By Dele Anofi
•Expects ex-Appropriation Committee chair to appear before it Monday
•Embattled lawmaker expresses lack of faith in panel, vows to decline invitation unless proceedings are made public
The Investigation of former House of Representatives Chairman, Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, by the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges began yesterday with a four-count charge.
Jibrin’s appearance before the Committee is scheduled for Monday, September 26, 2016.
Jibrin’s lawyer, Femi Falana, has written the Speaker on why the investigation can not proceed while a lawmaker said yesterday that Jibrin would not get justice from the Ethics Committee, .
The charges leveled against Jibrin on behalf of the House by the Chairman Committee on Rules and Business, Emmanuel Orker-Jev, include breach of the privileges of the members of the House; contempt of the House of Representatives; breach of the practices, precedents and usages of the House of Representatives and sundry acts of misconduct against members and the institution of the House of Representatives and National Assembly; and breach of the provisions of the Leguslative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act.
At the investigative sitting which commenced shortly before 11 am yesterday, the Chairman of the Committee, Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta), while soliciting the cooperation of all the parties involved to facilitate a speedy completion of the assignment, assured that the Committee would be objective in all its dealings on the matter.
The proceeding commenced with the Chairman asking the only witness at the day’s sitting, Oker-Jev, who moved the motion for the investigation to confirm the breaches proffered agianst Jibrin.
In response, Orker-Jev recalled that following the removal of Jibrin as Appropriation Committee Chairman, Jibrin embarked on a campaign of calumny and denigration by making false and scandalous statements and publications in print and electronic media as well as the internet and social media including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, against the members of the House of Representatives collectively and the House of Representatives as an institution.
Orker-Jev said: “The said statements were widely published and circulated worldwide by Hon Jibrin in the aforesaid print and electronic media in Nigeria and on-line, and was read and intended to be read by the constituents of all honourable members, including most villages, towns and cities across Nigeria, including Abuja and also outside Nigeria.”
Jibrin’s numerous breaches were collated by Oker-Jev who noted that “on August 14, 2016, Hon Jibrin made the following statement which was widely published in the newspapers: ‘…I have also commenced providing the anti corruption agencies clue on how investigative hearings in the House … are used as conduit pipes to carry out massive corruption…..’
“Furthermore, on August 9, 2016, he made the following statement which was widely published, thus: ‘..As it stands today, these corrupt elements have infiltrated the House, making the institution a hub of systemic corruption. I repeat there is massive individual and systemic corruption in the House of Representatives..’
“He made another statement that was published on August 21, 2016 to the effect that: ‘It is a known fact that legislative investigation is used as avenue to extort money in an organised crime ….’
“In another statement made by Hon Jibrin on August 21, 2016 and duly published by the newspapers, he said: ‘I dare say corruption in the House of Representatives today is more than that of the executive and judiciary combined.’
“In a Channels TV Interview (Politics Today) aired on Sunday, July 31, 2016, he made the following comment: ‘…The House, there is corruption. I’d rather say there is corruption in the House of Representatives. Not only is there corruption, there is institutional corruption and these are all things that I can also prove.’
“Finally, at an interview with AIT (Focus Nigeria) on 4th August 2016, he made the following comments designed not only disparage the House as an institution but insulted all Honoursble Members of this House. Hon Jibrin said: ‘ .. I have said that there is corruption in the House and I am waiting, i am waiting for anyone that will come and tell me that I am lying. Corruption exists in the House of Representatives, corruption exists in investigative panels, corruption exists during oversight visits, and that is why I explain to people when they tell me to settle with Dogara. I say look, what I am doing is beyond Dogara. It is beyond Dogara. . . . . I want the system to change. We want the right people to be in the House…. We are tired of members who only come to the chamber, lick Tom Tom, eat groundnuts and go back to their offices. I have to stop that. I want to see a situation where in 2019, if a Nigerian wakes up and says he wants to be a member of the House of Representatives, he has to be someone that when he sits in that chamber and you are seated in your living room, you should be able to say I am proud that this is a member of the House of Representatives.’ “
Oker-Jev, who preferred to affirm rather than swear with a scripture when put on oath, tendered four exhibits to back his submission while promising to present more as requested by the Committee.
