Playing Poker with the Power Probe Report
The House of Representatives were on the threshold of making history under Speaker Dimeji Bankole, the Oxford, Harvard and Sandhurst-educated Rt. Honourable member, when it ordered a series of probes to unearth the various misdemeanours of the Olusegun Obasanjo regime, but it is about to blow it with its handling of the avalanche of reports about to begin gathering dust in its vaults.
It is either that the House leadership suddenly realises the full weight of the lethal material in its system or that it is developing cold feet because those indicted in the power probe report contain a who’s who of the nation’s politico-military establishment. Yet it is ordering for more probes on the oil and gas as well as Niger Delta where the nation is caught up on its groins by militancy groups that threatens to wipe out its oil sales in the currently lucrative world oil market.
When the Ndudi Elumelu chaired probe of the mind-blowing corruption riddled power sector finished its report after a three month hard work that took the 27-member panel throughout the power producing points of the federation, it turned out that the most difficult part was to lay the report on the table for deliberation by the 360-member House. The press was flooded by various reports giving reasons why the report cannot be presented, debated, adopted or dismissed.
Snippets of the report were appearing in a “Tell-tale” fashion in one of the country’s most influential magazine which accused the probe panel of corruption, an accusation promptly denied by the committee during a press conference on July 30 th 2008. It was difficult to believe the lurid details in the magazine report which said that a hundred million naira was shared in the precincts of an airport base in the Rivers State capital of Port Harcourt; making one wonder how such a security zone would provide the safest haven for sharing such a huge chunk of cash.
If the magazine story was to be believed, why an indicted company should still be paying for an indictment which according to the magazine’s ‘exclusive’ details of the report showed that the company offering the money to the legislators was among those indicted. Anyway, the issue is now not about the accuracy of the magazine report, but why would the House of Representatives be fidgeting over the laying of a report on the table after spending several millions to conduct public hearings and going round Nigeria for months to visit sights for power projects which were largely abandoned after huge amount of dollars were paid in advance.
Two serving governors said to have been indicted in the report have virtually unleashed spin doctors on the nation to go out there and defend their fidelity and integrity. Apart from their aides firing salvos from government houses in their state capitals, lawmakers from the affected states are defending their principals vehemently as if their masters could never do wrong. While Hon. Muraino Ajibola, the very articulate panel member from Oyo was holding fort on a television show for former President Obasanjo and Governor Agagu of Ondo State, Senator Ndoma Egba was pushing the case for sainthood for his State Governor, Lyel Imoke.
Hon Ajibola has good reasons to defend OBJ and Agagu on the AIT, even with his commitment to the success of the panel while it lasted. The prospect of taking over from Akala in the Oyo guber high states is obviously a juicy bait to damn the erstwhile solidarity display at the probe panels’ news conference. A Judas role was worth it after all, if by all calculations; he could clinch the Oyo governorship race in 2011 on a gold platter if he continued to mount a defence for the preservation of the former President’s integrity.
What seems worrying from all this is the fact that the House of Representatives leadership appears set to burn its fingers by its handling of the report. Rather than go ahead and lay the report on the table and allow it to cool in its vaults for the six weeks it has gone on recess, the report is now the subject of poker playing in the press and the internet where all and sundry is free to debate it and reach their own conclusions and pass judgement before the members of the House has had the opportunity to debate it. What was to have been the unearthing of the rot in Nigeria’s power sector has turned out to be a legislative fiasco in which the image of the House and its leadership has been put on the line.
Instead of pushing for the report to be formally laid on the House table and debated, members are queuing behind the principal characters in the contract bazaar who reportedly has been indicted, declaring their innocence in a case that even evidence gathered at the public hearing clearly show that they cannot go unscathed. Meanwhile, the EFCC who mounted a commando style arrest of two former Aviation Ministers at the Senate following evidence against them at a Senate public hearing suddenly are suggesting that they cannot arrest suspects from the power probe unless their report was laid, debated and judgement passed by the House before they can move in.
To compound it all, Speaker Bankole in the process has dissolved the House Committees apart from Appropriation and Rules and Business in a blaze of publicity, sending out signals that usually alert legislative coup plotters to begin work on the chopping off the heads of incumbent leaders. Can Bankole survive the sort of skirmish that he has indirectly unleashed is debatable, but he certainly would now need the consultancy of former Speaker Umar Na’Abba who would be wondering at his Kano home, why his successor should want to lay banana skins on his path with only one year experience on the job.
Some have suggested that the power play now playing out in the House has to do with the Speaker’s long term political calculations in Ogun State with eyes on 2011 governorship race, it could in fact lead to a short term political damage as Nigerians seem quite worried by the mishandling of the power probe report by the House of Reps. Pundits have reasoned that the Speaker needed to save Obasanjo from political damage that will arise from an indictment in the power probe if he is serious about a potential shot at the Ogun governorship race in 2011. If that is true, knowing Obasanjo’s penchant for non-forgiveness, the Speaker may have shot himself in the foot without knowing it.
The only way out seems to be to empower the former House Chairman for Media and Publicity, Hon. Eziuche Ubani to mount a damage limitation exercise that will reassure Nigerians of the good intentions of the House leadership in the power probe report mess and possibly ensure that the brave warriors of the probe panel are returned intact to finish off their job. Anything less will spell disaster for the young Speaker and his leadership.
By Tony Amadi
Amadi is an author and journalist based in Abuja