mobilisation fee of 15% was released on all the projects, yet some of the projects are 100% completed, many are 95% completed, others 80%, etc.

From the above, one is hard-pressed to see how the EFCC can convict Elumelu and his co-defendants. This might explain the lack of good conviction record of indicted individuals by the agency. While patriotic Nigerians want to do the right thing, the corrupt and illegally enriched individuals use their dirty money to frustrate Nigeria’s progress by spending as much as is necessary to undermine our institutions.

Most of the ex-governors who have been indicted are out on the streets, allegedly using their stolen money to continue to perpetrate evil and bad governance in our country. Rather than freezing the accounts of these individuals, they are left roaming the streets.

Whereas this might sound as favouring Mr. Elumelu and his co-defendants, it is not. This is an article crying out for the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians. It is also a call for the EFCC to wake up or risk being self-destruct. Whereas Mrs. Waziri claims she wants to build a credible and formidable agency similar to the FBI, unlike the FBI, the EFCC indicts first and then investigates later. That must change. This operational modus operandi leaves room for and encourages corruption. The FBI painstakingly does its investigations, sometimes taking several years, before indictment.

The EFCC can still redeem itself and go after those we saw during the House Committee on Power Probe. $16 billion is just too much and belongs to all of us. If the EFCC fails to pursue this self-redeeming case, it would ultimately fail, first to Nigerians and then the international community. The EFCC has no choice but to pursue the $16 billion investigation and bring those involved to justice. I believe that this view is also shared by many patriotic Nigerians.

• Esogbue writes from Abuja

08061679824, 07025128366

Ambrose_esogbue@yahoo.com

 

Reps: Enough Of Distractions, Please Print E-mail
Written by Fred Odiale
Wednesday, 01 July 2009 02:51
The House of Representatives of 360 members, representing all the federal constituencies should be the most democratic institution in our democratic system. Its power of lawmaking particularly appropriation power, makes it a significant body to work for change in our society.

Its oversight function also places it in good stead to check corruption and absolutism in governance. These functions have been performed with varying degree of success by the House over the last 10 years under conditions and circumstances of a learning process and for most time, an overbearing executive arm of government yet to fully acknowledge the democratic ethos of separation of power.

However, in recent times, many good and unprecedented feats have come out of the House under the leadership of Dimeji Bankole, the speaker of the House elected on the platform of probity, transparency, accountability and good governance. In about 19 months that the Abeokuta, Ogun State-born Polo, playing-Speaker has held sway in the House, one can point to a couple of things done well by the House of Representatives in the interest of Nigerian people pursuant of his mandate and forces that threw up his leadership.

Significant milestones under Bankole include the re-engineering of the entire budgetary process with the issue of unspent funds, hitherto glossed over, now a major issue in our budget. In two budgets that came to the House under Bankole, N750billion was returned as unspent funds and re-appropriated instead of disappearing into private pockets through bogus end- of-year contracts.

Equally, the insistence of Bankole-led House on proper scrutiny of budget has led to discovery of duplication of projects. The House has also passed the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO) Bill patterned after the US Congress Budget Office (CBO) to provide the legislature with its own template and fundamentals in the passage of Appropriation Bills. The bill is awaiting Senate concurrence. On lawmaking in general, the House has passed 59 bills in two years with most of them awaiting concurrence from the Senate while over 200 Bills are in the final stages of passage into law. Indeed, this record in two years is by far better than that of any other session of the National Assembly in the last ten years of democracy. The House has also passed over 200 resolutions affecting various aspects of our national life and individual citizens positively.

In the area of oversight, the House investigative activities have exposed corruption, maladministration and misappropriation of funds in the power sector, the Capital Market, Customs, NNPC and MDAs which were discovered not to be remitting revenue generated to the tune of N3trillion in five years to the Federation Account as they should constitutionally. Indeed, the corrective nature of the House investigative activities has now made public officials to be on their toes and wary of their actions which are subject to future investigations.

But these forward looking activities of the House of Representatives under Bankole has given rise to negative backlash from those affected by the gradual erosion of the status quo of our way of doing things. Those whose personal economic interests are affected by these reformist and activist legislator are fighting back, using some members of House to cause maximum distractions and prevent the House from further proceeding in its role for the society.

