American billionaire philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has denied media reports that he offered a $10 million bribe to the Nigerian House of Representatives to pass the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill being considered by the House.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation registered the denial in a memorandum submitted to an ad-hoc committee of the House investigating the allegations on Monday.
The Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) had alleged that it intercepted a human intelligence report that the House leadership was poised to forcefully pass the compulsory vaccine bill without subjecting it to the traditions of legislative proceedings.
The body in the statement by its spokesperson, Imo Ugochinyere, alleged that $10 million was offered by Mr Gates to influence the speedy passage of the bill without recourse to legislative public hearing, adding that the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, should be impeached if he forces the bill on members.
But the speaker defended his promotion of the bill, arguing that its content and timing were appropriate.
He also pledged that there would be a public hearing where Nigerians would have the opportunity to contribute to the draft law.
Speaking for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation before the House Adhoc committee, Mr Gates who was represented by the country representative of his Foundation, Paulin Basinga, said there was no interaction whatsoever between himself or his Foundation and the House.
"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has recently been made aware of an allegation circulating in certain elements of the Nigerian media that the Foundation was involved in a payment purportedly made to the Nigeria House of Representatives. Any such allegations are entirely false and without merit," he said.
"To be clear, the Foundation has not offered any financial incentives to any member of Nigeria's legislative branch for the passage of legislation nor has it offered any grants to organisations in Nigeria in connection with the same."
He said the Foundation adheres to strict ethical and legal guidelines across all areas of its operations.
APPEAR OR GO TO JAIL
Related to the development, the ad-hoc committee investigating the allegation has given Mr Ugochinyere till Thursday to appear before it with evidence of inducement as alleged by him or face a charge of contempt of parliament.
Chairman of the investigative panel, Henry Nwawuoba (PDP, Imo), made this known to the legal representative to CUPP spokesperson, Tochukwu Uhazurike.
Mr Uhazurike told the panel that his client did not attend the hearing because he had filed a lawsuit challenging the legal ground of the committee to summon him for investigation, adding that "in line with the principles of natural justice, the speaker cannot be a judge in his own case."
But the committee told the lawyer that the committee invited Mr Ugochinyere and not his lawyer, as he personally made the allegation and not through any lawyer.
As a result, the lawmakers said they would not allow any lawyer or legal representative to speak to them on his behalf, insisting that the man who alleged must come forward to prove his allegation.
The lawmakers challenged the veracity of the court document said to have been served the House in an attempt to halt the investigation.
They also advised the lawyer to advise his client to come forward with the proof of his allegation as that will also help the House to expose any of its members who must have taken the said bribe thereby bringing it to disrepute.
"We have a mandate to investigate the allegation by your client, and any attempt in whatever manner to derail it will be met with the full weight of the parliament.
"You cannot bring a letter to the House on the day of an investigation in an attempt to stop it. What we do here is constitutional, and just like the procedures read out to you, he must be here present, accompanied by you, if he so wishes.
"But we won't listen to you on this matter, so you tell your principal to make himself available by Thursday, failure of which we are will turn in our recommendation to the House."
On media houses who carried the said story, Mr Nwawuba said the Nigerian Media and the National Assembly remain partners in progress on the task of nation-building, adding that care must be taken at all times to vet and verify potentially libellous materials before publication.