Thursday, March 22, 2007

Senate Indicts Obasanjo, Atiku

Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Technology Development Fund

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PTDF: Senate Committee Indicts Obasanjo, Atiku
Refers report to Code of Conduct Bureau Presidency responds
From Sufuyan Ojeifo in Abuja, 03.22.2007

The seven-member Senate review committee set up to revisit the report of the ad-hoc committee on the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) has indicted both President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar over wrong-doings in the management of the fund. The committee has also recommended that both of them should be referred to the Code of Conduct Bureau for further action. But in a swift reaction last night, the Presidency dismissed Obasanjo's indictment, saying the committee was biased and the report teleguided from outside Senate chambers.

The committee report was laid on the table of the Senate yesterday after the upper legislative chamber unanimously rejected Tuesday's dramatic resignation of members.
Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, had after reporting the progress of the committee following a closed session that lasted about three hours and at which the Senate discussed the crisis, read the letter of resignation by the committee members dated March 20 2007 and put to the floor the question as to whether or not it should be accepted. Following the unanimous rejection, the Senate asked the committee chairman, Senator Umaru Tsauri (Katsina State) to submit the report, which he promptly did at exactly 2.06 p.m. after seeking the leave of the house to do so.

The committee in the 44-page report which had 19 pages of annexure indicted Obasanjo with respect to some projects commenced by PTDF in 2006 viz: Incorporation of Galaxy Backbone; purchase of computers for civil servants under the Computer for all Nigerians Initiative; and, Defence Industry Corporation of Nigeria (DICON) rehabilitation for which he gave approval and later got them ratified retroactively.
The committee viewed the action of the President as illegal and therefore referred him to the Code of Conduct Bureau for further action.

On the part of Vice President Abubakar, the committee in its report stated: “With regards to the approval which the vice president gave in respect of the $20 million on October 14 2003, without the authority of Mr. President, the committee views the approval of the vice president as illegal" and therefore "recommends he be referred to the Code of Conduct of Bureau for further action.”

The review committee, which sustained some of the observations made by the Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba-led ad-hoc committee on PTDF and rejected others, further recommended as follows:
•The Committee recommends that in the case of deposits that were placed in Trans International Bank (TIB) and Equitorial Trust Bank (ETB), the circumstantial coincidence that existed between the deposits and the loans could not be used to link PTDF money with the companies that were granted loans. If there are any irregularities, it is the responsibility of the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) to sanction the bank.
• In respect of the approvals of $125 million on April 25 2003 and the subsequent placements of $115 million in ETB and $10 million in TIB, the Committee is satisfied that due process was followed. The subsequent investment was within the contemplation of Section 1(c) of the PTDF Act and section 23 of the Finance (Management and Control) Act.
• However, in the case of the additional $20 million for which the then Executive Secretary, Hamisu Abubakar misrepresented the facts and wrongfully obtained approval of the Vice President, the committee recommends that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which is presently investigating the matter should continue and prosecute him for any offence disclosed.
•Hussaini Jalo, a former Executive Secretary of the PTDF from July 2005 to November 2005 is under investigation by EFCC and the sum of N49 million and 6 Nos. vehicles have so far been recovered from him. The committee recommends that EFCC which is presently investigating the matter should continue and prosecute him for any offence disclosed.

The report further recommended that, “In respect of the progress report on the Obasanjo administration and photographs for the State House Library, for which the former Executive Secretary approved N4.5 million, the committee views the project as outside the mandate of the PTDF Act. The committee in the report also recommended that the Executive Secretary, Alhaji Admau Maina Waziri should be referred to the Independent Corrupt Practices (ICPC) for further action.

The report further sustained recommendations (viii) of the ad-hoc committee that all projects approved for the PTDF from 2003 till date should be verified and evaluated by the relevant committees of the Senate, that is: Committee on Petroleum Resources (upstream) and Committee on Public Accounts; or alternatively an ad-hoc committee set up for that purpose. (xii) of the ad-hoc committee that all accounts in the name of PTDF within and outside Nigeria should be established by the Senate committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Public Accounts; or alternatively an ad-hoc committee set up for that purpose. Other recommendations taken from the report of the ad-hoc committee and sustained by the review committee included Nos. (xv) which stated that agencies like CBN, Ministry of Finance, Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, Department of Petroleum Resources and the Office of the Auditor General of the Federation that have direct bearing with the fund should play their roles as expected to aid the fund in meeting the objectives for which it was established.

