This Day (Lagos)

Nigeria: Senate Moves to Scrap Anti-Graft Panel

Abuja — Following complaints by Senate President Anyim Pius Anyim against the Independent Corruption Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Senate yesterday set up a committee to examine the continued relevance of the commission.

However, the chairman of the ICPC, Justice Mustapha Akan-bi, yesterday vowed that the commission will not succumb to blackmail aimed at forcing it to halt the probe of Anyim's asset following a petition to that effect by Senator Arthur Nzeribe.

Investigators of the anti-graft commission had reportedly entered without authorisation, the personal residence of Anyim last Friday over allegations of corruption, an action for which the Senate President had already petitioned President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The first indication that the Senate would descend on the commission, came when Anyim announced the formation of a standing committee to review the operations of the anti-graft panel. The committee is headed by Senator Saidu Mohammed Dansadau.

And swiftly, Senator Ike Nwachukwu moved a motion calling for a thorough investigation into the activities of the Commission since inception.

The motion, which was later amended by Senators Mike Ajegbo and Victor Oyofo and adopted by the Senate, also mandated the committee to find out how much money was spent on the commission and for what purpose, among many other resolutions.

Similarly, the Senate mandated the Dansadau committee to find out how many petitions the ICPC has received since inception, from whom and against who and how many have been investigated.

It also mandated the committee to establish the number of pending investigations as well as examine the procedural guidelines adopted by the commission in its investigation with a view to finding out whether the Anti-Corruption Act has been complied with.

Also, the Senate gave the committee the power to investigate the returns on investment of the commission so as to re-examine its continued relevance in view of its current mode of operation.

The committee was also mandated to examine the availability of any other law that can curb the spread of corruption in the country outside the ICPC Act, which would lay the ground work for the scrapping of the Commission completely. The committee is to report back to the Senate within two weeks.

Presenting the motion, Nwachukwu said he brought the issue "in order to draw the attention of the Senate to a matter concerning the conduct of the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission and its implications for the dispensation of justice, fairness and equity among all persons who came before it."

When the Senate passed the ICPC Act in June 2002, he pointed out, members had envisaged the setting up of a Commission that will discharge its duties, under the law, with objectivity, transparency, fairness and strict neutrality, adding:

"Whereas, Nigerians and friends of Nigeria abroad welcomed the new Anti-Corruption law with great expectations, hope and renewed confidence and;

"Whereas the establishment of the Commission and the appointment of its principal officers were welcomed with great relief across the land and overseas;

"Whereupon, the full implementation of the Act was expected to commence and proceed immediately without fear or favour and without selective application;

"Whereupon Nigerians have become disillusioned and disappointed with the pace and pattern of the operation of the Commission which have not been able to bring any serious case of corruption to a successful resolution;

"Whereupon, the Commission further reduces its integrity, objectivity and transparency by acting as an instrument of blackmail, character assassination and witch hunting of political opponents or perceived political opponents of the executive branch of the government;

"Whereupon, the Commission through its agents and their conduct violates the law setting it up, trampling on the rights and privileges of selected victims;

"Whereupon, Nigerians and friends of Nigeria abroad, now view the commission as a veritable weapon of political manipulation and assassination leading to serious credibility gaps in the operations of the Commission, which cast doubts on its objectivity, transparency, fairness, relevance and even continued existence.

"Now therefore, be it resolved and it is hereby resolved that the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria conscious of its sense of duty and responsibility and the supreme interest of the fatherland direct as follows;

_That the Senate Committee responsible for oversight functions over the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission conducts a thorough investigation into the activities of the Commission since its inception to date and report back within two weeks.

The prayers of the motion were later enlarged following amendments by several senators who spoke against the conduct of the ICPC.

Seconding the motion, Senator Dalhatu Tafida accused the ICPC of selective application of the law establishing it in total disregard for the welfare of the nation, stating that even when the President himself indicted 17 ministers for corruption, the Commission never deemed it fit to investigate them.

Deputy Senate President, Ibrahim Nasiru Mantu, Senators Femi Okunronmu, Ali Modu Sherif, Victor Oyofo, Musa Adede, Rowland Owie, Joseph Kennedy Waku and Emmanuel Diffa among many others called for the scrapping of the commission because of its failure to discharge its statutory responsibility.

Specifically, Mantu said when the ICPC was established, he was one of its strongest backers because of his belief that it would enhance the image of the country, which had been so battered under the military.

However, he contended, the Commission has turned out to be "a great disappointment that today the nation cannot boast of any body that has been brought to book by the Commission for corruption offences."

The much sought objectivity of the Commission, he said, has been defeated, while it has only succeeded in promoting corruption in the country rather than reducing it.

"The ICPC has become a terrorist institution in the country today," he said.

The Deputy Senate President wondered how officials of the commission who are supposed to be guided by the law should break into the house of the Senate President without warrant as required by the law which established it.

He said for that action alone, the commission is not law abiding and has therefore no basis to continue to exist.

On his part, Oyofo said the committee charged with the mandate to investigate the Commission should be saved the rigours of going over what the nation has known about the commission - that it has failed, but should rather address the issue of its continued relevance in view of recent developments.

