(Being text of a press conference by Save Nigeria Group (SNG) on official responses to calls for the prosecution of subsidy thieves, on Monday, May 14, 2012)
Gentlemen of the Press: We addressed you two weeks ago over the report of the House of Representatives on its probe of the subsidy regime between 2009-2011 which exposed the mind-boggling looting of our treasury to the tune of N3 trillion in 2011 alone, whereas only N245 billion was appropriated. Given our experience over the years of several probes with shocking revelations and no follow-up actions once reports are submitted, we gave two weeks within which we expected to see “concrete steps taken in the direction of prosecuting all those indicted in the subsidy scams”, failing which we said we would commence citizens’ actions to compel compliance.
We have keenly followed all that has happened in the last two weeks and we are compelled to express our views on them to expectant citizens:
1. The Attorney General of the Federation, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), was first to respond to our demands in a press statement where he sought to buy time for the government when he made the following claims:
a. The President had not yet received the report and as such could not act on it;
b. The report of the House of Representatives was a mere “fact finding” exercise which is an insufficient basis for prosecution;
c. Further investigations are required before prosecution can commence.
The AGF’s statement is doublespeak, which is at best a tactic to delay justice and at worst a ploy to deny justice by lulling the nation into forgetfulness. The following recent developments, in spite of the collapse of our moral walls as a country, show that the AGF’s position is untenable:
i. The aviation sector probe was still in session when Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode and Prof. Babalola Borisade (former Aviation Ministers) were arrested and charged to court;
ii. It took just an allegation of bribery by the Director General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against the Herman Hembe Committee for the House to disband the committee and set up a new panel. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has gone ahead to obtain a court order to prosecute Hon. Hembe and his deputy Azubuogu Ifeanyi while the new panel is still sitting;
iii. The accounting firms of Akintola Williams & Co and Olusola Adekanola & Co were fired by the Ministry of Finance before the House adopted the report. What were the “further investigations” conducted on the “fact-finding” report of the House before these firms were punished?
iv. All investigations by the EFCC, ICPC and CBC are fact-finding and their outcomes are the basis of prosecution;
v. Prosecution is itself a form of investigation as it is the process through which guilt or innocence is established.
2. The House of Representatives has informed the country that it has transmitted its report to the presidency and anti-graft agencies. While we restate our commendation of the House for conducting a notable probe in spite of undue pressures, we are still taking them up on two critical issues as regards the report and the oversight functions of the National Assembly:
a. The issue of 1,100% overspend of the budget is a fundamental one. While we note the National Assembly’s resolution that overspending should be criminalised in future, are we to take it that Sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution are not currently in operation? We are of the firm belief that the fiscal recklessness is a clear constitutional violation that should be dealt with as such and not glossed over. While we await the National Assembly’s decision on this, we will be heading to court to ask for judicial pronouncements on Sections 80 and 81 of the 1999 Constitution which deal with appropriation and spending from the Federation Account;
b. What is the extent of the National Assembly’s oversight functions? Are they merely responsible for "fact-finding" exercises? We raise this because we are aware that there have been many probes by the National Assembly whose reports have been dumped in the mortuary of probe reports. The immediate past House, for instance, carried out the following probes, among others, with far-reaching recommendations:
i. The Power Probe which exposed the $16 billion expenditure with no value added to the power sector;
ii. The Probe of Unspent Funds which revealed how N4.3 trillion was not remitted to the Federation Account by ministries and agencies of the government.
Not one person was brought to book in the above cited cases, yet we are aware that the resolution of the National Assembly on the 'doctrine of necessity' was not treated as a "fact-finding" exercise and the presidency did not wait for weeks to be served the resolution before it took effect.
The nation waits for the day every report or resolution of the National Assembly pertaining to good governance and probity will have the force of the resolution on the 'doctrine of necessity'.
3. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has issued a statement acknowledging receipt of the House Report with a promise to prosecute those indicted after it has done its own investigations. The EFCC’s argument seems plausible to the extent that it is not intended to pursue the agenda of an executive arm that is enmeshed in scandals and would prefer the nation forgets and moves on.
Only last Thursday, the EFCC secured a court nod to prosecute the former chairman of the House Committee on Capital Markets Hon. Herman Hembe and his deputy Azubuogu Ifeanyi based on the allegation of Ms. Arunma Oteh that they collected $4,095 each in estacodes from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) without making the trip for which the estacode was intended. If the EFCC could move swiftly to prosecute sitting representatives over a total of $8,190 (approximately N1.2 million), our people will be outraged if it cannot do the same on the theft of N3 trillion because many of those who are indicted are in the executive arm. We are of the considered opinion that a good starting point would be compelling the companies and individuals the House as a matter of fact has established were wrongly paid to refund such monies forthwith.
The House of Representatives report presented to the EFCC reveals myriad infractions of the Public Procurement Act, EFCC Act, and the Penal Code. The same way Hembe and his deputy are currently being tried, the EFCC does not need extended investigations to arrest all those who received payments in foreign currencies without importing any products. Note that most of the companies and individuals involved have not denied the allegations against them. Also, in line with Public Service rules, and as was done to former Health Minister Prof. Adenike Grange, any or all of the public officers and ministers indicted by the report should step down or be suspended while investigation continues.
We have acknowledged all that has been said in the last two weeks to show that we are a responsible organization prepared to exhaust as many options as are available to us, only opting for public protests as a very last resort.
However, all we have heard hitherto has been mere rhetoric with no concrete actions from constituted authorities. It is not lost on us that the President, under whose watch N3 trillion was stolen, has not directly addressed this monumental scandal except through remarks on his behalf by presidential aides. An ethical president ought to have made a national broadcast on this series of events unrivaled anywhere in the world. Yet, we are ready to extend the rope to see what comes of the EFCC’s promise within a reasonable time. We will watch every step they take with our firm resolve that this report will not go into the mortuary of probe reports.
We call on all Nigerians to remain vigilant as they will be hearing from us periodically in this season of systematic and sustained campaigns we have entered on the cusp of unprecedented change.
For those who are tempted to ask what we intend to accomplish if we only got words in two weeks, they should ponder on whether or not we would have heard more than the usual deafening silence if we had merely folded our arms.
Let us press on!
Thank you all.
Pastor ‘Tunde Bakare
Convener, Save Nigeria Group (SNG)