His evidence included newspaper cuttings and television footages.
He also promised to provide the Committee with Jibrin’s social media posts relating to the allegations.
Asked why he took it upon himslef to move the motion for the investigation, Orker-Jev said as Rules and Business Committee Chairman, many of his colleagues approached his office to inform him that they intend to raise a point of order against Jibrin for breaching their privileges with his utterances.
He said it was to avoid numerous and cumbersome points of order and waste of quality legislative time that he collated their grievances and articulated them into a single motion which he sponsored.
The Committee also requested to know if Jibrin actually breached any lawmaker’s privilege. In his response, Orker-Jev, citing sections of Legislative Houses Powers and Privileges Act as well as House Rules, said Jibrin was very reckless and totally disregarded his colleagues and the institutuon with his allegations and comments.
He also said going by the rule books, Jibrin had committed an offense against the House and could be prosecuted by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).
He said Section 24 of the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act prescribed a fine of N200 or 12 months imprisonment for any member convicted of the offence.
This, he said, did not preclude the House from also penalising the embattled lawmaker since he cannot be convicted by the House.
Orker-Jev cited two instances in the 6th Assembly where a member, before being referred to the Ethics and Privileges Committee, apologised and was pardoned while another was referred and later suspended after he was found guilty.
He however regretted that Jibrin had continued to misbehave, saying, “Even on the day he was referred to Ethics Committee, he still took to his twitter handle that he was going ‘to enjoy himslef before tackling the thieves.’ “
To aid its findings, the Committee asked Orker-Jev if what Jibrin alleged or said about the scandal were false or true but scandalous. Oker-Jev said Jibrin knew that all he said about the matter were false and scandalous.
When the Committee asked him to prove that Jibrin’s utterances and actions actually defamed the House, Orker-Jev said reactions by readers to Jibrin’s comments in newspapers were negative and damaging to the House.
He also said reactions from his friends, associates and constituents were not very encouraging.
“Public perception of the House was badly affected as a result of Jibrin’s allegations,” he added.
He also said rather than go public with his grievances, Jibrin ought to have taken advantage of internal mechanism to seek redress through House’s Code of Conduct or table it as a motion on the floor.
According to him, such mechanism would have left the Speaker with no choice but refer it to Ethics Committee even if he was an interested party.
However in a sharp reaction, Jibrin said he has no faith in the Committee because it can not be impartial.
He insisted on not honouring the Committee’s invitation unless its proceedings were made public.
In a letter to the Committee Chairman, Ossai yesterday, Jibrin said it was shocking that rather than investigate the allegations of corruption he leveled against the Speaker and others, the Committee was more interested in investigating him and how he breached his colleagues’ privileges.
The letter reads: “You will recall that in my letter to all Hon Members ahead of the resumption of the House, I stated clearly in my recommendations that I did not believe you have the ability to be an impartial arbiter.
“To refresh your memory, I stated in the letter that “The Speaker Pro Tempore should constitute an Adhoc Committee to investigate these allegations in collaboration with the ongoing external investigation by the anti-graft agencies.
“This has become necessary because from some public and private comments made by the incumbent Chairman of the Ethics and Privileges Committee, he has become an interested party in the matter and his ability to be impartial is in doubt.
“Also, some of the members, including myself, who sit as members of the committee, are interested party in the matter.
“You called me after reading my letter and tried to explain your public statement and further made efforts to convince me that you will indeed be impartial. I listened to you, but I had my doubts.
“Subsequent events after the sitting of Wednesday 21st September and specifically our conversation on phone when you called me on the 21st and 22nd have further affirmed my misgivings and convinced me beyond reasonable doubt that you CANNOT be impartial.
“You will recall that when you called me on 21st, you tried to assuage my doubts and encouraged me to appear. I told you clearly I will appear under the condition that the proceedings will be public with access given to both print and electronic media, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, Nigerian Labour Congress, Nigerian Bar Association, Academic Staff Union of Universities, National Association of Nigerian Students and the general public.