The Commission, he said, has not met the objectives of its establishment and that the Senate should start preliminary procedures for the winding up of the Commission in view of its failure.

Senator Musa Adede accused the commission of submitting itself to be teleguided by extraneous forces from the executive to deal with perceived political opponents.

Last Friday's raid on Anyim's residence, he said, must be addressed by the Senate in view of serious danger it portends for democracy in the country, advising that the committee should examine whether the nation still needs the ICPC the way it is composed and operated.

Okurounmu said right from day one, people like him had pointed to the dangers of the Commission, adding that it is not as if he is against the fight against corruption, but that he is against the selective application of the law.

The ICPC, he said, has been fighting only opponents of the executive since inception and that once you are found to be in their support they back pedal.

Senator Mike Ajegbo moved the amendments to the original motion, which was adopted, including the need to find out if there are other relevant laws in the nation's statute books against corruption other than the ICPC Act, which has now been abused.

Senators Waku, Diffa, Khairat Gwadabe, Rowland Owie, Lawali Shuaibu, Bob John Nwanunu, Adawari Pepple, Ibok Essien, Daniel Saror, Ali Modu Sherif, Haruna Zego Azeez, Bello Maitama Yusuf, and Nuhu Aliyu all spoke against the ICPC.

However, Senators Olabiyi Durojaiye and Evan Enwerem called for caution, especially in view of the raging controversy on the bribery allegation against virtually all senators by Nzeribe.

Other members of the committee include Tokunbo Afikuyomi who is deputy chairman, Mamman Ali, Zwingina, Pepple, Fidelis Okoro, Lawali Shuaibu, Waku, Isa Mohammed, Khairat Abdulrazak and Kura Mohammed.

In his petition, Anyim intimated Obasanjo of the raid on his house by officials of the Commission without any warrant from the court as provided for in the ICPC Act.

He also told the President that the Commission has violated the provisions of the Act by making public the allegations made against him by Nzeribe before his arrest or arraignment in court, while also employing the services of aides of his accuser as part of the investigating team.

Anyim stated in the petition that "I would also like to remind His Excellency that when the Senate was passing the Bill establishing the ICPC into law, it did not imagine that ICPC would be made up of people who can easily become willing tools for witch-hunting."

"However, I would like to assure the Nigerian public that I am ready and available for investigation by an independent agency and not by corruptly induced officials of government in collaboration with the agents," he said.

The petition which was dated November 15, 2002 was copied to the Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Umar Na'Abba, all Senators, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Prince Chibudom Nwuche, the House Leader, Mohammed Wakil, his ANPP and AD counterparts and the ICPC.

Justice Akanbi, who spoke with newsmen at the Presidential Villa, Abuja after an audience with Obasanjo, described as "unfortunate" the approach of Anyim's security personnel whom he accused of preventing the officials of the commission from carrying out their duties.

Explaining the circumstance that led his commission to investigate Nzeribe's petition against Anyim, Akanbi revealed that the Imo senator was invited to the commission's headquarters in Abuja for questioning in order to authenticate his (Nzeribe's) claims.

"We reached a stage where we had to interview Nzeribe. We subjected him to rigorous cross-examination. In fact, I was seeing him in blood and flesh for the first time last Friday.

"After the interview, he said he was going to show my people the houses (Anyim's) he mentioned. So our men followed him with the team.

"Before they could do anything, the police who were guarding the House challenged them and our man (deputy commissioner of police) said we have not started anything. And the policeman (Anyim's) said they should not move anywhere. In other words, holding them hostage and our man said I'm a deputy commissioner of police, this is my identity card and the policeman insisted that he would not let them pass," he said.

Akanbi said the policemen at Anyim's residence got in contact with me and I got in contact with the Inspector General of Police.

Prodded further on whether ICPC officials were armed, Akanbi responded that "our men did not carry any arm, except camera.

"You can imagine a corporal trying to intimidate a deputy Commissioner of Police. But we have lodged complaint with the Inspector General of Police. our people were not armed. They only had camera," he said.

On the next line of action, Akanbi said 'well that was why we issued a release. We had to report to the IGP formally in writing to investigate the matter (because) we don't want to take a pre-emptive action.

"In fact, some of our chaps felt we should take a stern action, I don't rush into matters but it is imperative for Anyim to clear these allegations against him," he added.

The ICPC began investigating the Senate President over allegation of corrupt enrichment. The allegations were made by Nzeribe who had been suspended by the Senate over fraud and forgery allegations.

Anyim had at the weekend condemned the ICPC which he said had become an instrument of blackmail and witch-hunt of perceived enemies of the executive.

While offering himself for probe over alleged corruption charges levelled against him by Nzeribe, Anyim said he would only submit himself to probe by an "independent agency" not by "corruptly induced officials of government in collaboration with their agents."

Earlier on Speaker Na'Abba had also challenged the powers of the commission in court following attempts by ICPC to investigate allegations of corruption against him.

ICPC had been set-up to fulfill Obasanjo's pre-election promise to the local and international communities that he would wage war against corruption in the country.

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