The usual antics of some members are to continually raise “Point of Order” which have the tendency of slowing down legislative process. At a point, some members were calling Point of Order to commend the traditional dress sense of some members! At various points, Bankole has appealed to members to shun shenanigans thrown at the House to distract it from set agenda. But a more dangerous distraction is the issue of raising allegation of fraud and corruption against the leadership of the House, or members of the House. For instance, to stall the presentation of the Power Probe report, a 100million naira bribery allegation was raised in a magazine against the Committee on Power and Steel; this stalled the presentation of the report for weeks until the Ethics and Privileges Committee declared the allegation as baseless.

Not long afterward, Barrister Festus Keyamo accused Bankole and the leadership of the House, of corruption in the purchase of Peugeot 407 cars for committees of the House of Representatives. This issue generated much tension and negative publicity for the House which was effectively distracted for months to tackle this credibility issue. At last, it was found that no such fraud has been committed and Bankole was cleared of any misdeed. Indeed, Keyamo was reported to be parading the wrong document for which he was recommended for Police investigation and possible prosecution for forgery and perjury.

To forestall or postpone that eventuality, Keyamo quickly ran to the court to dodge possible prosecution that would have irreparably asphyxiated his legal career. In the interim, he achieved the goal of distracting the House while failing in the contract of orchestrating Bankole’s impeachment.

The issue of the N5.2billion rural electrification contract which is before a court was used to distract the House to bring its image to disrepute even when all accusations against the legislators remain mere allegations yet to be proven. But the most recent distraction was the uproar generated by a member of the House, Hon. Dino Melaye with Hon. West Idahosa, Hon. Kamil Akinlabi and Hon. Solomon Awhinawhi over three principal officers who were accused of under hand dealings in handling House delegated assignments in the last two months.

At this point, Bankole again reminded the members of the Green Chamber to be focused and shun distractive tendencies that tend to slow down the House’s progress. He listed important issues before the House requiring urgent attention to include the Electoral Reforms, Constitution Review and a couple of bills geared towards good governance that would impact on Nigerians for generations yet unborn.

• Fred Odiale is of

15, Asaba road, Benin City,

Edo State.

 

Stirring The Ghost Of Malam Aminu Kano Print E-mail
Written by Onah Iduh
Tuesday, 30 June 2009 00:23
In this report, Onah Iduh recounts a recent protest rally organised by the Nigerian Labour Congress in Kano and submits that the days of passive followership in the country might well be over.

The attendance was massive. The emotions were measured. The atmosphere was friendly – in fact carnival-like – joyous and peaceful. The message, well delivered and profound, has a penetrating intensity. Indeed, the atmosphere reawakened the spirit of political radicalism of the late Malam Aminu Kano, with alluring emancipatory prospects and messages that captured the imagination of the talakawa (commoners).

It was the third protest rally in a series organised by the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and coalition of civil society organisations to press the federal government to frame its policies with the masses in mind. Labour wants government to implement, in toto, the Mohammed Uwais’ Electoral Reform Panel report, discontinue a holistic deregulation of the petroleum sector and review the national minimum wage from the current N7, 500 to N52, 300.

Given the huge crowd that attended the rally, Labour may have stirred the ghost or memories of the late venerable Malam Aminu Kano in the midst of his formidable Kano followership known for its political activism and sensitivity. It may also have, in the process, breathed into the Nigerian Labour movement a fresh dynamism of using rallies as a potent platform for direct political education or for engaging government in a duel over its unpopular policies.

The 12-kilometre procession from the NLC Kano State Secretariat, Katsina Road was coordinated by a coalition of labour and civil society activists led by the NLC President, Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, NLC General Secretary, Comrade John Odah, former national presidents of ASUU, Dr Dipo Fashina and Dr Abdullahi Sule Kano and Comrade Isah Aremu, General Secretary of Textile and Garment Workers Union.

