Senate Probes 10 Members over Ghana Trip


From Sufuyan Ojeifo in Abuja,
These are not the best of times for the Senate as 10 of its members, named as beneficiaries of a controversial Ghana trip, have been referred to the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions for investigation.

This is coming as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, is cooling his heels in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in connection with the N6 billion Rural Electrification contract scam. Ugbane and others named in the scam may be charged to court today.

Those named as beneficiaries of the Ghana trip, as confirmed yesterday by Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Senator Ayogu Eze, are members of the Committees on Petroleum (both Upstream and Downstream) and Gas.

He did not mention the names of the beneficiaries of the trip which was organized by the Oil Producers Trade Session (OPTS) of Lagos Chamber of Commerce to sensitise members of the Senate committees on the nitty-gritty of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).

But checks at the committees disclosed the beneficiaries to include: Senators Mohammed Mohammed (Bauchi), Sidi Ali (FCT), Dahiru Awaisu Kuta (Niger), Emmanuel Paulker (Bayelsa), Mohammed Kabir Jubril (Kaduna), Joseph Akaagerger (Benue), Nimi Barigha-Amange (Bayelsa), Enyinnaya Abaribe (Abia), Felix Kolawole Bajomo (Ogun) and Tawarumbi Wada (Gombe).

The decision to probe the senators was sequel to a point of order raised by Senator George Thompson Sekibo, who had drawn the attention of the senators to a newspaper story of May 11, 2009 in which the Special Adviser to the President on Petroleum Matters, Dr. Emmanuel Egbogah, was quoted to have said attempts were made to compromise senators to frustrate the consideration and passage of the PIB.

But the Senate President David Mark, who presided over the plenary yesterday, said there had been a sustained negative campaign against the Senate by the Executive arm of government on the issue of bills.

He said the Upper House would hold a public hearing into the allegation of bribery. He stated further that the Ethics Privileges and Public Petitions Committee that had been directed to carry out the investigation should make the exercise public.

According to Mark, “There is going to be a serious public hearing and I think you (Senator Lee Maeba) should reserve detailed comments now until that time.

Commenting on the issue while briefing Senate correspondents yesterday, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Information and Media, Eze, said the 10 senators went to Ghana without the knowledge or consent of the Senate leadership.

According to him, “I need to say clearly that we have found out, unfortunately and regrettably, that there was an attempt by some private sector organizations to lobby members of the National Assembly on the bill that is before the National Assembly.

“We found out today (yesterday) that some members of the National Assembly did go to Ghana, and we are also not very happy with the development because Section 21 of our Standing Rules specifies categorically that before you can travel abroad for whatever reason, you must write to the leadership of the Senate, stating the purpose, stating the duration of your stay and stating the address where you are going to stay.

“The committee or the individuals that are involved never wrote to the leadership, never informed us; so we are completely in the dark about the people who made the trip, and we are not happy about that and we have referred the matter, based on the motion brought by a member, to the Committee on Ethics and Public Petition.”

Eze stated further: “I want to assure Nigerians that the investigations and the public hearing by that committee will be carried live and if any senator is found wanting in any way, that senator shall stand alone.”

He had on Tuesday denied the involvement of the senators in the Ghana trip. But yesterday, Eze said: “We make this correction with a lot of difficulty because we really didn't know and we didn't believe that some senators travelled. They have assured us that even though they travelled they didn't compromise themselves.”