“I made it clear to you that it is under such arrangement that I will feel comfortable that the investigation, proceedings and outcome will not be manipulated or compromised.
“I requested that these assurances be included in the letter of invitation you will send to me. I cited an instance, asking you “what if on a hearing day, the public and press are shut out or are prevented from having access to House knowing the extend of the powers of the Speaker? What will happen?” You promised to get back to me the following day.
“The next day you called, we had the same conversation and concluded that you would put everything in writing. You can imagine my shock and disappointment when I saw your verge letter.
“Even more shocking was when I discovered the entire hearing is not to probe my allegations but to probe a so-called breach of privilege of members and misconduct by me.
“Mr Chairman, your letter clearly indicates that mischief is in the offing. You are inviting an accused to appear before you without telling him his offence. You did not state how I breached the privileges of the House and members.
“You did not state the name of which member’s privileges I breached so that I can take on the member or members and see if they can stand corruption test. You did not state the precedents and practices that I breached.
“You did not state what I did that amounted to misconduct so even if I intend to attend, I can know what exactly I am being accused of and come prepared.
“Mr. Chairman, what further deepens my pessimism is the fact that in your letter, you indicated that you were inviting me to appear before your committee on Monday 26th September, 2016, but surprisingly, you announced to the press that I shunned your invitation. This is clear indication that the outcome of your “investigation” is already predetermined.
“May I draw your attention to the fact that the privileges of the House and members do not accord the former and latter immunity to being exposed if involved in corrupt practices and equally exposing budget fraud and corruption does not amount to misconduct. These are all service to the nation worthy of commendation.
“I strongly believe that you will be doing a great service to the country if you concentrate on investigating the privileges of Nigerians that Speaker Dogara and few other members have grossly breached and further investigate the misconduct therein.
“You also did not find it worthy to investigate the grievous allegations I made against Mr Speaker and few others or even why the Speaker is yet to address all the allegations I made against him and summit himself to the security and anti-graft agencies to clear his name two months after I submitted my petitions.
“It is obvious that the Committee on Ethics can not be impartial in dealing with this matter. I urge you and the Members of your Committee not to join this grand plan against the people of Nigeria to use the House as a shield to cover a small cabal which instituted corruption in the House for their benefits. I call on you to fear God and search your conscience.
“Mr Chairman, I am on a crusade to expose corruption in the House and push for reforms that will clean up the House for the Nigerian people. There is no going back on this and I will continue this struggle even if I end up alone.
“I stand on all my allegations against Mr Speaker and three other principal officers, and will pursue the matter in collaboration with the anti-graft agencies, other groups and well-meaning Nigerians until justice is served. The House does not belong to 360 Members but 200 million Nigerians. Nobody can cow me into silence.
“Mr Chairman, this is a rare opportunity for us to salvage the House once and for all for the Nigerian people.
“I call on you to be part of this history. Members of the House have only two options before them: to either StandWithDogara or StandWithNigerians. A stand with Dogara is a stand with fraud and corruption. I stand with Nigerians. Who do you stand with?”
Olufemi Adebanjo (APC, Lagos) also believed that Jibrin would not get justice at the Ethics and Privileges Committee.
According to him, some mbers of the Ethics Committee have shown enough bias with thier open support for the Speaker.
He said: “Its not right to send the case to the Ethics and Privileges Committee because the Speaker put the committee in place.
“Unfortunately for them, some of the committee members were wearing the muffler with the inscription ” I am with Dogara,” so how can there be justice? Its not possible.
“It’s Between Jibrin, Speaker and three others principal officers mainly. He who pays the piper dictates the tune.
“Let us be frank with one another, it’s not possible. Its just like coming to your house and fighting with you and members of your house are the panelists. I can’t get justice.
“All the array of immaturity displayed yesterday, I was embarrassed. To the extent that members were wearing mufflers supporting Dogara.
“The issue is even above National Assembly. It was beyond Dogara. It concerns the whole Nigeria. The integrity of the National Assembly is at stake. The integrity of the country is at stake.”