One after the other, they spoke briefly to the mammoth crowd highlighting the core demands of labour and the imperative for the national mass rally which kicked off in Lagos and Asaba recently. They exhorted every participant to be law-abiding as they march to their destination at Government House, Kano where Labour’s message to Aso Rock will be passed through Governor Ibrahim Shekarau.

When the march began some minutes past 9am, a motorcade of police escorts led the procession, closely followed by banner and placard-carrying labour activists while the national leadership of the NLC and civil society organisations led the main plank of thousands of protesters that initially stretched for about 500 metres but soon extended to over two kilometres. Throughout the route to Government House, there was absolute harmony between the police escort, the protesters and the milling crowd of jubilant traders, okada riders, young boys and girls and lumpen elements along the route.

Conducted in an ambience that was largely animating but peaceful, the procession, amidst cheers and chants of solidarity songs, and an intermittent interlude of Idris Abdulkareem’s album, Nigeria Jaga-jaga, blaring from a bus stocked with huge speakers on its roof, the mass rally drew thousands of Kanawa or Kano residents out of their shops and homes to roadsides. Once in a while, one hears gaskiya ne, yayi kwarai (it is the truth, yes, he did that) from men and women by the roadside, in response to some uncomplimentary chants on Obasanjo and Yar’Adua by exuberant groups of youthful activists.

Though the Kano rally centred on the three thematic prongs of enhanced minimum wage, end to deregulation of the petroleum sector and full implementation of the Uwais’ electoral reform panel report emphasised during the Lagos and Asaba rallies, it remained unique in the context of the invocation of the trajectories of Malam Aminu Kano. The speeches of President of NLC, Comrade Omar, NLC General Secretary, Comrade Odah and Dr Fashina, former ASUU president and leader, Labour and Civil Society Coalition added fresh impetus to the protest which doubled the excitement and climax of the rally at Government House, Kano.

According to Comrade Odah, whose speech opened the gate to the fiery articulation by Dr Dipo Fashina, Dr Abdullahi Sule Kano and Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar, the fresh dimension to popular protest by Labour is symbolic of the determinism inherent in the current leadership of the labour movement. “I want to use this opportunity,” said Odah, “to assure the members of the Nigerian ruling class that if they think that what we are doing is something that will fizzle away, they will be making a very fundamental mistake.”

“This country,” he added, “cannot continue to be the way our leaders have bastardised it. This country has so much natural resources but our leaders from independence, with the exception of Malam Aminu Kano and very few people, have continued to eat and grow fatter while the masses, the talakawa, our people have continued to die. We cannot continue in this way…we cannot allow this madness to continue.” He commended the people of Kano for their political maturity and exemplary conduct in the over three hours of trekking from Katsina Road to Government House.

Dipo Fashina gave expression to the sharp existential realities and deep disconnect that exists between the masses and the political elite using a simple but powerful imagery of class distinction or of wealth and poverty. To Fashina, there are two people in Nigeria. There are the people who are feeding fat on the people and there are the people who are suffering. In political terms, Fashina said, “there are two political parties – one party of the masses and one party of the rulers.” The empiricism of this portrait tallies with the logic of the late Malam Aminu Kano who argued that “all parties are but the expression of class interests.”

While Fashina’s entreaty sounds as a call for the transformation of the ideals and philosophy of the labour movement into a political platform, it is also an appeal to the masses to extricate themselves from perpetual oppression. It is therefore a charge to Nigerians to wake up and claim their birthright by being politically more active than the prevailing systemic lethargy. In other words, the masses are urged to be naturally hostile to the party of the oppressors since it lacks any ideological inclination for the welfare of the people. This notion is captured in a more lurid language in the NLC President’s speech when he urged Nigerians to be “vigilant and eternally alert even after this rally.” Omar cautioned that “the best option is to remain alert and not just talk and go back home without a conscious effort to sustain the battle against bad leadership.”

He called on the federal government to act immediately and stop trampling on the wishes of Nigerians as they (Nigerians) are fast running out of patience. “We have a document of our demands and we want action; we want immediate action on the demands of Nigerians and the time to act is now,” Omar said with vehemence.

