The two committees of the Senate and House of Representatives on Communications are set to begin a joint probe of the allegations of bribery levelled against four former Nigerian ministers and public officials by a German telecoms firm, Siemens.
Similarly, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) yesterday called on the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Chief Michael Andoakaa, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prosecute those implicated in the Wilbros and Siemens scandals.
The proposed probe by the National Assembly is coming as former presidential candidate and economist, Prof. Pat Utomi, advocated a life ban from public office for all public officers implicated in the Siemen’s corruption scandal.
Chairman, House Com-mittee on Communic-ations, Hon. Jerry Manwe from Taraba State, said yesterday that the National Assembly was interested in the matter and had already concluded arrangements to initiate a thorough probe.
Four former ministers and government officials were reported to have collected bribes totalling 10 million Euros from Siemens in exchange for lucrative contracts in Nigeria.
President Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua had on Sunday directed all relevant security agencies in the country to investigate the allegations.
Manwe said: “The issue is that the constitution allows us to invite any serving public official to come and answer questions, more so when a serving Senator and former ministers are involved. Look, there might be no end to this investigation, because Nigerians are involved in it.
“Ours is to ensure that the proper thing is done. We must get to the bottom of this thing, and in doing so we may also invite Siemens, but ours is not to harass businessmen out of this country. All we want is for them to be responsible in their business transaction.”
The chairman regretted that Siemens dropped the allegations only when it was neck-deep in the said bribery allegation.
According to Manwe: “It calls for concern to all Nigerians if such a monumental thing happened, so we feel we should react to it, so that if anybody comes to Nigeria to do business, he would be careful. The committee may invite those who are involved and if Siemens is found to be involved, it may be blacklisted because it takes two to tango.
“If it is true that Siemens bribed the public officers, then they are not fit to do business in Nigeria because this is a government that has vowed to follow the rule of law.
The Senate Committee Chairman on Communications, Senator Sylvester Anyanwu (Imo PDP), said his committee had already contacted the Ministry of Communications for preliminary briefing.
Yesterday, the ICPC said it had started investigations in to the Siemens bribery allegations. This was contained in a press release signed by the Commission’s Resident Consultant, Media and Events, Mr Folu Olamiti.
It said the invitation followed a court ruling in Munich, Germany, on Oct. 4, 2007. They were alleged by a witness in a case to had been involved in the bribery scandal in a case where 77 persons were indicted in three countries.
It said invitation letters had been sent to those Nigerians, who were allegedly indicted in the case, advising them to report at the ICPC headquarters for questioning.
In a letter to the Attorney General of the Federation entitled “NBA-War Against Corruption,” the association’s President, Mr. Olisa Agbakoba (SAN), said though the EFCC had done a lot of work in investigating and prosecuting corrupt politicians and others, a lot more still needed to be done.
Agbakoba said the association would like to see the prosecution of corrupt public officers pursued more aggressively and in a more transparent manner.
He pleaded with the commission to ensure that all those implicated in the Wilbros, Siemens and other recent and current scandals were quickly, efficiently and aggressively dealt with.
Agbakoba who lamented that corruption was the bane of Nigeria’s underdevelopment noted that the United Nations put the country’s documented loss to corruption from 1960 to 1999 at $400 billion.
Disclosing that the minimum estimate represents Nigeria’s looted funds stored in foreign banks, the NBA boss noted that the figure did not include large amounts misappropriated or laundered without resort to foreign banks.
Agbakoba said the association was happy that President Yar’Adua had re-stated a policy of zero tolerance for corruption, adding that to attain the goal he had set for the nation, there was need to revamp the country’s entire anti-corruption strategy, especially in the light of the scope of endemic corruption plaguing the nation.
NBA also said it had set up a team of senior lawyers to assist in prosecution, legislative drafting, training in anti-corruption and money laundering, systems analysis and policy review.
