By Soni Daniel, Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA — THE Senate, yesterday, was palpably in disarray over the bid to probe the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over failure to remit more than N2.05 trillion, being funds recovered from corrupt former leaders.
Senators under the Unity Forum of the ruling APC kicked against the ongoing probe of Lamorde, describing the process as illegal and a breach of the Senate’s Standing Orders.
Further, Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio unsettled both the anti-graft agency and the Senate when he wrote a letter to the National Assembly leadership, dissociating himself and other PDP senators from the moves to probe Lamorde, over allegation that he diverted N1 trillion from funds recovered from corrupt officials.
There was also a dramatic twist as the Senate committee was told that Lamorde failed to remit N2.051 trillion to the federation account apart from diverting more than one trillion naira recovered by the anti-graft agency.
Defending his petition against the EFCC and Lamorde, Chief Executive Officer, Panic Alert Security Systems, PASS, Dr. George Uboh, asked the Senate to get Lamorde arrested for failing to remit the money which the EFCC recovered between 2004 and 2013.
Uboh also asked the Senate to compel Access Bank to bring complete and unadulterated statements of EFCC from 2004 till date as well as force Aminu Ibrahim and Co, (Auditors) to shed light on the discrepancies.
Coming on a day Lamorde failed to appear before the Senate’s Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions Committee as speculated and his emissaries sent away by the committee, there was also rumpus as members of All Progressives Congress (APC) Unity Forum in the Senate kicked against the Senate committee’s probe of the EFCC chairman.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Caucus led by Senator Godswill Akpabio had on Monday distanced itself from the exercise. Akpabio said in a four-paragraph letter, which was jointly signed by the PDP Senate caucus leaders that it was inappropriate for the Senator Samuel Anyanwu-led committee to invite Lamorde to appear before it, since such steps in the past did not produce any result.
EFCC may postpone Akpabio’s invitation over alleged graft
At the EFCC, Vanguard gathered that Akpabio’s press statement distancing the PDP caucus from Lamorde’s probe is causing confusion and EFCC’s move to probe the immediate past governor of Akwa Ibom State may hit the rocks.
According to records at the EFCC, Akpabio is scheduled to appear before the commission’s investigators to answer questions arising from series of petitions against him by an Abuja-based Akwa Ibom State-born lawyer, Leo Ekpenyong and Associates, that he abused his position as governor and used the proceeds to build sprawling estates in many parts of the country.
But Akpabio caused a serious problem for the EFCC and the Senate when he wrote a letter to the National Assembly leadership dissociating himself and other PDP senators from the moves to probe Lamorde, over allegation that he diverted N1 trillion from the proceeds seized from corrupt officials.
Based on Akpabio’s letter, the Senate was split over the decision to invite Lamorde while the EFCC was equally in a quandary over dropping or shifting the invitation to Akpabio to appear and answer questions based on the petition by the law firm of Leo Ekpenyong and Associates.
Although the state had denied all the allegations levelled against the former governor, the EFCC summoned Akpabio to appear before its interrogators today to clear the air on the claims against him.
Four aides of the former governor had been interrogated between Monday and last night, apparently to elicit some information to use against him today.
A top EFCC source said they were slightly confused following the letter written by Akpabio, which gave tacit support to the commission’s chairman.
The source said: “We have seen what the former governor has done and we are aware that we have invited him to answer some questions relating to his tenure but we will see how the whole thing (probe of the former governor) will go.”
Asked if the commission had written the former governor changing the date of his appearance before the interrogators, the source said that it was not a condition that the letter of invitation should be withdrawn but did not say if the Senator had objected to the date or not.
Vanguard gathered that it was based on the strength of the former governor’s letter that many top-ranking senators opposed the probe of Lamorde and gave the impetus to the chairman to shun the panelists. He only sent emissaries, who were promptly turned away by the committee.
Why we’re against Lamorde’s probe—APC Unity Forum senators
In another dramatic twist, senators under the Unity Forum of the ruling APC kicked against the ongoing probe of Lamorde, describing the process as illegal and a breach of the Senate’s Standing Orders.
In a statement by Senators George Akume, Abu Ibrahim, Barnabas Gemade and Ahmad Lawan, they said in a standard parliamentary practice, a petition is routed through either a senator or a member of the House of Representatives and when received, the representatives would inform the presiding officer of the chamber and, thereafter, present the petition in the plenary.
The statement read: “Upon presentation in plenary, the presiding officer will invite the senator/House of Representatives to lay the petition on the table in the chamber, which automatically becomes public document. Thereafter, the presiding officer will refer the petition to appropriate committee for consideration upon which it would be returned to the Senate plenary.
“In this regard, nothing of the sort happened. Senate proceeded on recess on August 13 and it is not on record that the petition of Mr. George Uboh, accusing Lamorde of diverting over N1 trillion recovered from some corrupt Nigerians, including former governor of Bayelsa State, DSP Alamieyeseigha, the former Inspector General of Police, Tafa Balogun was presented to Senate in plenary.