The issue now is not the NLC’s strength of will to complete the circle of rallies it has scheduled, but its determination to demonstrate its disapproval of government’s unpopular policies, while condemning the insensitivity of government since the mass protests began. The federal government has refused to wink. Whether it is determined to maintain this posture even if the final option of national workers strike is taken by organised labour remains to be seen.

 

Ndukwe’s Broad Band Conundrum Print E-mail
Written by Francis Kadiri and Etta Michael-B.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009 23:40
Till date, the ongoing spat between the Nigerian Communication Commission, and its supervisory body shows no sign of abating even as those who won the auction of the much-disputed spectrum band are left in tenterhooks, write Francis Kadiri and Etta Michael-B.

Ever since his arrest on 22, May 2009, Ernest Ndukwe, vice chairman, chief executive officer, CEO, Nigerian Communication Commission, NCC, has been fighting a battle of his life. Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had come for him over the sale of the 2.3 GHz Spectrum band to three companies. Though he was given administrative bail, the media had been abuzz with his arrest, drawing links, both real and imagined between the escapade and his ongoing disagreement with Dora Akunyili, Minister of Information and Communication.

As events have shown so far, the matter might not die anytime soon. Akunyili, who has become Ndukwe’s traducer, had forwarded a petition to EFCC detailing an alleged breach of due process in the auction of the spectrum band. Galaxy Wirelesss, one of the three companies that won the bidding process had petitioned the minister after he could not pay up its share of N1.368 billion, a condition which Mobitel Limited, Spectranet and two others deposited in record time. NCC had then moved to replace Galaxy with Multilinks -Telcom. Apparently, Galaxy felt that the decision was nothing to laugh about. In no time, it had forwarded a petition to Akunyili who before now had not been impressed with the NCC CEO’s performance as chief henchman of the telecoms regulatory body. Galaxy anchored its anger on many things: the shortness of the notice of the auction; near impossibility of raising money in such record time. Even then, there was also allegation that NCC left other interested parties in the dark and merely went on to select those it wanted for the spectrum band. In all, 40 companies bided for the 2.3 GHz spectrum but only three were selected. Galaxy alleged that the advert was put in the papers a day before two public holidays when banks don’t work. According to the telecom company, the process fell short of due process, international standards and never offered a level-playing field for all the bidders. Galaxy even accused NCC of having given out privileged information to selected parties ahead of time.

For Akunyili, this was all she needed to come after the NCC management led by Ndukwe. Before the petition, there had been indications that the release of the spectrum band by the National Frequency Management Council, NFMC, to NCC had been irregular. As gathered, the spectrum band at some point was occupied by Steam Broadcast. This should not be, because the spectrum was calibrated for telecommunication operations. Waimax, an internet service frequency meant to occupy the spectrum by the International Telecommunication Union had not come into the country at the time it was given to Steam Broadcasting. But with investors ready to bring in waimax, Steam Broadcasting had to be evacuated from the spectrum band. Particularly, some members of NFMC had insisted that a space must be made available for the radio broadcast outfit before moving it out of the place. But for some strange reason, Ode had insisted that Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, NBC, hand over the frequency to NCC. So on the last day of October, Ode wrote to NCC explaining that 2.3 GHz has been released based on NFMC recommendation. In January 20, 2009, the ministry, under Akunyili had written to NCC asking it to shelve its planned auction of the Spectrum band. Also on 29 of the same month, a reminder was further sent to NCC on the matter.