Further, the maintenance of four different accounts by the Accountant General of the Federation with the CBN in the name of the PTDF, namely: the Reserve Account, Inspectorate Account, Bank Operations Account and Independent Revenue Account pursuant to the approval of the letter initiated by the then Special Adviser to Mr. President on Petroleum, Engineer Funsho Kupolokun approval was given by Mr. President putting a restriction on PTDF funding, was frowned upon, leading committee to conclude that the approval was illegal and a contravention of Section 1 of the PTDF Act. In this regard both Obasanjo and Kupolokun are said to be culpable.
The committee therefore recommended that strict compliance with Section 1 of the PTDF Act should be enforced, while it also recommended that all accounts opened in contravention of Section 1 (c) of the PTDF Act should be closed forthwith.

The report indicated that “The PTDF Act should be amended to accommodate the current realities in the oil and gas industry as well as the solid minerals sector." The Senate President while reporting the progress of the committee said: “The saga of the PTDF remains on the front burner and we will not like to create the impression that we are deliberately or otherwise trying to run away from our responsibilities as legislators. “Section 88 of the Nigerian Constitution invests this hallowed chamber with the responsibility of investigation and exposing corruption in all its ramifications and when we desist from doing this, we would be running away from our oath of office. I would like to point that there may be a disagreement, but there is no quarrel because we have different views over the issues and the Senate again in its characteristic manner remains united.” He said as members of the selection committee (referring to the Body of Principal Officers), “we are saddled with the responsibility of collating consensus views of senators over the ad-hoc committee report on PTDF to ensure that we have a consensus that we are all talking about the same issue.” He said further that in order to build that consensus report, the Senate had set up the review committee to “take a look in light of the issues that emerged from the report because every interested party who had an interest in commenting on the report did so as we wanted a collection of ideas.”

He explained that the Senate and its leadership were not in any way trying to “condone or camouflage or sweep under the carpet, the canker worm that has made our country remain poor and in misery. By this, I mean the canker worm of corruption.”
The Senate had dissolved into an executive session at 11.08 a.m. consequent upon a motion moved by the Senate Leader, Senator Dalhatu Sarki Tafida (Kaduna State) after the Senate President had announced the constitution of the conference committees for the Federal Road Safety Amendment Bill and the Bill on Fringe Benefits for former presidents. Senator U.K. Umar seconded the motion.

THISDAY gathered that at the closed session the issue of the resignation of the review committee members on account of the purported refusal by the Senate leadership to allow the committee present the report dominated discussions. Senators in the opposition parties and members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who lost their re-election tickets were said to have insisted that the committee be allowed to present the report while pro-Obasanjo senators, among them, Victor Kassim Oyofo, David Mark and Patrick Osakwe, insisted that the Committee should not be allowed to present the report.

The Senate President, according to a source at the session, stressed that laid down procedure should be followed, adding that he (Senate President) argued that the procedure entailed that the report be laid on the table and not presented. The source quoted the Senate President as explaining that the report could thereafter be listed for debate at a future date and not on the day it was laid on the table. But in what was interpreted as a further set back to the expeditious debate of the report, the Senate yesterday suspended plenary sessions till May 2 2007, citing the need to allow its members to participate in the scheduled April 14 and 21 elections as reason. Also speaking with correspondents on the report, Deputy Senate Leader and Vice Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Jonathan Zwingina said that the report would be thoroughly debated when the Senate resumed for plenary session on May 2. According to him, “It will be immediately debated when we come back for plenary. We suspended plenary for elections and to enable committees to work.”
He, however, hinted that the Senate would not tarry in reconvening if it was needed in respect of the state of emergency rule in Ekiti which expires about April 12, this year.

He used the forum to dismiss as unfounded speculations that money exchanged hands in the Senate over the report of the PTDF Review Committee report, just as he stated that insinuations that the Senate leadership was out to doctor the report were baseless. According to him, “No Senate leadership has the right to amend or doctor the report of its committees. It has not been done and that was not the case here.” Zwingina said that at the closed session no Senator raised the issue of money. About 55 Senators were present at yesterday’s session. Three members of the review committee, namely: Senators Timothy Adudu, Chris Adighije and Saad Mohammed, whose letter of defection from the PDP to AC, was read under announcement yesterday were not in the chamber to be part of the debate on the matter.

