19 September 2007

Nigeria: Etteh - Camps in Crucial Meetings

Abuja — One week after the panel investigating the controversial N529 renovation contract in the House of Representatives began sitting, House members for and against the Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, have engaged in separate nocturnal meetings which sources described as the decisive deliberations.

Etteh and her deputy, Alhaji Babangida Nguroje, are expected to appear before the Idoko panel tomorrow over the contract while officials of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) as well as contractors handling the projects will take their turn today.

Yesterday, the House adjourned sitting till today in honour of their colleague, Hon. Segun Moses Oladimeji, who was murdered last Friday night in Ibadan.

Meanwhile, the National Assembly management may be charged for contempt by the Idoko panel for defying the 'stop work' order of the committee.

Lawmakers in support of Etteh and those rooting for her removal over the alleged contract scam held two separate meetings on Monday night in Abuja to assess the situation and perfect their strategies on the next line of action.

Sources said the meetings lasted till the early hours of yesterday.

Those in support of the Speaker held their meeting behind closed doors at the Ladi Kwali Hall of the Sheraton Hotel and Towers in Abuja while those opposed to her who are operating under the aegis of the Integrity Group, met at Protea Hotel, Asokoro also in Abuja.

THISDAY gathered that the two groups at their separate meetings were trying to size up each other through moles.

Some of the pro-Etteh lawmakers who met at Sheraton Hotel claimed that over two hundred members were in attendance.

At the pro-Etteh meeting, said to have been mainly populated by majority of the new members of the House, called the New Agenda group, the lawmakers re-affirmed their unflinching support to the embattled speaker.

"The Speaker told us all she knew about the renovation contract and members also asked questions for the purpose of clarifying all the grey areas. Members in attendance were satisfied with Madam Speaker's explanation and re-affirmed their support for her," one source at the meeting told THISDAY last night.

"The members even sang the song- we have decided to follow Speaker, No turning back, no turning back," he said.

The pro-Etteh lawmakers are of the belief that they have more members than the Integrity Group.

At the Protea Hotel meeting, the anti-Etteh group was said to have appraised the success recorded so far and mobilised for what sources called the final onslaught.

A House member who attended the meeting of the Integrity Group claimed that there were over seventy lawmakers in attendance.

After prayers and approval of the votes of proceedings yesterday, the Speaker called on the House to pray for the soul of the slain Oladimeji from Akinyele/Lagelu Federal Constituency of Oyo State.

Chairman House Committee on Petroleum Upstream, Hon. Tam Brisibe, said the Christian prayers while Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, who is also the Deputy Whip of the House, said the Muslim prayers for the 62- year old lawmaker who was killed in Ejioku near Ibadan.

Thereafter, the House observed a minute silence in his honour.

The Leader of the House, Hon. Tunde Akogun, who represents Akoko Edo Federal Constituency of Edo State, moved for the adjournment while the Deputy Leader, Hon. Shehu Agae, from Agae/Lapai Federal constituency of Niger State seconded the motion.

The House is expected to resume plenary today at 2 pm to deliberate on some bills including the Renewable Energy Bill being sponsored by Hon. Doris Uboh who represents Ika Federal Constituency of Delta State.

Two committees, Privati-sation and Commercialisation and Anti-corruption, are also expected to be inaugurated by the Speaker before today's plenary session.

The Idoko panel is also to reconvene today after taking two days off in honour of the late Oladimeji.

Meanwhile, Idoko has warned the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Nasir Arab, that the assembly management may be charged for contempt for defying the panel's order for contractors to stop renovation work on the residences of Etteh and Nguroje.

Idoko, in a letter, NASS/HR/3/AD-HOC/07/26, addressed to the Clerk of the assembly, said the panel discovered that Messer's Stateco Nigeria Limited was still on site after it had been asked to stop work.

The letter titled "Re- Suspension of Contract Work on the Official Residences of the Speaker and the DS" read, "This is to inform you that it has come to the knowledge of the committee that the stoppage order has not been complied with in respect of the residence of the Speaker. The committee views this development as a serious contempt.

"The purpose of this letter therefore is to request you to ensure immediate compliance with the committee's directive on the residences of the Speaker and the DS."

A member of the House, Hon. Isa Idris Umar, has however assured Nigerians that the lawmakers would ensure that justice was done in respect of the controversial renovation.

Describing the alleged contract scam as unfortunate, Umar representing Igabi Federal Constituency of Kaduna State, however, expressed delight that the incident happened very early in the life of the present regime explaining that dealing decisively with the matter would sent a clear signal to all and sundry about the position of the National Assembly with respect to due process.

Umar who spoke to THISDAY in Kaduna debunked insinuations that there was any ulterior motive on the part of those calling for a full probe of the renovation contract saying the desire of the Integrity Group was to send a good precedent for others to follow.

"The issue of 'juicy committee' to me is blackmail. Those that are pro-Etteh, why are they pro-Etteh? Is it not because of juicy committee? The truth is unfolding and any upright and reasonable legislator is expected to stand by the truth. If anybody is to be accused of having an ulterior motive then it is those that sees the truth and still maintain that nothing is wrong when clearly something is wrong.

"For somebody to come out to say something is wrong and we must find out the truth and correct it and then you go about blackmailing him saying its because juicy committee was not given to him is begging the issue," he said.

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