The House of Representatives has over the years been rocked by one financial scandal after the other. In the last four years, it has witnessed at least four embarrassing scandals under ex-speakers Patricia Etteh and Dimeji Bankole. Bankole is currently in the EFCC custody for alleged contract inflation. ADESUWA TSAN, examines the issues and major actors.
The arrest and detention of the former speaker, Hon. Dimeji Bankole by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over alleged contract inflation in the purchase of 407 official cars and television sets and other office appliances is no longer news. It did not come as a surprise considering that the anti-graft agency had been on his tail for about a week before the Sunday that he was arrested.
However, issues surrounding his arrest are still topical, especially as the thread of alleged corruption around him seems to be threatening to go round his colleagues who served as principal officers under his leadership.
The shadow of the N10 billion loan is still hovering over the heads of the lawmakers who were alleged to have collected N14 million each as increment to their N28m quarterly allowance.
Analysts are worried that if the EFCC were to act on the information available, would the agency go against just the leadership who approved the deal or the House as a whole who collectively took the decision to go for the loan.
Recently, the former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives, now a senator, Mohammed Ali Ndume, said in an interview with one of the national dailies that the National Assembly bureaucracy was to blame for the loan saga.
As a member of the ANPP and leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives, Ndume was known for his tough criticism of policies and actions of the ruling party. In the course of his leadership, he gained the respect of his colleagues and became one member whose views could not be ignored.
In the interview, the former leader of the minority alleged that the clerk of the House of Representatives, Sani Omolori misled Bankole by assuring him that the House had enough money in its account to fund the bogus salary increment.
The senator also said that it was shocking that the House was indebted to banks because it lacked money to run its affairs when the Clerk had assured the leadership and other members at the executive session that the budget would be able to finance the allowances.
Ndume added that he warned the Speaker that the House budget would not be able to sustain the allowances of members, but his submission was not taken.
He said, “At the meeting I objected to the jumbo pay and the Clerk of the House was asked whether the House budget would be able to sustain the allowances, and he answered in the affirmative that the budget would be able to sustain the payment of over N42 million quarterly allowances as against the previous N27 million.
He added: “Bankole was misled and I can say that anywhere. He is culpable because I warned him not to do anything that the members would hold him responsible for. If the Clerk insists that he is right then Bankole was wrong to have borrowed money, but if the Clerk could not provide the money, then blame Bankole. It is unfortunate that this is happening in the House, the Speaker was warned by some of our colleagues. I personally warned him; I reported him to his father, but when I realised that he was not ready to change, I decided not to go to him for any advice on the running of the House.
So the question now is: was it Bankole who approved the loan or the 351 members who agreed and enjoyed the largesse or the clerk, Sani Omolori who allegedly said the increment could be managed, that should be blamed for the financial crisis that hit the former House?
There ought to be a procedural approach to such issue. This is not the first time that the management is being brought into issues of mismanagement fo funds.
In 2007, during the Patricia Etteh N628 renovation contract scandal, the name of the clerk also crept in for ill-advising her. Etteh has however been cleared of any indictment on the contract scam as there was nothing improper that could be established against her.
So it also goes without saying that perhaps the bureaucrats were also not wrong in advising her on what procedure to take in awarding the contract. The former clerk has since been relieved of his office even before the issue was cleared by the lawmakers.
For those that know about the way the public service works, it will be easier to understand that their job, in this instance, is to implement whatever resolutions the legislators take in the chambers.
In the N10 billion instance, the whole House agreed in an executive session, though there were a few concerns raised about the ability of the purse of the green chamber to fund it, but it would have been unusual for the clerk of the House or even Bankole to ignore the resolution of members in the executive session.
It was learnt that even the opinion of the former Leader of the House, Abdul Ningi, who is also now a Senator that the loan should not be taken was ignored. The Clerk of the House should not be blamed for the actions of lawmakers.
Bankole alone should not be left to face the music. Even though as head of the institution, the bulk stops at his table, all members were in attendance and a 37-man committee was set up to examine the matter.