The chairman of the committee, Senator Tsauri said, “the problem was simply a conflict in understanding and I think I would say conflict in commitment.”
He said the committee was given an assignment to do and the assignment had been done, adding, “It is left for the Senate to decide when the report will be taken. But the point is that if we had not laid the report on the table, it would have meant we had not done our job. “We have done our job and it is left for the Senate to decide when it would take it. It could be tomorrow; it could be next year; it could be the next Senate.” Asked why he sought for time extension on Tuesday, Tsauri said: “In fact, that was the genesis of our resignation, because what we said yesterday was that on Monday we started writing our report, but unfortunately we invited Otunba Fasawe, one of the key officers in the whole saga, and he came after we had stared writing the report. When he came, he opened another vista and we had to accommodate what he said in the report and that made us to stay here till 3.30 a.m. on Tuesday to prepare the report.” He said the Committee made sure that the report was completed up to the point when members appended their signatures, adding, “that was why we said we wanted an extension of time, so could present the report any time, and that in my understanding meant it could be yesterday because what was left was for members to
sign it.”

The Presidency last night faulted the Senate Review Committee's report on the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), which indicted President Olusegun Obasanjo for engaging in what it termed illegal activities with the organisation's fund. Meanwhile, in a swift reaction, the special assistant to the president on public affairs, Mallam Uba Sani disagreed that the funds approved by the president from the organisation's accounts were for projects which were outside the mandate of the funds.

Describing the report as a calculated attempt by some people to smear the president, Sani said it was shocking that the members did not take into consideration the explanation earlier given by the president on his role on the PTDF. He defended the approvals given by the president as within the mandate of the PTDF, pointing out that there was no way the committee could have arrived at the conclusion if it had taken a broader view of the PTDF's mandate.

Sani said the three key projects, namely, the African Institute of Science and Technology, buying of computers for civil servants under the Computer for All Nigerians Initiative and the other PTDF projects for which the president granted approvals from the PTDF's account were to further the training and capacity building of Nigerians in petroleum technology.

He contended that it was in no doubt that the Act clearly mandated the Federal Government to take whatever actions it deemed necessary to ensure that Nigerians were educated, trained and developed to be experts and key players in petroleum technology. "Not even the invitation extended to the committee by Mr. President to physically verify the projects and payments made on the projects in order to make sure he broke no laws as far his actions were concerned was taken up by the committee", he wondered.

The presidential aide urged Nigerians to ignore the report which he said was obviously influenced by extraneous forces outside the senate who are bent on embarrassing the President and frustrating efforts at recovering stolen PTDF money.
The over-bearing influence of those behind the report, according to him, was evidenced from the exchanges between the senate leadership and the committee.
Sani expressed implicit confidence that when the report of the review committee is finally debated by the senate, the recommendations, particularly that suggesting that the President be referred to the Code of Conduct Bureau would be thrown out.

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Polls: EU Observers Shun Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa
From Chuks Okocha and Onwuka Nzeshi in Abuja, 03.22.2007

European Union Election Observation Mission (EUEOM) to Nigeria, yesterday said it would monitor the forthcoming general elections in all parts of Nigeria, except three states that are flash points in the Niger Delta, where militant groups have either kidnapped or killed a number of foreign nationals in the last couple of months. Chief Observer and leader of the team of monitors, Mr Max van den Berg, said the team would be unable to monitor the elections in Rivers, Bayelsa and Delta States, due to reports of insecurity. He, however, assured that international observers would liaise with local election observer groups in the country to ensure that the April 14 and 21 elections in the three states were also monitored.

Addressing newsmen in Abuja, Berg said the EU Election Observation Missions was an important instrument for building confidence in the democratic processes of any country and has been deployed in line with the EU’s commitment to promote democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law in Nigeria. THISDAY learnt that the EU has made available some six million Euros from the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), for this mission.

Berg allayed fears in some quarters that the international election monitors may have been deployed to serve the interests of a particular political party or interest group, assuring that all election observers were bound by a strict code of conduct that guarantees their neutrality and impartiality.

He urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the political parties to adhere strictly to the principles of fair play and ensure transparency.
The EOM Core Team of 11 persons has been deployed to co-ordinate the assessment, while a total of 66 Long Term Observers (LTOs) will be deployed to assess the electioneering campaign period and pre-election preparations around the country. Similarly, another team of Short Term Observers (STOs), will be deployed over the election day periods to observe voting, counting and the tabulation of results.

The EU’s core team includes professionals in key political, electoral and legal issues, and are supported by logistic and security experts. On election day, the EU will be represented by 130 observers to observe voting and counting in polling stations, as well as the tabulation of results. The team will collect and verify information concerning the election process, which will be used to prepare a
preliminary statement of findings and conclusions issued within 48 hours of election day.

