Recently, the Economic Financial and Crimes Commission (EFCC) swooped on members of the Benue State House of Assembly over purported mismanagement of N750m meant for the purchase of vehicles. The majority leader of the house, Rt. Honourable Benjamin Adayin speaks with newsmen on the incident and sundry issues. JOHNSON BABAJIDE was there. Excerpts:
RECENTLY, you and other members of the state assembly were arrested and detained by EFCC on alleged misappropriation of N750 million meant for the purchase of vehicles for members, alleging that you played major role in it. Was that so?
Thanks for the question. First and foremost, the speaker is the head of the assembly. The majority leader plays a vital role in the house, he is regarded as the engine room of the house. Concerning the crisis that led members to the EFCC, it is unfortunate that it was blown out of proportion because there was no element of fraud as bandied by the media.
Let me try to explain some of the issues. The amount mentioned was N750m but there is nothing like that. I wish you would visit the Ministry of Finance and find out that there was no contract to this amount. Actually, there was a contract awarded to a separate entity from our members. This issue was discussed at the State Executive Council and the contract was awarded for the supply of Prado Jeep to each of the members and I am aware that the awarding of the contract followed the due process.
Why then did the EFCC come into the issue?
EFCC came in due to what it described as procedural error. Someone petitioned EFCC about the process, saying that money was given to members in lieu of the Prado Jeep, whereas the situation was that the contract could not be fully executed because of variation in the sum of the jeep. As at the time the contract was awarded, it was N12.5 million per jeep but before execution, it became N14.5 million. And members decided to forego this and collect at most N10 million each because of the interest of the people. We said “okay, adding up the money to the new market value will be of no benefit considering the paucity of funds.” So we decided that members could collect this money and go for any car of their choice not more than N10 million.
So, EFCC said it was a wrong thing and advised that we shouldn’t have collected the money in lieu of the Prado jeep. We were asked to refund the money and government should procure the Prado jeep for members and this is where we are now. Now, if you multiply the N12.5m by the number of the members, it is not up to the N400m that has been bandied in the social media.
With the decision to refund the money, what is being done now?
Yes, we have been refunding the money to EFCC and it will be returned to the state government so that the state will now add more money to get the jeep for the members. We are not against the decision.
As a result of the crisis, it was gathered that the speaker’s seat is being threatened
There is a clique whose penchant is to damage the house and cause crisis. Why should the house impeach the speaker when there is no issue of fraud? We are running government here not a cult. This Eighth Assembly has been so fair to all members, unlike the Seventh Assembly.
Let me give you an instance. In the Seventh Assembly, there were 10 opposition members. There was this issue of contract at SUBEB when the gesture was extended to the house; the then ruling party refused to let the members of the opposition to benefit. This time around, we are in majority, but we have agreed that everyone must partake so that all constituencies will have a sense of belonging. This is to show that the speaker carries everyone along; he adds value to the welfare of all members, their is no preferential treatment.
Why is the house rumoured to be against the deputy governor?
This is a situation one cannot fathom because it is like certain persons are not happy with the peace reigning in the house and want to tamper with it. It is just a fabricated story. I can tell you that the Eighth Assembly never contemplated that. On what grounds? Before such a thing happens, there must be a constitutional breach. The powers vested in the members are so enormous but we have to be cautious. This issue was never discussed in the house.
But the deputy governor’s son is being dragged into this?
I do not know whether the deputy governor’s son applied for the contract or not.
The deputy speaker is rumoured to have a vested interest in the contractor, as well asthe deputy governor’s son?
Well, that I can not explain. But I think he knows the contractor but does not know his relationship with the son of the deputy governor.
Perhaps your role in the house as the engine room accounts for the insinuation that you have overwhelming influence on the speaker?
That will not be fair to anyone. Each of us in the assembly is a representative of his or her constituency and the people of these constituencies have enormous belief in their representative before sending him or her to represent them. Remember that the speaker was an officer in the last assembly before providence smiled on him to lead us in this Eighth Assembly. At his age, God has blessed him with leadership qualities, so also the deputy speaker.
Why the presence of security operatives in the house since this crisis started?
It is true we have tightened security in the house, because since that crisis, we started noticing strange people at the gallery and we found it necessary to fortify the security in the house for the safety of members, workers and peaceful people that come to the house.
It looks like the house has become the lapdog of the executive, due to its silence in the face of porous security in the state and the state of the economy despite its oversight functions?
You cannot say we are lapdogs because what is happening in the state today is not peculiar to it. The security challenge is global. We should know that this is a turbulent time. We have to commend the state government for initiating the amnesty programme with the aim to reintegrate and rehabilitate those repentant for engaging in crime. One thing you should know is that the present administration did not create these problems, though killings, kidnapping and other crimes are condemnable but we should also appreciate the efforts of government in nipping it in the mud. You should know that the house is not folding its hands, we are working on kidnapping bill.
On economy, the recession is globally nay Nigeria, the IGR in 35 states are nothing to write home about that is why we gave approval to government to borrow money. We all know that the present administration met a deficit account, so it is wicked to pass the blame on this government. But I advice that we should be patient, what we are passing through is not peculiar to the state, let not loose faith in government, the starting may be rough but surely, the end will be better.