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April 08, 2005

ICPC Questions Wabara; More senators face Mamora panel

Former Senate President, Chief Adolphus Wabara was yesterday interrogated by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) for over six hours to explain his role in the bribe-for-budget scandal wherein former Education Minister Fabian Osuji gave N55 million bribe to some senators of the National Assembly in order to inflate the ministry’s budget.

From Lillian Okenwa, Kola Ologbondiyan and Ahamefula Ogbu in Abuja, 04.08.2005

Bribe-for-Budget Scandal

Also yesterday, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, Abdulazeez Ibrahim, his deputy, Senator Emmanuel Okpede, as well as Senator Badamasi Maccido, denied their alleged roles in the bribe-for-budget scandal.
Wabara came into the premises of the ICPC at about 10.30 a.m. and thereafter headed for the Conference Room located on the second floor of the Commission’s building waiting to be interrogated by officials of the commission.
The former Senate President was sighted at the ICPC shortly before the interrogation exercise started.
Other senators implicated in the bribery scam had already been interrogated last week by investigators attached to the commission.
Those who interrogated Wabara yesterday were said to be members of a special team of investigators that work directly with the Chairman of the commission, Justice Mustapha Akanbi.
Wabara was later allowed to go at about 4.40 p.m.
The commission has said it would address a press conference on the progress made so far concerning the bribery allegation.
Testifying separately for the second time before the Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora-led Committee on Ethics, Code of Conduct and Public Petitions, Ibrahim, Okpede and Maccido challenged the principal character in the bribe scandal, Senator Chris Adighije, to prove his allegation that they were in his house for the sharing of the alleged N55 million bribe.
Ibrahim, also denied before the committee that he gave the committee secretary, Mrs. Ngozi Obichere, a sum of N1m after the sharing of the N55m bribe at the residence of Adighije.
Obichere had told the committee on Wednesday that her chairman made available to her the sum of N1m at Adighije’s residence. He added that her boss later told her after her arrest by the EFCC that the money he gave her was “his personal money because he had promised to give me money for Christmas and Sallah.”
When the committee sought clarification on this from Ibrahim yesterday, he said: “It is not true that I gave the secretary of my committee N1m. N1m for what?”
According to him, “I only want to make three observations or comments in respect of Adighije’s statement and insinuations. First of all, during the time of deliberation on the 2005 budget, Adighije despite the resolution of the House and Senate Committees on Education of which he is a member insisted that we must call the minister. This was put to vote and only he and one other person from the House of Reps voted that the minister should be invited.
“All other members of the joint committee said no. We did not know what he planned at that time. And he kept insisting up till the last day. As distinguished senators you know that any resolution that is taken on the floor of the Senate even if you had opposed that resolution when you are outside the Senate you cannot oppose it. This gentleman after we had resolved in the committee after we had voted and the resolution had divided and recorded, he now went to dissolve what has been resolved at the committee.
“If I were not a man of God I would not be talking to you today. For God’s sake if it was money that I wanted or the committee wanted from the minister, was that not the right opportunity to tell Adighije to go and ask the minister to give us money?
“We passed our budget to the Appropriation Committee after that resolution not to invite the minister. And it was after we had passed our budget to the Appropriation Committee that this so-called meeting was held. If somebody gave you money as bribe to influence the budget, the budget is there let him check to see whether that budget has been influenced by the money brought. I am not privy to any discussions about money nor do I have the misfortune of collecting any money from anybody in this respect.
“I was abroad when Senator Adighije returned this money to the EFCC. During the time I was abroad, my account can be checked to see whether I actually withdrew any money to add to this so called bribe money. Has he spoken when I was abroad that I should return the money? Honestly I find it baffling that he can make this statement.
“He said that he has changed his statement, whether it is due to the politics in Abia State between him and the Senate President, whether it is because the Minister is the godfather to his son and he wants to protect the minister, I don’t know”.
On his part, Maccido said, “I have decided I would respond because of the sensation that (Adighije’s) testimony generated. The effect that it has had, the sentiments it is meant to whip up in the public so that everything will look real. The fact here is—I didn’t want to say this because we are going to court and that is why one needs to be as brief as possible."
“One thing for sure as far as I am concerned, Chris Adighije is the prosecution witness to the government as it is now. A case is being built round what has already been broadcast by Mr. President, to justify the broadcast by Mr. President so that Nigerians would see it as it is and nothing beyond that.
“Mr. President has pronounced us guilty and so a case has to be established and I told Nuhu Ribadu (the EFCC chairman) that, the broadcast, coming from the quarter that it did come, is very damaging, unfair and uncalled for. That singular broadcast has been so terrible to my reputation, to my character, to my integrity and that was why when Chris Adighije said what he said to your committee I decided I was going to respond.
“I was not at Chris Adighije’s house. If the case is being built around what is already on the text that is something else. But the sensation with which it was greeted was to me deliberate. Only one side of the story has been heard. I think I deserve a right to be heard by Nigerians no matter what I say. I think my fundamental rights should be protected. Just because Mr. President has accused me does not mean I lose my rights and privileges. I think we deserve fair hearing in a competent court of jurisdiction before we are sentenced.
“Now, how am I going to be satisfied with any justice I get in court if this is going on—a case is being built and everyday it is being sensationalized in papers just because the person talking is the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and I am a common criminal or at least that is what I’m being projected to be.
“I was not at Chris Adighije’s house and if he has any proof that I was there let him bring it. There is no need creating sensation. There is no need creating stories. If he knows I was there, in the first testimony why didn’t he say what I was given? Why is he building figures now?