Jibrin has also taken a legal action to stop the investigation.
In his letter to the Speaker, Jibrin said: “I write you this letter to express the deep agony and pains that overwhelmed me when I watched a person with soiled reputation preside over the House sitting on Wednesday.
“It was another bout of mental torment when I watched you taking advantage of the office of the Speaker and publicity inherent to vomit all sort of lies in a desperate bid to attract public sympathy, paint me in bad light and use the institution of the House to cover the fraud you perpetrated in the 2016 budget and other monumental corrupt practices.
“It is therefore no surprise that rather than address the allegations of budget fraud and corruption I specifically leveled against you, three Principal officers and a few other members (not the entire House), and open it up for discussion if you have nothing to hide, you embarked on a wild goose chase.
“You have successfully dragged 360 members into an offence committed by you and a few others.
“In the next few days, members will have to decide whether they are with you or with millions of conscientious Nigerians. No action that symbolises corruption than standing with an embodiment of corruption.
“On a final note, I have the following posers for you: Did you consult your colleagues when you and the three other principal officers stole our 40 billion? Or when you diverted federal governments projects to your farm? Who did you consult when you inserted fraudulent projects worth about 20 billion naira into the budget?
“Didn’t you and members of your cabal go solo when you inserted about 2000 projects worth 284 billion naira into the budget, or when you manipulated the house rules and inserted draconian clauses, a House rule you continue to use despite the fact that it is a subject of litigation? What about the way you abused trust in the 2015 SDG? Or how you tried to force me to fraudulently insert projects worth about 30 billion naira in the budget?
“Can you explain how you absconded with 20 per cent of inputs meant for the House after the harmonization? How about cutting a chunk off members’ emoluments for rent of houses and guest houses? Why did you refuse to circulate copies of the internal budget of the House?
“How about mismanaging finances of the House through questionable procurements? How about trying to use running cost of members for a fraudulent mortgage and many more?
“Mr Speaker, these are the allegations against you. All members of the House are aware that I have raised these allegations, and whether they act on it or not, Nigerians are watching. But what remains clear is that you have become a lameduck Speaker who is vulnerable and cannot walk with his head high.
“Do you expect all these allegations to be swept under the carpet? You have neither attempted nor addressed these allegations, but you move around freely and try to keep a bold face.
“The House is an institution that always stands for justice, equity and fairness. How damaging will it be when the House cannot deal with issues of internal corruption in a transparent manner?
“The House must embrace reforms. It is a reform you have lost the moral ground to superintend.”
His counsel, Femi Falana, in a letter dated 23rd September, 2016 and addressed to the Speaker, said Ethics Committee investigation of Jibrin is a violation of of the provisions.of Order 9, Rule 5 of the Standing Rules of the House.
Order 9, Rule 5 provides that ‘Reference shall not be made to any matter on which a judicial decision is pending in such a way as might, in the Speaker’s opinion, prejudice the interest of parties thereto’.
Falana noted that the House and the National Assembly have never departed from this rule by entertaining a case pending before a court of law in Nigeria.
He said it was worrisome and disturbing that the Speaker allowed a motion seeking to suspend his client from the House to be moved and adopted while there is a pending suit (FHC/ABJ/CS/50/5/2016 between Abdulmumin Jibrin and the House of Representatives and 13 others) at the Federal High Court Abuja filed by hin
Falana said the originating suit was served on the Speaker after which the Speaker accordingly entered appearance to defend Jibrin’s claims through his counsel Sen. Ikechukwu Obiora & Co.
“Therefore, you will agree that your action in the circumstance is inconsistent with the practice and procedure of the House and long standing tradition of not entertaining any debate on a subject matter that was sub-judice by virtue of the provisions of Order 9 Rule 5 of the Standing Order of the House”.
Citing Supteme Court case, Umoh Vs. TiTA (1999), Falana also said the court in Nigeria have always condemned any interference with judicial process and have repeatedly frowned on any action of the parties that us capable of affecting the subject matter of pending suits.
He warned the Speaker, saying: “Otbis hoped that you will not compel us to embark on contempt proceeding in respect of this matter”.