But NCC flouted the directive, instead it went ahead insisting that since Ode had handed the spectrum band over, the matter was a done deal. Perhaps things might had been contained at the earliest stage as far back as early May before Ndukwe became guest to the EFCC. Akunyili, it was gathered, had written to Ndukwe asking for his response. For some reasons best known to the NCC chief executive, he ignored the minister’s query. Again, the minister was forced to write again and sent it through a staff of her ministry. This time, the minister requested that Ndukwe see her personally. Fully convinced of the need to see his boss, Ndukwe obliged. But as gathered, Ndukwe was intransigent, insisting that NCC would not rescind the sale. Angered by Ndukwe’s action, the minister was said to have written to President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, detailing the grouse of the Galaxy. Also, Akunyili was said to have told Yar’Adua that an unhealthy precedence was being set in the breach of due process if the auction is allowed to stay. As gathered, the president told the minister to inform relevant agency so as to get to the bottom of the matter. However, on a May 22, a meeting was convened at the Radio House, office of the minister. At the meeting, Dora and top executives and officers of NFMC, NCC, NBC and the ministry were present, ostensibly to deliberate on the 2.3 GHz controversy. Already, newspapers and electronic media tore at the controversy with frenzy. This much, Dora pointed out during the deliberations. She was particularly chagrined at reports credited to Ndukwe about her. A matter which Ahmed Joda, NCC Chairman apologized for. He further admitted at the gathering, after matters concerning the spectrum had been analyzed, that the auction did not follow due process. But he pleaded that since money had been paid and remitted to the federation account, the minister should let it go. Any attempt at forcing a reversal of the auction might result in a messy lawsuit. But Dora insisted that the money could be paid back easily through the Ministry of Finance. Also, she added that no judge will rule in favour of the companies once he discovers that that the spectrum was awarded without following due process. As far as the meeting went, the sale of 2.3GHz was reversed.

Matters did not end there, however. Ndukwe, reportedly, insisted that the sale had been done and can never be undone, even by the minister. In a way, that marked the beginning of his travail. If he had thought that EFCC was interested in the 2.3 GHz auction alone, he soon got to find out that he had more enemies than he initially thought he had. In no time, files were opened at the EFCC detailing some conduct that raised questions in the running of NCC. For instance, questions were asked on the N1 billion annual contract to Zinox, a local manufacturer of computers in the country. Under the Universal Service Provision Fund, USPF, the magazine gathered that Ndukwe might have tough questions to answer.

USPF is a creation of NCC Act of 2003. It is meant to create communication services to areas where operators in the country might not be willing to go for profit reasons. Certain percentage of annual operations levy paid by operators in the industry goes to USPF to fund its activities. But insiders say that the fund has since been a veritable source of sleaze in the NCC. So far, more than 10 staffers of NCC and USPF have been quizzed by EFCC. Some of them are, Funsho Fayemi, head of USPF; Abdulwahab Yusuf, director, support services; Mrs Ngozi Onwuegbuchulam, head, Funding and Subsidy, USPF; Iyabo Solanke, head, Financial Services, NCC; Mr Felix Adeoye, Commission Secretary; Mrs Lolia Emakpore, head of Consumer Affairs, NCC; Mr Shafi, staff of USPF; Mr Solomon Igbayue, Department manager in the NCC and some others.

However, NCC insists that nothing untoward has happened amid this controversy. NCC maintains that Ndukwe’s visit to EFCC was routine. “When a top executive is summoned by EFCC for mere routine questioning you usually get this kind of interest,” said a source in NCC who would not be mentioned in name because the powers that be have ordered silence on the matter.

But the controversy has become a major point of discourse in the industry. For most consumers, the event showed that the minister had been right all along about Ndukwe not doing enough about regulating the industry. Earlier, Dino Malaye, chairman, House Committee on Information and Communication, accused Ndukwe of shielding operators in the industry from milking Nigerians. It has been an established fact that call rate in the country is by far one of the highest in the world despite its market size and massive returns. Even so, critics accuse operators of using substandard and health endangering equipment in the country. But reacting, Ndukwe, repeating arguments of operators insists that the absence of infrastructure in the country makes it difficult to lower tariffs. In other words, government must provide constant source of power, good roads and security first before asking operators to reduce tariffs For Akunyili, this is not acceptable. During her inception as Minister, she had promised that she would tackle the high cost of telephony in the country headlong, a promise that that she has so far failed to deliver. But other observers see a different picture. “It is all about who succeeds Ndukwe at NCC,” said a lawmaker who would rather not be named. With Ndukwe’s tenure due to end in February 2010, interests groups have began to position candidates who will take over from the extant NCC boss. The law maker revealed that Ndukwe might have offended them by his recent appointments and promotions in NCC, ostensibly to put in place his successor. Ndukwe, though has done much for the telecommunication industry, but he may not be looking forward to a happy retirement yet.