By Enyeribe Ejiogu
Respected former military governor of Kaduna State, Col Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (Rtd) has accused the National Assembly of mounting a campaign to scuttle the anti-corruption war of the Muhammadu Buhari administration.
Umar who took a panoramic view of recent incidents in which a committee of the Senate hid under the guise of performing oversight functions, obstructed vital agencies of the Federal Government, Umar charged Nigerians to take more than a passing interest in the recent controversy generated by the dogfight between the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs on the one hand and the Nigeria Ports Authority and Nigeria Customs Service on the other.
“If the reports in the media are true, the matter goes beyond the victimisation of one organ of government by another. It is a possibility that members of the National Assembly might be on a mission to crash the federal government’s war against corruption using the power of ‘oversight’ as cover. Two recent incidents would serve to illustrate the danger,” Umar said in a statement made available to Sunday Sun by email.
He said the way and manner the Senate Committee on Customs handled its recent oversight function involving the Nigerian Customs Service and Nigeria Ports Authority, raised troubling serious questions.
Citing the specific case of Master Energy Commodities Trading Ltd, which imported 1,200 metric tons of rice in 40-foot containers numbering 30 in all, Umar said: “In their attempt to evade paying the correct custom duties, they declared the ‘rice’ consignment as ‘yeast’. The goods were later intercepted and seized on the orders of the Comptroller-General of Customs CGC, Col. Hamid Ali (Rtd). Unfortunately, this seemingly patriotic action by a public officer was seen as an affront to one senior member of the National Assembly.
“A senator, the leader of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, wrote the CGC demanding that the consignment be released forthwith, on the dubious claim that he had investigated the matter and had found the importer blameless. His findings? That it was the clearing agent not the importer that called the goods ‘yeast’ instead of ‘rice’!
“The CGC brushed aside this incredible story; as any right thinking person would do. But to the shock of all Nigerians, all hell broke loose. The Senate Committee then summoned him to appear before it in uniform.”
In an another instance, Umar said that after the present leadership of the Nigerian Ports Authority uncovered a dubious scheme in which a subsidiary company of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) went into a joint venture with a private company to manage the Calabar Port and the moved to end the alleged fraud, the Managing Director of the NPA, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, came under severe personal attacks with her competence to lead the agency being questioned.
Umar explained: “Both the NPA subsidiary, called Calabar Channel Management, CCM and the private company, Niger Global Engineering and Technical Co. Ltd, were incorporated together in 2014, just for this deal. The purported JV partner was then awarded a contract to dredge the Calabar Channel, a contract the Bureau of Public Procurement was to condemn as violating all due processes. This did not discourage them from demanding and getting a whopping $12.5 million upfront payment from the NPA or asking for a purported balance of $22 million.
“In the meantime, a rash of petitions and reports had inundated the NPA against this contract, with many alleging it to be a bogus scam to siphon public funds. Even worse, all efforts of the new management of the NPA under Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, to find evidence of the dredging work purported to have been done in the Calabar Channel at the time the company claimed to have done so, were unsuccessful.
Faced with these negative outcomes, Umar said, the NPA management under Ms. Bala Usman decided that national interest would be better served if the JV scheme as well as the so-called dredging project were terminated.
Umar urged Nigerians not to allow “public officials who insist on the right things being done to be at the mercy of strange lawmakers and politicians that have demonstrated time and again that they are in politics to serve themselves and themselves alone.”
“Incidents such as these are the reasons the Nigerian public feels let down by our Parliament. They are the reason why a whole lot of Nigerians take a dim view of members of the National Assembly. Some even believe the conduct of our legislators is a major factor holding Nigeria down; why it is a laughing stock among the nations of the world.
“It is the duty of all Nigerians to demand correct conduct from all public officials, including from members of the National Assembly; especially the Senate. Senator Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, must enforce discipline among his colleagues. No member of a committee, much less a chairman, should remain in his duty post once credible information about possible crime is received on the person. We need not remind our political leaders, most of all our legislators, that punishment always follow excess,” Umar said.