“I heard a story and I was told by a competent person and I am going to say it here: that Chris Adighije was told by the EFCC man to rub-off everybody so that it would have national spread, so that not only Igbos would be indicted in this whole case. Because there are three prominent Igbo personalities: the Senate President, Minister of Education and Chris Adighije.
“Now the Igbos will not have to cry foul because there are a couple of others indicted from the north. But that is not fair. I don’t mind going to jail for what I believe in. I don’t mind and I don’t mince words about that. But I am going to stand up high. Nobody is going to intimidate me.
“The conspiracy that is being built round this case is becoming sickening. I personally have lost everything because I have lost my integrity in the eyes of Nigerians. And there is more to living than just life. You must have credibility. You must have integrity before you can be living. I lost that and I think I will stand to fight to the last drop of my blood to get my integrity back. I don’t care what happens to me. I don’t care.”
Also reacting, the Senate Committee on Education vice chairman, Okpede, said: "I want to repeat without any fear of contradiction that I was not in Adighije’s house as he alleged. You will recall that yesterday what I heard Adighije saying was that he had made an earlier statement but that he had to make another statement again because he had discovered that in the first statement he lied or that he was asked to lie by the former Senate President.
“It is very regrettable, it is very unfortunate that the distinguished senator, 60 years of age, much older than myself, would agree that he lied, and he was asked to lie and he lied. How are we sure that yesterday what he told you he was also not told by another person to come and lie again so that another day you call him again he will confess that he lied again.
“I want to believe that even though I am not a lawyer, but the mere fact that Chris has admitted before Nigerians that at 60 he can still lie, then I leave the rest for Nigerians to judge. But I want to say clearly that in law, he who asserts must proof.
“Chris Adighije has all the liberty to proof to the world that I was in his house. And that is what he has to do. Once he can proof that I was in his house, I will rest my case. I will say he has not lied. Chris Adighije himself has cause to say that he had to change his statement because he was advised, he was lured by the chairman of the EFCC to bring in other names from other geo-political zones so that the case can become political.
“That is the only way he could get out of the case. And he admitted therefore to go and make another statement to make the case look like a Nigerian case. So that all people would come all over the country to come and beg and he would be subsumed under the begging and he will get out of it.
“Well, it is clear that Chris Adighije admitted that the minister took money to his house for whatever reason I do not know. He is not the chairman of my committee. I don’t know why he was transacting business with the minister. At no meeting of the committee did the committee mandate Chris Adighije to be liaising between it and the (then) minister of Education.
“And again Chris Adighije refunded money to the EFCC, he never asked me to refund any money to him being part of what he gave me so that he could make up the money and refund to EFCC. Now I want to say that I cannot imagine a situation where EFCC, an establishment of the law, making an investigation and I have been available, there is no evidence to suggest that EFCC has ever looked for me.
“In fact even when Mr. President made his broadcast before I left for Easter in my home state, I went to the Leader of the Senate, I went to the Deputy Senate President and I said okay, now that Mr. President has sentenced me am I free to travel, he said well there is no document showing us that you cannot travel. So if you want to travel you can travel. Then I told them, I would be in my hometown so that if they look for me, you know where to find me. I went home I came back on Easter Monday, I enquired, nobody looked for me, no agency sent for me,
“Until when I discovered that the press was not abating in the campaign against me and I decided that because the matter would naturally go to court if they don’t want to hear me, I will make it possible for myself to be heard. On the 30th of March therefore I walked myself to EFCC, on my own volition at nobody’s invitation. And I insisted I wanted to make a statement and I made a statement.
“Now I studied the report of EFCC itself. Look under their findings, findings one to 14 there was nothing they said they found against Senator Okpede. But in their conclusion and opinion, they said Okpede has been indicted. I find this very difficult to understand and to believe. Therefore I want to say Mr. Chairman that what Senator Chris Adighije is doing is nothing but the case of a drowning man who would not want to drown alone," he said.
Also yesterday, the chairman Senate Committee on Public Accounts, Senator Mamman Ali, also told the Ethics Committee that his official residence was used to make statements by Adighije, Wabara as well as Senator John Azuta-Mbata to avert a situation that would see the three being arrested and dragged to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Osuji who was expected to appear before the committee yesterday pleaded for more time and will now testify next week.
Wabara will also face the committee next week to make further clarifications.
Meanwhile, following contradictory statements from members of the House of Representatives named as actors in the bribe-for-budget scam, its Ethics and Privileges Committee investigating the matter has decided to invite all of them to face each other Tuesday next week.
THISDAY learnt that the Hon Bello Mutawale Committee was surprised by the turn of events as contradictory evidence has made it difficult for the panel to arrive at the truth especially as regards the N15 million bribe allegedly given to three members of the House by the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Imo State, Professor Jude Njoku.
Those the Committee are expecting to appear and testify before are the Chairman of EFCC, Alhaji Nuhu Ribadu, Chairman of the Committee on Appropriations, Hon Gabriel Suswam, Hon Osita Izunaso, House Committee Chairman on Housing and Urban Development and his Education counterpart, Hon Garba Matazu. Njoku is also expected to be in attendance.
The Committee which is expected to turn in its report as the House resumes to enable members take decisions on the issues said since Ribadu claimed that Njoku made his confessional statement freely while he alleged duress, it would be better the duo face each other.
Njoku's evidence was that he did not know Suswam, and Izunaso while he admitted knowing Matazu. He also denied giving any money to any of the lawmakers. He said he got the amount he requested for from the 2004 budget.
However, Ribadu who appeared before the Committee last week came with the statement he claimed Njoku made and even brought along, a letter seeking for presidential pardon on the matter written by the same Vice Chancellor who had denied the bribery allegation.
The committee said the Tuesday face-to-face testimony would enable it arrive at final conclusions on the case.

Posted by Publisher at April 8, 2005 06:52 AM

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