By Segun Gbadegesin
“ARE you following the turn of events?” Opalaba asked via a text message.
“What events?” I responded.
“How can you fail to understand what I mean? The Senate versus EFCC, of course,” he responded.
“I am sorry but I have been busy with my other priorities,” I replied.
If you are a regular follower of my adventures with my friend, you can by now guess what follows next.
My phone rang and it was Opalaba screaming on top of his voice.
“Other priorities?” Is that what you just mentioned in your response? he asked.
“Yes!” I also replied indignantly. “You don’t expect that I am always on to every damned inanity that you all decide to engage in, do you? Of course, I have many other useful items on my to-do list.”
Noticing that I wasn’t going to back off, my friend mellowed.
“Sure, you’re right. And I guess those of us who have no choice are victims of our circumstance. We cannot turn on the television sets without being subjected to mental torture watching fools display the arrogance of power and the stupidity that comes with it on our screens. What’s our choice in the matter?”
“Turn off your damned television screens”, I screamed back.
Now it was apparent to both of us that we were becoming psychological wrecks on account of the irony of the phenomenon of unchangeable “agents” of change; the self-proclaimed change agents who resist change.
“So what’s the latest?” I asked my friend. And in his characteristic attention to details, he volunteered to guide me through the labyrinth of what he referred to as the latest “drama of the unchangeable.”
“First, the EFCC received a petition against the wife of the Senate President and decided to investigate her. She appeared before the agency and was reportedly grilled over two days. Among the entourage that escorted her to the agency were senators and political associates of her husband. The investigation is still ongoing and there are reports that it has been extended to London.”
“Second, a senator representing Delta North Senatorial District received a petition against Ibrahim Lamorde, the EFCC chairman, alleging that he diverted over N1 trillion of funds recovered from officials convicted of corrupt enrichment between 2003 and 2007. At the time, Lamorde was EFCC director of Operations. The petition was submitted by George Uboh to Senator Peter Nwaoboshi. The senator, as a member of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions reportedly shared the petition with the Senate President. As the Senate was on recess, the Senate President reportedly gave the green light to the committee to investigate the matter.”
“Third, the Senate committee fast-tracked the investigation and invited Lamorde for questioning on the subject of the petition.”
“Fourth, the EFCC issued a statement rebutting the petition and raising questions about the motive of the petitioner and the Senate committee.”
“Fifth, two groups in the Senate including the Minority Leader and the APC Unity Forum dissociated themselves from the investigation and advised the committee against engaging in a fruitless effort.”
“Sixth, Senate President Saraki denied that the Senate investigation of Lamorde has anything to do with EFCC’s investigation of his (Saraki) wife.”
Having laid out the details of the new sleazy deposit in the gutters of national politics, I asked my friend what he saw as the issues of interest. Never afraid of jumping into stormy water, Opalaba offered his insight on the matter as follows.
“Oh, where does one start, really? It’s sleazy and sordid. It’s beyond the pale of decency, to say the least. But let us accept two important facts. One, the Senate has a constitutional oversight responsibility with respect to any institution of governance. No one denies this reality. Two, the Senate performs its oversight functions through committees that have the right to investigate matters referred to it by the Senate. These are the non-controversial facts.”
“What then are the controversial issues in this matter?” I asked Opalaba.
“There is quite a bunch”, he replied.
“First, there is no smoke without fire. The fires here, if the Senate leadership can be honest with itself and with the Nigerian people, are two. One, at its inception, Senate President invited the anti-corruption agencies to a meeting. EFCC chose not to attend, thus humiliating the leadership of the Red Chamber. Second, shortly after, EFCC chose to investigate the wife of the Senate President, adding insult to injury. It’s payback time. It’s just as simple as that.”
“Isn’t that cheap blackmail?” I questioned my friend. “What you’re suggesting is that to avoid spurious charges of retaliation, the Senate must fold its arms and not perform its duties.”
“I have not finished and you’re jumping the gun”, Opalaba shouted me down.
“Second, the responsibility for referring petitions to oversight committees belongs to the Senate as a body. The committee web page is clear about this. But let us grant that the Senate President can reasonably be expected to act on behalf of the body in case Senate is on recess. However, since he must be assumed to have a spousal interest in a matter pending before EFCC, good ethical thinking suggests that he should refer this petition to the Senate body to determine the issue of referral. This is what recusal means in decent climes. In other words, the Senate President shouldn’t have been the one ordering investigation by the Committee on Ethics.”
‘Third, the subject matter of the petition is not political; it is criminal. The Senate Committee on Ethics, Code of Conduct and Public Petitions is, among others, tasked with the responsibility of considering “the subject matter of all petitions referred to it by the Senate and shall report from time to time to the Senate, its opinion of the action to be taken thereon together with such other observations on petition and the signatures attached thereof, as the committee may think fit.”’ (my emphasis)
“The above is quoted verbatim from the web page of the committee. The question is “what can this committee accomplish with respect to the subject matter of a petition that alleges criminal action against the EFCC chair?” It will only render an opinion on what action to take. So why didn’t Senate just refer the petition to the Police or ICPC both of which are also anti-corruption agencies with power to investigate and prosecute?
“Fourth, there are more disgusting details. The mainstream and social media are buzzing with slimy background stories of the originator of the petition and his Senate representative. At the least, the stories raise a number of questions which should interest the Senate. Indeed, what one would expect is for the Senate Committee on Ethics to first assure itself of the credibility and integrity of a petitioner prior to committing the prestige of Senate to an investigation that may turn out more dirt about him than about the accused.”
“For instance, is media report true that George Uboh was once convicted of credit card fraud?” If so, does he have a credibility challenge in bringing this allegation against the EFCC?”
“Is it also true that Senator Nwaoboshi boasted about his relationship with convicted James Ibori, referring to the latter as his boss and friend without a display of moral outrage over what Ibori was convicted of? If true, is this senator himself fit to be a member of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions?” Opalaba intoned.
“Finally, there is a deeply worrisome nature of our politics even in the cyber age when members of the Millennial Generation who ought to be in the vanguard of probity and cosmopolitan etiquette are instead defenders of primordial, local and partisan interests. Certainly intelligent and morally conscious people may see matters differently. My hope is that in this and other matters of high moral stakes, it is our moral convictions and not our ethnic, local or partisan interests that inform our various positions. God bless Nigeria.”
If not on any other matter, I agree whole-heartedly with my friend’s sermon from Mount Opalaba in the last paragraph. This phase too shall pass.