The NBA president said: “The scope and depth of work required to make a significant impact in the war against corruption are beyond the nation’s legal and administrative structures as presently constituted. There is therefore a need for total overhaul of the anti-corruption strategies and structures. Any meaningful war against corruption must be fought on three fronts: investigation, prosecution, and assets recovery.
“With regard to assets recovery, a new statute should be drafted which will principally set up an Assets Recovery Agency. Such legislation should deal with proceeds of crime, their monitoring, tracing and seizure. We are happy to assist with the drafting of the Proceeds of Crime Bill and any other legislation that might be necessary in this renewed process.”
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Utomi said apart from prosecuting the culprits, all public officers implicated in any act of corruption should be made to step aside from the public arena.
According to Utomi, the rot in the Nigeria system is so deep that it will not be enough to just catch the thieves.
“We must move to ask all those who have been implicated and may be implicated in a series of bribes collected from many European and American companies operating in Nigeria to step aside from public arena,” he said.
Utomi also said Nigeria should put pressure on the international community to blackmail those companies that give bribe to public officers in order to carry out their illegitimate business in Africa, stating that the Siemens scandal that had just been uncovered was just the beginning of series of scandals and that Nigeria should now use the new opportunity to clean up the system.
He said the damage being done to the nation by corruption was enormous and that corruption was responsible for the high level of poverty in the country.
“In every bribe is the death of Nigeria; death on our roads and all kinds of disaster; taking bribe constitutes murder; corruption renders the system unworkable and ineffective and all these should be taken seriously. We must take a decisive action now,” he said.
To stamp out corruption, Utomi said the nation must have a formal code of ethics and that public officers must take the oath seriously and practise what they pledge.
On EFCC, Utomi said the organisation should be encouraged instead of killing it adding that if there were lapses to be corrected, these should be effected.
“Deliberate efforts should be made to bring down the cost of government by trimming protocol and reducing barriers between rulers and the ruled,” he said.
Utomi advocated a part-time legislature where the lawmakers should see their job as service to the nation and not a means of livelihood.
The four former ministers said to have shared the 10 million euros by Siemens in the allegations contained in a Munich court ruling of October 4, 2007 were Chief Cornelius Adebayo, Dr. Muhammed Bello, the late Alhaji Haruna Elewi and Major General Tajudeen Olanrewaju.
Others that allegedly benefited from the bribes included Senator Jibril Aminu, officials of Nigeria Telecommunications and Nigeria Immigration Service.
Virtually all the Nigeria officials mentioned in the allegation had denied collecting bribes from Siemens
Denying the allegation, Adebayo said in a statement yesterday: “My attention has been drawn to media reports as it affects Siemens in Nigeria, wherein my name has been mentioned with the allegation of collecting bribe at some ‘unknown time after 2002’.
“While the fact remains that I was Minister of Communications between July 2003 and August 2006, I wish to state very clearly that I never demanded, neither did I receive bribe from officials of Siemens or of any other company in the discharge of my responsibilities.
“I have had an unblemished career in the public service spanning almost four decades, I have a reputation for integrity and I am under no political pressure. So I fail to understand what temptation remained that I could not overcome well after age 60.
“It is gratifying that President Umaru Yar’Adua has directed the security agencies to get to the root of this matter and I am confident that when that process is completed, this unjustified and unjustifiable stain will be removed from my hard-earned name.”
Bello, who is the National Vice Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the North-west zone, also denied collecting bribe from Siemens.
Media Adviser to the former minister, Mr. Emeka Kanu, described the publication of the allegation as a smear campaign designed by political detractors to tarnish the image and hard-earned reputation of the politician.
According to him, the PDP chieftain has already instructed his lawyers to study the publications and its allegations and to advise him on the next line of action.
“Dr. Mohammed wishes to state categorically and unequivocally that he has nothing to do with the alleged bribery scandal either in person or by proxy. He also wishes to assert that he has never met or heard of the said Mr. Siekaczek before this publication.
“As for Siedel, we can firmly say Dr. Mohammed has had no personal relationship with him other than at the official level as Minister of Communications,” Kanu said.