The EU EOM will remain in Nigeria for some time after the elections, while the final report of its findings will be released about three months after the elections. He said the EU Observer Mission, by its mandate, would only stop at making recommendations based on its findings and had no powers to compel the Nigerian government to implement such recommendations. On the preparedness of INEC for the elections, Berg, who has visited the headquarters of the electoral commission to ascertain the level of preparedness, said his team had drawn the attention of INEC to the issues of more voter education, display of the voters register where it has not been done, as well as making public locations of proposed polling centres before the elections. According to him, INEC appeared ready for the exercise and has given assurance that necessary machinery will be put in place before the polls.

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...I’ll Save the President if..., Says Nnamani
From Sufuyan Ojeifo in Abuja, 03.22.2007

Following the indictment of President Olusegun Obasanjo and Vice President Atiku Abubakar by the Senate review committee set up to revisit the report of the ad-hoc committee on the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, offered a political lifeline. He said he would save the neck of the President if such would bolster national interest, as the office he occupied was symbolic of the Nigerian nation. Nnamani, who spoke at a press conference in his office yesterday in Abuja after the Senate plenary session, stated that the institution of the Presidency represented the symbol of the nation, adding that it was immaterial whether or not the occupant of the office was liked. According to him, “It is an institution that all Nigerians should respect. We must respect the institution of the Presidency. It is not Chief Olusegun Obasanjo that I am talking about. I am talking about the institution itself - the Presidency.” He declared further: “I would do whatever is within my powers to save the Presidency in (the) national interest. I would do that because it is more than a person; it represents our common psyche and our common identity is exemplified in the Presidency.”

According to Nnamani, if the President was doing very well, the country would be smiling, noting that there was a time the President was Chairman of about four international organisations, including NEPAD, African Union (AU) and so on.
“That was a big shoe he was wearing, bringing honours to country,” he said.
The Senate President said all that was necessary would be done to support that kind of performance on the international scene as well as in the country.
He assured: “I will do my part to protect the institution of the Presidency in national interest.”

Responding to a question on whether or not he met with an emissary of the Presidency in the persons of the PDP governorship candidate in Anambra State, Dr. Andy Uba, and another Igbo businessman, Sir Emeka Offor, in recent times in the build-up to the submission of the PTDF report, Nnamani said: “I am not the Senate President of any specific state. I am the Senate President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You made mention of Mr. Andy Uba. "He was my junior in secondary school. I was the Senior Prefect of the school when he was in Class 2. He was our school goalkeeper for junior team. He visits me from time to time.” Nnamani said Offor “is my personal friend who does not work for the Presidency and he is an independent businessman. He visits me from time to time and many people do visit me.” Responding to another question on the resignation of members of the review committee, he said it was due to communication gap.

According to him, “If you have the letter that they wrote, you would notice that the word ‘lay’ - to lay on the table - was never mentioned there. They were desirous of making a quick presentation and the whole thing bordered on legislative due process.
“I believe that as long as we follow the due process, no matter how pressing the item is, we must follow the procedure, which we have done today (yesterday) and the next thing to do is to take it - the presentation. The semantics is this, that you lay down the report and we schedule it when we take it for presentation.”
He said the report was not scheduled on the order paper for yesterday and that there was no way the Senate could have allowed it to be presented. adding that now that it had been laid on the table, it would be scheduled for presentation and debate.
Nnamani also noted that the review committee tried to side-step the conventions of laying the report on the table and even discussing it with the leadership of the Senate that set it you up in the first place. He agreed that the report as claimed by the committee was urgent, but stressed that "the urgency will not make us to avoid the procedure. Today (yesterday), the Senate rejected their resignation and the report had been laid on the table."

On the state of emergency rule in Ekiti State which expires April 12, the Senate President said that Obasanjo had the constitutional prerogative of proclaiming emergency in any part of the country as he deemed fit. He said it was for the National Assembly to give such proclamation the necessary ratification. According to him, “If the emergency rule in Ekiti expires and the President feels that the situation that gave rise to the proclamation in the first place is still there, he knows what to do and he will call on the National Assembly for ratification. “We will go through it and if we think it is in order, we would ratify it. So there are procedures again. As long as the process is followed properly, I do not think anything will be out of hand. Where you run into problem is where you try to circumvent the due process procedure; whether it is in your home or in government circles, follow the rules until the rule is amended. You do not amend the rule by force.”

The Senate President said the procedure for proclaiming a state of emergency was clearly defined in the Constitution and the role of the National Assembly was also very explicit. “We are not in a position to change it,” he said. “It is outlined who does what and what follows and so on. So, what has been guiding us is that we try to follow the rules. When we follow the rules, wherever it takes us, so be it.”

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