PTDF Scam: The Full Story – The Sun Editorial

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THE SUN

PTDF scam: THE FULL STORY
• Committee members spill can of worms
• How Nnamani buckled

From: ISMAIL OMIPIDAN, Abuja
Saturday, March 24, 2007

Tuesday March 20 would no doubt linger on for a long time in the memory of President of the Senate, Chief Kenechukwu Nnamani. It was a day the committee reviewing the Senate’s adhoc committee report on Petroluem Technology Development Fund (PTDF) was billed to submit its report.

The report was ready for submission, but Nnamani who had reportedly charged the committee to come up with “actionable recommendations,” suddenly buckled under the heavy weight of presidential pressure and attempted to scuttle the submission of the report. What went wrong?

In the Beginning

Senate President, Ken Nnamani had last Tuesday while inaugurating the 7-man review committee, led by Senator Umaru Tsauri, said that it was high time Nigeria made embezzlement and diversion of public funds a capital offence that should equally attract capital punishment, saying corruption was the cause of the pervasive poverty and misery in Nigeria .

According to the Senate President “the PTDF funds that were misapplied by the various actors are monies that should have been well utilized to improve the welfare of Nigerians. We should no longer close our eyes to massive embezzlement of public funds. In fact misapplication and misappropriation of public funds should be perceived as capital offences that attract severe punishments. Such public misbehaviours are the cause of poverty and misery in Nigeria.”

While further insisting that the sleaze in the PTDF are issues beyond the personal interest of both President Olusegun Obasanjo and his Vice, Atiku Abubakar, Nnamani charged the new committee to come up with actionable recommendations that would restore the credibility and respect to public governance, that would in turn ensure that the heinous crimes against the people of Nigeria, as evident in the PTDF saga, are adequately captured.

“The review committee must defend the integrity of the Senate. We must ensure fairness, firmness and justice to the Nigerian people,” Nnamani added.

Speaking in the same vein, chairman of the review committee, Senator Umaru Tsauri, had also declared that he was ready to do the job without fear or favour. Fielding questions from Journalists against the background of his perceived antagonism towards President Obasanjo, Tsauri said: “the press can say anything it likes. Any Nigerian can say whatever he or she likes. All I will say is that I will do my job with my conscience. I’m not sympathetic to Obasanjo and I’m also not sympathetic to Atiku. I will do the job to the best of my ability and in accordance with my conscience without minding whose ox is gored.”

The unwritten term of reference of the committee

Beside the open terms of reference handed to the committee publicly, one other term of reference which though was unwritten but which Saturday Sun gathered authoritatively was initially handed to the committee by the Senate President was to ensure that President Olusegun Obasanjo was “heavily indicted”, if the findings so pronounce him.

Committee turns in its report

In keeping faith with both the written and unwritten terms of reference, the committee apparently did a thorough job and prepared its report for submission. Conventionally, once a committee finishes its report, the content of the report is usually discussed with the body of Principal Officers led by the Senate President. But in this very case, Tsauri, chairman of the committee insisted that no one would see the report until it gets to the upper chamber. Notwithstanding the committee’s hard posture, the Senate President still invited Tsauri for a break fast last Tuesday (the day the report was supposed to be submitted.)

The controversial Break fast Meeting

Originally, only the chairman of the committee was invited for the break fast. However, other members of the committee joined on the invitation of their chairman.
Saturday Sun learnt that the committee members were taken aback when Nnamani complained about the recommendations of the committee.

Their surprise, Saturday Sun further learnt, stemmned from the fact that they had all resolved not to give the report to the body of principal officers of the Senate, thereby wondering how Nnamani knew about the recommendations.

They became more agitated when the Senate President was said to have complained openly about the manner the committee handled the issue of $125 million that was approved for PTDF projects. The projects were not executed but the money was deposited in the bank. He had argued that Atiku should not have been let off the hook over the misdemeanor.

On that issue the committee had recommended that it was satisfied with the placement because due process was followed, adding that “the subsequent investment was within the contemplation of section 1(c) of the PTDF Act and section 23 of the Finance (Manegement and Control) Act.”
The committee’s recommendation on the above issue sparked off disagreement between the members of the committee and the Senate President.

Another Break fast meeting within a Break fast Meeting

Unknown to the committee members the Senate President was holding another meeting in another room within his mansion. The first meeting was between him and Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, the Special Adviser to President Obasanjo on National Assembly matters. Saturday Sun gathered that it was Ita-Giwa who allegedly leaked the recommendations to the Senate President. She was said to have infiltrated the secretariat of the committee and eventually got what she “wanted.”

At the meeting with Nnamani, she was said to have, in her characteristic manner, broken down in tears, pleading with Nnamani to do something about the report, saying that “Baba will collapse if the report was allowed to see the light of the day.”

