The House of Representatives has resolved to sue Akpabio for alleging that members of the National Assembly were major beneficiaries of contracts in the NDDC.
Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, who announced this at plenary, yesterday, said he has instructed the Clerk of the House, Patrick Giwa, to engage lawyers to initiate perjury proceeding against Akpabio.
The minister, while speaking at a public hearing organised by the House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), on Monday, had alleged that members of the National Assembly were the major beneficiaries of contracts in the commission.
However, Gbajabiamila, on Tuesday, gave Akpabio 48 hours to publish details of members of the ninth Assembly handling contracts in NDDC.
The speaker said with the inability of Akpabio to substantiate his allegations after 48 hours, the House would institute legal actions against him.
“The Honourable Minister has failed to respond to my request. Therefore, I must conclude that his statement was intended solely to gaslight the nation to avoid accountability for the evident maladministration and malfeasance in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
“In my time in the House of Representatives, I have held every leadership position from Minority Whip through to Minority Leader, Leader of the House and now Speaker.
“I recognise that the House has not always lived up to the high expectations of the Nigerian people. As much as we still have a lot to do in that regard, I refuse to sit here in good conscience and allow anyone to assassinate the character of the House in an attempt to deflect accountability for their conduct in office. Such mendacity as was witnessed at the public hearing will not be tolerated from anybody no matter how highly placed.
“This morning, I asked the Clerk of the House of Representatives to engage the services of legal counsel and instruct them to initiate a criminal complaint of perjury against the minister. At the same time, we will instruct counsel to explore the possibility of a civil defamation suit against the Minister.”
But, in a letter addressed to the Speaker, which was read by Gbajabiamila at plenary, Akpabio said he never meant members of the ninth Assembly as beneficiary of NDDC contracts.
Nevertheless, the minister insisted that chairmen of the NDDC committee in both chambers of the National Assembly has always exhibited an undue influence on the budget of the commission allegedly to the exclusion of other members and management of the interventionist agency.
“The investigating committee on NDDC refused and or neglected to give me the opportunity to explain that reference to most NDDC contracts yearly been awarded since 2001 from the records allegedly to members of the National Assembly in both chambers were done without the knowledge of the alleged beneficiaries.
“However, the two chairmen of both committees had adequate knowledge. I never referred to members of the ninth National Assembly as beneficiary of NDDC contracts, as NDDC is yet to fully implement any NDDC budget since the commencement of the ninth National Assembly. In fact, the 2019 budget passed in February and harmonised between the 4th and 5th of March 2020 was received by the commission in the middle of April 2020, when same was designated to expire on 31st of May 2020.
“It has always been known that the two chairmen of the committee on NDDC in both chambers yearly exhibit unusual influence to the exclusion of Committee members and even the management of NDDC in appropriating funds to details embellished in the budget after passage of the line items at the plenary.
“Permit me to explain that any reference to 50 or 60 per cent during the investigative hearing was in answer to a question by a member of the committee as to whether or not a medical director could act as executive director projects within the confines of the NDDC Act 2000, I answered in the affirmative, pointing out that the greatest project in the world today is COVID-19 pandemic, which is medical in nature.
“Furthermore, I am made to understand that 50-60 per cent of NDDC yearly budgets are medical in nature. Therefore, it is fitting for a medical doctor to act as Executive Director Projects in those trying times,”Akpabio stated.
The Speaker referred the letter to the House Committee on Ethics and Privilege.
In a related development, the House deferred the consideration of the report on the alleged N81.5 billion irregular expenditure by the IMC slated for consideration at the Committee of the Whole as item number 51, in yesterday’s order paper.
Gbajabiamila announced the deferment of the consideration of the report after the chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata, raised a point of order, saying that majority of members were yet to get copies of the report.
The speaker directed the deputy chairman of the NDDC committee, Thomas Ereyitomi, to liaise with the Rules and Business chairman to ensure every member gets a copy when the House resumes from its annual vacation in September.
Mull immunity for Supreme Court justices, others
Meanwhile, the House has passed for second reading a bill seeking to alter Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to provide for immunity for justices of the Supreme Court.
Apart from Supreme Court justices, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Courts, the chief judges of the various states High Courts and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, will also enjoy immunity from legal proceedings, if the bill is eventually passed into law.
The bill is sponsored by a Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) member from Ebonyi State, Igariwey Iduma Enwo.
Enwo, in his lead debate, said the proposed legislation is intended to protect the integrity and independence of the Supreme Court, the Federal and state High Courts.
He lawmaker explained that the since the judiciary is said to be the last hope of the people, there is need to protect the heads of the judiciary at both the federal and state levels.