“The Senate Unity Forum do support the position earlier adopted by some of our colleagues that the Lamorde probe should be halted as it did not follow due parliamentary process. For the avoidance of doubt, Rule 41(1-3 of the Senate Standing Orders specifically spell out how petitions are handled in the parliament.
“Rule 41(1-3) states:(1) A petition may only be presented to the Senate by a Senator, who shall affix his name at the beginning thereof.
“(2) A senator presenting a petition shall confine himself to a brief statement of the parties from whom it came, the number of signatures attached to it and material allegations contained in it and to reading the prayers of such petitions.
“(3) All petition shall be ordered, without question being put, to lie upon the Table. Such petition shall be referred to the Public Petitions Committee.
“It is after these steps have been taken that the presiding officer would refer the petition to the afore-mentioned Committee.
“It should be noted that, in this case, none of the laid-down procedures was followed before the Senate Unity Forum read in the newspapers that the Senator Samuel Anyanwu -led Ethics privileges and Public Petitions Committee would on Wednesday, August 26, commence probe of EFCC chairman. We stand against this probe. It is illegal and unconstitutional because it did not follow our rules.”
However, in spite of misgivings by some senators, the committee sat yesterday.
Defending his petition against the EFCC, Dr. George Uboh asked the Senate to compel Access Bank to bring complete and unadulterated statements of EFCC from 2004 till date as well as force Aminu Ibrahim and Coy (Auditors) to shed light on discrepancies.
How Lamorde allegedly cornered recovered assets
Uboh outlined how Lamorde allegedly cornered seized assets, alleging that Lamorde’s younger brother, Usman Lamorde, was given choice assets in the country especially in Abuja.
He fingered Access Bank and defunct Intercontinental Bank as two banks that aided the anti-graft agency to hide recovered funds and profits from recovered assets.
Uboh, who said Bayelsa State Government was his client as he was hired to recover the unpaid money to the state by the EFCC, presented a mandate letter from the state government dated November 19, 2013. He said the chairman used his paraphernalia of office to intimidate the Bayelsa State Governor, Seriake Dickson, who later withdrew the letter and disassociated himself from him (Uboh) despite an earlier agreement between both parties, adding that the governor personally went to court to withdraw the case that he (Uboh) had against the EFCC without his consent.
Uboh told the committee that he should be arrested if his petition and presentation were fake, stressing that if genuine, Lamorde should be arrested.
C’ttee sends Lamorde’s representatives out
There was, however, a mild drama when the committee walked out the representatives of Ibrahim Lamorde.
While the petitioner, George Uboh, was being cross-examined, Chile Okoroma, Director of EFCC Legal Department, who led other EFCC team to the hearing interjected that he had a presentation to make as he expressed surprise at the documents that had been tendered by Uboh, adding that the EFCC did not get the copies containing those facts.
He, thereafter, asked to be briefed on the workings of the committee, explaining that it was wrong for the petition to be heard when the accused was not present.
Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) explained that it was the committee’s prerogative to decide the direction of the hearing.
But Okoroma insisted on speaking even after explanations by the senators. Consequently, the committee’s chairman, Samuel Anyanwu, announced that the Director, Legal of the EFCC, Chike Okoroma; representative of Lamorde, Osuagwu Ugochukwu and other staff of the EFCC should leave the hall against the backdrop that having written to be given enough time, they ought not to have come.
Anyanwu had earlier read a letter where the EFCC boss pleaded for enough time to respond to the issues raised by the petition. The Committee chairman then directed that the hearing room be cleared of all EFCC representatives before the committee can continue, an order that was quickly complied with by the sergeant-at-arms.
Lamorde’s representatives speak
Speaking to journalists soon after he was walked out, Lamorde’s representative, Osuagwu Ugochukwu, who noted that the EFCC boss asked him to represent him at the hearing, expressed his fears, saying he was disappointed at the Senate committee.
He said: “They invited Lamorde to come here today and in the letter they wrote to Lamorde, they never stated that their coming here would be for the petitioner to be heard alone.
“There was no procedure attached to the invitation letter that this is how this panel will run its sitting. So, to our greatest surprise, in spite of the fact that we even wrote a letter that because of the tight schedule of the commission. This is because we needed some of the members of the legal team to come along with us to the hearing. We wrote them a letter and there was no response and if there was no response, it’s assumed that the letter is ignored. So, Lamorde insisted that I must be here for him. So, I came here to see a different procedure, where a petitioner is allowed to give evidence when the respondent is not in the venue of the sitting.
“One senator, I don’t know his name, said they might bring the petitioner if there’s any need to face the respondent. Of course, they will hear from us, but what we are saying is that it is wrong, in standard practice, rules of natural justice, even the constitution, that the respondent or accused should be confronted without the petitioner.”
On whether he was ready to defend himself following the letter written to the commission, he said: “Yes, we are ready, I am representing Lamorde.”