The Senate President was also said to have met with the former powerful aide of Obasanjo and PDP governorsip candaidate of Anambra, Dr. Andy Uba and prominent Igbo businessman, Chief Emeka Offor. They were all said to have lobbied Nnamnani to prevail on the committee to drop those “harsh” recommendations against the President. Nnamani was in turn said to have given them his words.

Saturday Sun gathered that soon after the meeting with the emissaries from the Presidency, Nnamani got back to the committee and impressd it on them to change certain things in the recommendations. For instance, he was said to have asked them to change “illegal” to “unlawful.”

There was also the embarrassing question of the parallel PTDF account which the presidency was said to have run in consonance with a top shot at NNPC – an account from which some $500 million was said to have vanished before the presidency ordered that it be closed down. The problem here was how the account came about? How the $1.7 billion got in? and who signed away the amounts that brought it down to $1.2 billion?

The rowdy session

While the Senate President busied himself with how to force the committee to keep the report in abeyanace, asking the committee why the “haste?,” deputy Senate
President Ibrahim Mantu and the Senate Leader, Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, who incidentally is the Vice chairman of the Senate’s Rules and Business committee, were instructed to cleverly alter the Order paper for last Tuesday’s meeting by removing the laying of the report from the Order paper.

Saturday Sun gathered that Tsauri, who is also the chairman of the Senate’s Rules and Business committee had used his office to slate the report on the Order paper for laying last Tuesady before it was removed by the Senate leadership.

Saturday Sun gatherd that Nnamani was duly informed of the hatchet job carried out by the other two principal officers and he was said to have approved of it. His approval of the hatchet job to counter the Tsauri’s committee may have informed the controversial ruling that gave nod to the extension of time sought by the committee chairman.

Upon realizing the removal of the laying of the report from the Order paper, Tasuri came with a strategy of asking for an extension of time to enable the committee tidy up its work. And the Senate too in a controversial circumstances granted the committee leave to submit its report “anytime.”

Conventionally however, when such extensions are sought, the Senate President would require the Senator asking for the extension to state in clear terms how much time he needed to complete the work. The question was however not asked last Tuesday.

Chairman of the committee, Senator Umaru Tsauri had come under order 43 of the Senate’s Standing Rules, which borders on personal explanation to intimate the Senate that but for the fresh revelations of Otunba Oyewole Fasawe, his committee would have submitted its report by Tuesday. He however submitted that the new revelations have greatly affected their report and therefore there was need for an extension of time to enable the committee do a thorough job.

“We sought for an extension last week to submit our report today (Tuesday). We were about rounding up our work when we took evidence from Fasawe, who came with another revelation which completely affected our report. But we hope to bring the report any time from now, “Tsauri said.

He had hardly concluded his remarks when Senators started murmuring, with some shouting aloud that the chairman should be specific on the number of days he wanted.

But the Senate President, Ken Nnamani who appeared miffed by the interests the issue was generating said: “why are you (Senators) putting up your hands? It is not a matter for debate. Are we no longer following our rules any more? What is controversial about it?” he asked.

The Senate President was still speaking when Senator Saidu Dansadau shouted “put the question, put the question….”

Nnamani replied “has Senator Dansadau decamped (he was speaking from the PDP side of the chamber)? When did he decamp?” While he was saying that Senator Dansadau returned to his seat.

Nnamani continued: “the committee is saying that there is a new piece of information at their disposal, and we want them to do a thorough job because after this (committee) we will not have another chance to review it.”

Thereafter, he said those in favour (of the request for an extension of time) say ‘Ayes.’
Rather than respond as usual, the Senators were shouting ‘Nay, Nay…’ But the Senate President hit the gavel and said the ‘Ayes’ had it, thereby approving the request by the committee to submit its report anytime, albeit controversially since it was the ‘Nays’ that were supposed to have had it.

The Resignation

After last Tuesday’s session, Tsauri again met with the principal officers that same afternoon to make them see reason to accept the report before the Senate proceeds on recess since it was billed to go on recess last Wednesday. But Tsauri’s pleas fell on deaf ears.

Saturday Sun gathered that two members of the committee had gone on their kneels pleading with Tsauri not to allow the leadership of the Senate drag the committee’s name in the mud.

One of them was quoted to have said: “two years ago, I was 60, that same year I was accused of taking a bribe. Iam yet to recover from that shock. Here is another scandal rearing its head, please save our name and integrity.”

When Tsauri met with the Senate President to intimate him of the plans of the committee members to resign, Nnamani was quoted to have said “ if you want to resign, go and resign. Don’t think you can intimidate me. I cannot be intimidated.”

And by last Tuesday’s evening, the committee turned in its resignation, citing the refusal of the Senate leadership to take its report as reason for their actions.

In a two paragraph letter addressed to the Senate President, the committee said: “We wish to inform the leadership that the review Committee set up by the Senate to review the report of the Ad-Hoc Committee on the PTDF concluded its report as scheduled.

“However, considering the fact that the leadership is not certain about the time it would want the report to be presented, we, members of the Review Committee hereby respectfully resign our membership.

