EFCC begins probe of ministerial nominees
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission will on Monday begin investigations into petitions written against President Muhammadu Buhari’s 21 ministerial nominees, SUNDAY PUNCH has learnt.
It was gathered that a decision was taken by the leadership of the anti-graft agency last week to start the process of considering petitions forwarded to the National Assembly against the ministerial nominees.
The PUNCH had on Friday reported that 25 petitions had been submitted against the nominees at the Senate.
Copies of such petitions were also said to have been sent to the EFCC and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.
A source privy to the development, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said the Senate leadership had contacted the EFCC last week to assist in looking into the petitions written against the ministerial nominees.
The source who is a top official at the EFCC said, “The office would start looking into the petitions written against the ministerial nominees on Monday.
“The National Assembly contacted the commission on the issue and the decision is to start looking at such petitions on Monday.”
Similarly, an operative of the ICPC, who also spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press on the matter, said on Saturday that the commission was expecting an invitation from the National Assembly leadership to commence investigation into the allegations contained in the petition against the nominees.
The source said it was not possible for the National Assembly to carry out the investigation into the petitions against the nominees without involving the anti-graft agencies.
“It is true that the agency is expecting to be involved in the investigation of the allegations contained in the petitions against the nominees.
“The National Assembly also said it clearly that they were going to involve the anti-graft agencies in the issue of investigating the petition.
“For now, what is not very clear is to what extent they intend to involve the anti-graft agencies.” the source added.
The spokesperson of the EFCC, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said he did not know anything about the commission’s involvement in the screening exercise at the National Assembly.
Also, the Resident Consultant, Media and Events, of the ICPC, Mr. Folu Olamiti, said he would neither confirm nor deny the involvement of the commission in the investigation of the allegations contained in the petitions.
Similarly, the Code of Conduct Bureau had also said the nominees were bound to declare their assets before the Senate.
The Senate had stated that as part of its guidelines for screening the ministerial nominees due to commence on Tuesday, each of the nominees would be required to produce evidence of assets declaration to the bureau.
The Chairman of the CCB, Mr. Sam Saba, in his response to our correspondent’s enquiry through a text message on Saturday, said the ministerial nominees were required under Section 149 of the Constitution to declare their assets before being screened.
He said, “It is the usual procedure — or as you put it, the convention — for ministerial nominees to declare their assets before senate screening; and not only ministers but any would-be public officer, whether appointed or elected, so long as he or she requires screening by the Senate.
“Section 149 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provides that ‘the Minister of the Government of the Federation shall not enter upon the duties of his office, unless he has declared his assets as prescribed in the Constitution’.”
Saba could not confirm whether any of the nominees had initiated steps to declare their assets before the close of work on Friday, but he hinted that in the past, the Presidential Liaison Officer would usually collect the assets declaration forms from the bureau in bulk and distribute to the nominees.
He said, “The bureau would attend to the ministerial nominees on demand of the Form CCB1 from any of our offices in the 36 states plus the office in the Federal Capital Territory and in the Headquarters, Abuja. The forms are however submitted at the headquarters Abuja.
“In the recent, Presidential Liaison Officers collected the forms for such nominees; that is to say, request is made in bulk by the PLO for the forms and issued out individually to each ministerial nominee.”
When contacted, the Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Ita Enang said, “I did not collect forms on behalf of anyone. The fact that your name is submitted (as a nominee) does not mean you are appointed.”
The leadership of the Senate will meet on Monday to review the modalities and procedures for the three-day screening of ministerial nominees scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
Part of the conditions earlier agreed upon by the Senate in a closed-session on Thursday, included, among others, the submission of assets declaration proofs; approval of nominations by at least two senators from nominee’s states; while those who have petitions against them must have a clean bill of health from the Senate’s public petitions committee.
Our correspondent learnt on Saturday that the criticisms that greeted the Senate’s procedure for the screening made it to start making moves to review the modalities.
A principal officer of the Senate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told SUNDAY PUNCH that wide consultations had been carried out among various segments of the society to get their input on how best the Senate can carry out the assignment.
He explained that the various inputs by Nigerians would be collated latest on Monday morning and presented before the leadership of the Senate, who would review it and make their final decision known to their colleagues before the screening would start on Tuesday.
The source said, “We are not claiming that we know it all in the Senate. Although we are the representatives of the people, we should not impose our decisions on people without finding out their opinions.
“The leadership of the Eighth Senate had vowed to carry everybody along in its decision-making (process) and that is why we have consulting widely because we would not want to be accused of witch-hunting any nominee or that we are using the screening to hit back at the presidency.”
The Special Adviser to the Senate President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, told our correspondent that the Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki, had been seeking the views of Nigerians, especially the media and other pressure groups, on the screening modalities adopted by the red chamber.
Olaniyonu said, “The media, the civil society organisations and other pressure groups are very critical to national development. Their views are therefore needed as a necessary guide to assist the Senate in the discharge of its responsibility, especially as far as the screening of ministerial nominees is concerned. “
Efforts to speak to the Chairman, Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Dino Melaye, on the issue were futile on Saturday, as calls and text message put across to his mobile phone number were not responded to as of the time of filing this report.
The Special Assistant to the Senate President on New Media, Mr. Bankole Omishore, in a statement on Saturday, also confirmed that the screening and confirmation process of the first batch of ministerial nominees would be streamed live on the National Assembly website.
According to him, the websites, www.nass.gov.ng and www.senate.gov.ng, could be used by Nigerians to send in questions they would like to ask nominees by forwarding same to their respective senators using the hashtag #MinisterialScreening.
Omishore added that all questions must be received before 5pm on Monday.
The statement read in parts, “The @NGRSenate Twitter handle will also be providing live tweets throughout the screening process.
“Nigerians would recall that the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, took office amidst a pledge to reform the Senate and make its processes more transparent, inclusive and visible by employing e-Parliamentary technology in the Upper Chambers.
“Since then, the Senate President has tasked the Committee on Rules and Business to develop an e-Parliamentary system that can be employed at Senate Plenary sessions.
“This screening will create an avenue for Nigerians from all works of life to partake in governance, as the bridge between representatives and constituents will be bridged; with senators asking questions sourced from Nigerians on Social Media.”
In addition, Omishore explained that the submitted resumes of candidates will be made available in the public space for Nigerians to examine.