The Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives led by Hon. Kingsley Chinda warned the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Gbajabiamila not to sweep the damning allegations levelled against some members of House of Representatives by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, under the carpet.
The caucus in a petition titled: ‘Halt the slide’, dated August 2, 2020, signed by its leader, Hon. Kingsley Chinda urged the Speaker, stressed the need to take urgent steps to address the eroding credibility of the Lower Chamber.
To this end, he underscored the need for the leadership of the 9th National Assembly to not only be fair and unbiased but to be seen and believed to be so, by inviting President, Muhammadu Buhari, to set up a Special Investigative Panel, composed of Justices of the higher bench, to investigate the NDDC and its activities, including the emergency contracts and the roles of members of the National Assembly so named by the Minister; or in the alternative, a Judicial Panel of Inquiry be set up to investigate the issues and members of the House of Representatives must submit themselves to such panels.
Hon. Chinda who frowned at the public reaction to the just-concluded investigative hearing held by the House Committee on NDDC argued that the Minister’s letter which was read by the Speaker “does not exonerate all the members of the House of Representatives as we were told. In fact, it directly mentioned some members in different conflicting and problematic situations with the NDDC.”
The letter read: “We are burdened to write this open letter of appeal to you to take urgent steps to address the eroding credibility of the House of Representatives. Of course, as one of the longest-serving legislators, you are aware that the House of Representatives has faced several challenges since 1999; chief among them is getting the public to repose confidence in the House of Representatives and believe in the integrity of its members and leadership.
“Recent developments, especially following hard on the heels of the investigative hearings empanelled by your leadership, suggest that the House of Representatives has descended into a new and unprecedented low.
“Sadly, in the eyes of many Nigerians, who are our constituents, we have become the Doppelgängers of members of the executive arm the House of Representatives set out to investigate in the first place.
“The similitude is telling, Sir. However, as conscientious members, we fear and justifiably so, that the House of Representatives, will continue to plumb the depth of the new low if you don’t find the courage and firmness to halt the slide, and quickly too.
“The sound bites from the investigative hearings undertaken by the House Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) have not only undermined the House of Representatives but have also posed bad portents to the institution of the National Assembly.
“As you are aware, damning allegations, albeit falsely, were made before and during the investigative hearings against some Committee members, notably the Chairman of the Committee.
“Recall that videos which went viral in the social media showed the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, making allegations against some members of the National Assembly. Recall, too, that the Minister was stopped by some committee members who were heard saying, “it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay. Off your mic’, and ‘in your interest”; and thus setting off widespread jocular and caricature performances among citizens in the public spaces of our country and indeed globally. If anything undermines the sense of self-worth of members of the House of Representatives, this is it.
“We note that accusations by Heads of Agencies and Departments against the legislature are neither new nor strange; they are often tactics deployed by the executive arm to divert attention from the subjects of investigations, as it is often the case.
“However, events following the accusations have created a serious cause for concern and we are worried that after the Minister responded to your 48-hour ultimatum, you only read part and not the entire content of his letter to the House. The version of the letter published in the social Media was much longer, and it specifically mentioned names including some members of the National Assembly.
“The letter does not exonerate all the members of the House of Representatives as we were told. In fact, it directly mentioned some members in different conflicting and problematic situations with the NDDC.
“The allegations contained in the letter of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs show that emergency contracts awarded by the NDDC running into billions of Naira were never executed but were fully paid for. The allegations also fingered some members as allegedly muscling the NDDC into paying for some of these contracts.
“He also accused some members of collecting some of such emergency contracts in the later part of 2019 through proxies and causing the NDDC to backdate award dates to fit into the 2019 budget that had lapsed at the time. These allegations are damning in the main and should not be swept under the carpet.
“The situation was not helped by the fact that following the theatrical slump of the Managing Director of NDDC at the hearing, an act believed by many Nigerians to be contrived, you excused him from further questioning by the Committee, saying that the House Committee would rely on his depositions. Your explanations some days after, notwithstanding, this action is still being viewed by Nigerians albeit it wrongly, as an attempt to cover up the issue.
“All these issues require further investigation because accused persons cannot investigate themselves. As a senior lawyer, you understand the maxim “Nemo judex in causua sua”. Can a Committee of the House in the circumstance truly turn out reports that the public can take seriously and believe in? You have, by this action, opened the room for the public to continue to disbelieve the House of Representatives.
“Considering the allegations against some members of the National Assembly and the need to not only be fair and unbiased but to be seen and believed to be so, we are of the view that the honourable thing open to you in the circumstance is to invite the President, Muhammadu Buhari, to set up a Special Investigative Panel, composed of Justices of the higher bench, to investigate the NDDC and its activities, including the emergency contracts and the roles of members of the National Assembly so named by the Minister; or in the alternative, a Judicial Panel of Inquiry be set up to investigate the issues and members of the House of Representatives must submit themselves to such panels.
“Of course, a precedent was set in the Eight Assembly when your good self, as Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, willingly submitted to be investigated by the Police, following allegations raised by the former Chairman of the Appropriation Committee against the Leadership of the House of Representatives.
“On this issue, it is our considered opinion that the House Ethics Committee is limited to assert its powers because the issues involved are criminal in nature and your leadership needs to assure Nigerians that members of the House of Representatives are above board and speak for Nigerians.
“Finally, Rt. Hon. Speaker, Sir, we opine that anything short of the foregoing, including the Report of the House of Representatives on the NDDC scandal, will be viewed by Nigerians as a cover-up.
“We look forward to hearing from you while hoping you will do what is right in the overriding interest of the legislature as an institution and in line with 9th House of Representative legislative agenda; to protect the image and integrity of the House of Representatives,” the letter read in part.
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