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Probe bribery: Like House, like Senate?

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By Richard Ihediwa

Recently, the nation was jolted by accusations and counter-accusation of bribery that forced the House of Representatives to disband the Herman Hembe led House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, which had barely commenced probe into the cause of the dwindling fortunes of the Stock Exchange.
The probe later became more of an issue of “rogue after rouge” as Hembe and the embattled Director General of the Security     and Exchange Commission (SEC), Arunma Oteh took themselves to the cleaners over allegations of corruption.
While Hembe accused Oteh of mismanaging public funds to the extent of spending over N30 million in a hotel within eight months as well as spending N850,000 daily on food at the hotel, Oteh threw caution to the winds and told the world how Hembe had been drawing money for foreign trips he never undertook as well as allegedly demanding for N39 million for the hearing and another N5 million in cash for the probe.
Oteh told Hembe that he has no moral standing to preside over the hearing. Amidst the allegations, the leadership of the house dissolved the committee and set up another one led by Rep. Ibrahim El-Sudi to continue with the probe while the anti-graft agencies open investigations into the allegations.
While Nigerians awaits the outcome of the investigations by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), it appears that same scenario may have started playing out in the Senate  as allegations and counter allegations of bribery have started haunting its Joint Committee probing the management of pension administration in the country.
While the probe had led to startling revelations of underhand dealings and outright siphoning of over N500 billion belonging to hapless pensioners by some government officials especially those in the pension board and the Pension Reforms Task Team, the issue of rogues after rogues might have started playing out as those being investigated are now pointing accusing fingers on the committee.
Trouble started when the Senator Aloysuis Etok led Senate Joint on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration investigating the alleged mismanagement of pension funds on Wednesday alleged that the Chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina, who has been accused of certain under hand dealing, attempted to bribe its members to halt the probe.
Addressing newsmen on the issue, Etok said, “Maina approached us with huge amounts of money which we rejected.”  He said, “Maina also asked some big people, whose names I will mention at the appropriate time, to give us bribe to soft-pedal on our ongoing investigation into the mismanagement of pension funds. We rejected the money because we are not ready to compromise our work. The team then resorted to blackmail us when it became obvious that we are not going to compromise our assignment.” He however, did not mention the exact amount that was allegedly offered.
Like Oteh, Maina fired back. Denying that he offered bribe to the committee, the Pension Task Force accused the committee of demanding a bribe of N16 million for every member of the committee.
Maina, who spoke through the spokesman of the pension team, Hassan Salihu, said: “They (senators) should present the evidence of how he offered them money and when such thing happened.”
But the matter did not stop there as the committee has threatened to take legal action against the pension task team for “making false accusations” against it.
Already, civil society groups have started calling on the leadership of the Senate to disband the Etok committee for alleged lack of transparency in addition to the bribery scandal.  The groups want the Senate to toe the line of the House, which disbanded Hembe’s committee over alleged bribery, at least to clear its name regain the trust of Nigerians on the probe.
However, unlike the House, the Senate, instead of dissolving the committee, challenged those accusing the committee of demanding for bribe to be courageous and come out with evidences to prove the allegations. It challenged those levelling the allegation to mention the names of the lawmakers that demanded for the bribe.
Chairman Senate Committee on Information, Media and Publicity, Senator Enyinaya Abaribe said Senate considers the allegation as a pack of lies and falsehood until those behind the allegation provide proofs.
According to Abaribe; “The allegation that members of the Senate and the House of Representatives were bribed to influence the outcome of the on-going probe of the management of the pension funds in Nigeria is a pack of lies with no iota of truth with regards to the Seventh Senate.
“We suspect that the individuals that made the allegation deployed the unfortunate tactics as a desperate ploy to blackmail the National Assembly and hoodwink the Nigerian public as an odious cover in the light of the sad revelation made in the course of hearings even no report had been turned in.
“The Senate therefore challenges this individual to be courageous enough to name those he bribed. He should be bold to mention their names to the public as doing so well would help bring probity in our public life.
“People, especially those handling positions of public trust should be ready at all times to render honest account of their stewardship when called upon to do so before relevant institutions and not try to divert attention by making unfounded allegations”, the statement read.
The problem here has become that of proof and none of the parties is forthcoming with clues, unlike in the Oteh case when she accused Hembe directly after being accused directly.
On the side of the Senate, the committee is challenged to be bold enough to come out with the names of those who offered the bribe and the amount as well as the names of the prominent Nigerians that were used to try to scuttle the probe. On the part of the task force, it is expected that like Oteh, officials there should be courageous enough to mention the names of the lawmakers that demanded for bribe.
However, as Nigerians expect some fireworks in the days to come, the EFCC is expected to quickly move in and commence an independent investigation into the matter as the allegations and counter allegations are indicative that something has gone wrong somewhere in the cause of the probe.
All must remember the words of Senate President David Mark, who at the inauguration of the committee said that those who steal pension fund are stealing blood money.

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