When asked if the Senate committee was aware of his presence, he said, “Yes, they know about my presence, I tried to raise an objection but they said no, I should not raise any objection. I sent an internal memo through the secretary, he said they were not going to listen to me. They said that though they got the letter but that they were looking at it. I now said you are looking at the letter and the petitioner is now giving evidence against Lamorde and the commission, is it not wrong?
“You have to prove it and they can see from what the so-called petitioner was rendering before the panel, he never mentioned Lamorde, he kept mentioning EFCC, EFCC. So, I wonder why the petition was not addressed to the EFCC. Why must it be addressed to Lamorde in person? Is it a personal vendetta? All he tendered there are pieces of rubbish, not directed to the respondent himself.’’
On whether he has confidence in the committee, Ugochukwu said: “I have confidence in Nigeria. You can see it yourself. Well, as far as I am concerned, we are disappointed but if the committee feels that they can do the right thing and correct the wrongs, fine for them. But as you can see now, I am highly disappointed.”
Also speaking to journalists shortly after the committee walked them out, Director, Legal, EFCC, Chike Okoroma said: “ As you must have read out, requesting for this and for us to come and make our presentation, we didn’t get a reply from the committee and the committee is going on in our absence despite our protest that we are not even given the opportunity. These are distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I wanted to be enlightened on the propriety of conducting proceedings in our absence when allegations were made in the absence of the other party. Constitution is our grundnorm and they are here talking about the constitution, that is the point we want to make.”
Speaking further, the petitioner, Uboh who swore to an oath holding a Bible, in his presentation and a document he later made available to Journalists, said that his petition has nothing to do with interrogation of Toyin Saraki, wife of Senate President Bukola Saraki as the case has been on since 2013. He said: “EFCC confirmed that several cheques and drafts valued at N1,577,815,942 and $1.3m seized and forfeited by DSP Alamieyeseigha were deposited in the Commission’s recovery account.
“An agent appointed to manage and dispose six real estate properties forfeited by Alamieyeseigha confirmed that N1.9bn was remitted to EFCC between 2008 and 2009 as proceeds from the sales and interests from the properties.
“The agent confirmed remitting N60bn vide Intercontinental Bank draft in 2008 as balance of rent while N3.7 was confirmed by the EFCC as the amount received from Alamieyeseigha seized assets.”
According to the petitioner, the EFCC traded with N3.7 from March 2009 to February 2010 with 12 per cent per annum, alleging that Lamorde failed to remit the interest of N1.1bn to government, the sum which contains the N467.7m interest gotten from the actual N3.7bn that was used to trade with, adding, “EFCC continued to trade with the balance of N1.1bn from January 2010 to October 2013 with the interest rate of 12 per cent per annum. This money yielded N474.2m which should have accrued to Bayelsa State government but EFCC is not only keeping it back but still trading with it.”
Uboh who also alleged that Lamorde failed to account for 95 per cent of offshore assets and funds, said, “EFCC declared a fraction of what was seized from DSP.”
According to him, the naira recovery was different from offshore recoveries, adding, “in a December 02, 2011 letter, EFCC sent to the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, EFCC stated that the aggregate recoveries from 2004 to 2011 was N1.3 trillion. EFCC did not mention where the N1.3 trillion recovered was remitted to.”
Uboh zeroed in on what the EFCC recovered explaining that former EFCC chair, Farida Waziri told the then President, Goodluck Jonathan that naira recovery was N1.9 trillion while offshore recoveries stood at $316.1m, €32.1m and £1.2m respectively, adding that Lamorde should have remitted N2.051 trillion to government.
Speaking on how EFCC melted away recovered funds, the petitioner who explained how that EFCC continues to doctor its accounts to hide its corrupt strategies of stealing recovered funds, said, “Two Access Bank recovery account statements showed balance of 0- as of 1, July 2004, but no transaction occurred until June/July 2008. These transactions are expunged. Where are the funds deposited between July 2004 and June/July 2008?”
“EFCC diverted and concealed N779 million of recoveries from Tafa Balogun in its record (aggregate should be N3.037bn and not N2.258bn). Instead of transferring N3.3bn from Spring Bank to its Access Bank recovery account, EFCC transferred only N2.2bn and concealed it by understating the summation of the balances in the various accounts hence the Access bank statement had N2.2bn after concealment.
“EFCC would be compelled to pay Bayelsa the remittable amount due now with interest and the Commission should be compelled to declare all offshore assets and funds seized from DSP and others.
“EFCC should be compelled to remit N2.051 trillion to the Federal Government while Access Bank should be forced to bring complete and unadulterated statements from 2004 till date.
“Aminu Ibrahim and co, auditors of the EFCC should be compelled to come and shed light on discrepancies.”
According to him, on Naira recoveries alone, ‘In a December 02, 2011 letter EFCC sent to the Chairman, House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, EFCC stated that the aggregate recoveries from 2004 to 2011 (8 financial years) was N1,326,754,554,482:80. EFCC did not mention where the N1.3 Trillion recovered was remitted to. EFCC’s claim that it did not recover up to a Trillion is complete false.