We remain grateful for the honour of consideration to serve.”

The letter was signed by all the members of the committee.

The Face saving measure

Sensing that the move to scuttle the presentation of the report was beginning to embarrass the Senate, especially himself (Nnamani) who has been dressing in “Mr. Integrity” toga, the Senate made a u-turn and allowed the laying of the report after about three hours of heated debate behind close doors.

The leave to allow Tsauri lay his report was sought for and granted after the Senate, in a unanimous decision, rejected the resignation of Tsauri and other members of the committee.

As soon Senators began to troop into the chambers, they gathered in twos and threes, apparently discussing the turn of events concerning the report, with the Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Mantu and the Senate Leader, Dalhatu Sarki Tafida, conferring with the Senate President.

While the consultation was going on, Nnamani was busy jotting down relevant points, while the deputy clerk of the Senate reached out for the Senate’s Standing Rules booklet, and handed same over to the Senate President, apparently to guide him properly.

Nnamani read out a few announcements, while waiting for the technicians to fix the microphone on his table which suddenly went bad. When it became apparent that the mic may not eventually function, he climbed down from his high seat and sat where he normally sits if the Senate was not in plenary but in committee of the whole.

Moments after he took his seat, the Senate leader moved that the Senate go into a closed door session.

The motion was seconded by the deputy minority Whip, Senator Usman Umar, and the Senate went into a closed door session by 10.58 a.m.

At exactly 1p.m, committee chairman, Tsauri stormed out of the session, met with one of his aides, collected some documents from him and returned to the session. About 24 minutes later, he came out again, met with the said aide, collected another document and returned to the Senate.

And by 1.50p.m, the close door session was over. At the closed door session a member of the committee was said to have told Nnamani to his face that “you asked us to indict Obasanjo if he is, we did that. Why the turn aound?” He did not deny it. It was at this point Senators were said to have told the Senate leadership that it was too harsh on the committee. The Senate returned to plenary with Nnamani saying “in a very extended closed door session, we deliberated on a number of issues bordering on the recent happenings in the last 24 hours.

“I have a letter here and it is from Senator Umaru Tsauri. But before I read it, let me say that the Senate is in no way divided. We remain one family and united as ever in the fight against corruption. We would not want to create the impression that we are deliberately trying to run or shy away from our responsibility. Sections 88 of the constitution empower the hallowed chamber to investigate and expose corruption. And we will carry out that responsibility irrespective of our individual stands.

“I will like to point out before I read the letter again that there is disagreement but there is no quarrel, because we have different opinions over issues. And the Senate again in its characteristic manner remains united. We set up the committee to collate opinions of Senators on the adhoc committee so that we can have a consensus opinion to give us
consensus report. We are not trying to sweep the issue under the carpet neither are we trying to sweep under the carpet the cankerworm that has made Nigerians poor, that is the cankerworm of corruption.”

Thereafter he read the letter conveying the resignation of the committee members to the Senate.

After reading it, it was put to vote, but the ‘Nays’ had it, thereby rejecting the resignation. From there, the Senate President requested the Senate leader to invoke the necessary orders of the Senate rules so as to accommodate the report.

Before presenting the report, Tsauri too said: “I consulted with the members of the committee and we agreed that if the Senate rejects our resignation, we will gladly lay our report.” He thereafter preceded to the lay the report.

Nnamani defends self

Shortly after the plenary session, Nnamani who had earlier informed the Senate press corps that he would be briefing them on the happenings in the Senate by 9a.m,before he was later advised not to meet with the press before the plenary, said while fielding questions from journalists that what happened was just a mere communication gap, even as he confirmed meeting with the emissaries from the Presidency.

Hear him “Andy Uba was my junior in secondary school. I was a senior prefect of the school when he was in class two. He was the school goal-keeper for the junior team. He visits me from time to time. Yes he visited me. Chief Emeka Offor is my personal friend. Though he is not with the Presidency, he is an independent businessman. He also visits me from time to time. Many people too, visit me .”

On the committee he said: “I would like to call it communication gap in the sense that if you read the letter that they (committee) wrote, you would notice that they never mentioned the word to ‘lay on the table’. They were desirous of making a quick presentation. So, the whole thing borders on legislative due process. I believe that no matter how pressing the item is, we must follow the procedure, which we have done today (Wednesday).

“They have laid the report now, the next thing we do is to take the presentation, which is the procedure and technicalities in legislative work. If you jump laying the report to presenting it, you are not following the procedure. We took it today even though it was not in our Order Paper schedule for today’s plenary.

“I would be the last person to encourage anybody to cover up anything. We should get to the bottom of the assignment that section 88 empowers us to use in tackling corruption.

“In any case, receiving the report does not mean accepting or rejecting it, as we have to go and read and digest the contents so that when we resume from recess, each and every member would be in a better position to make an input while debating.”

Last line

The report may have been submitted, but from all indications, it may never see the light of the day. Senators are on recess. They will come back in May after the elections.

 

 

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