Hon. Samson Osagie is the All Progressives Congress (APC) member representing Uhumwode/Orhionmwon Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. He is also the Minority Whip of the House. He spoke to EBOJELE AKHERE PATRICK in Benin about the crisis rocking the state’s Assembly among other issues. Excerpts…
Sir, why have you called this meeting?
The press conference has become necessary in view of the recent happenings in the Edo State House of Assembly (EDHA) which cumulated in the involvement of the EFCC and the entire scenario and I feel that I should bare my mind on it and also share my thought in respect of what is going on.
On Tuesday the 14th of October, three principals of the EDHA, namely, the speaker, Hon. Uyi Igbe, the Majority Leader, Hon. Philip Shaibu and the Chief Whip, Hon Folly Ogedengbe were invited by the EFCC in Abuja on allegation forgery of the signature of Hon. Abdulrasak Momoh and the impeachment of the former deputy speaker, Hon. Festus Ebea.
I visited them at the EFCC office on Wednesday where they were detained after honoring their invitation on Tuesday and my findings were very startlingly.
First, the EFCC is questioning the regularity of a motion filed on the impeachment of Ebea as deputy speaker on the ground that the said motion could not have been proper since a member complained that his signature was forged.
Second, the said motion carried no date and was not addressed to anybody. After the initial argument as to the competence of the commission to inquire into the regularity or otherwise as to the impeachment in the House of Assembly, reason prevailed on the part of the commission and the three were released on bail to us.
However, let me state that as a long standing legislature, contrary to what some PDP aspirants want to make the world to believe with respect to the EFCC establishment act, it could not have been the intention of the NASS which enacted the EFCC act to empower the commission to inquire into the internal affairs of the legislature at any level, especially with respect to the election and removal of principal officers of the house where there are no direct financial crimes been committed.
Are you not worried that in a matter which seems to be purely an internal affair of the Edo Assembly will be handled by an anti graft agency?
It is laughable that the commission could allow itself to be used to harass and intimidate serving lawmakers when, as a matter of fact, there are several cases in courts seeking to resolve number of issues that have been raised in respect of the crisis in the EDHA. It is fitting to situate the issue before the EFCC in proper perspective and to raise certain posers.
One, when did it become a law that a supposed anti-corruption agency to inquire into the allegation of forgery of signature for the removal of a principal officer of a legislature when the allegation did not contain issues of possible economy and financial crime.
Two, if the intent to have EFCC to investigate the allegation of forgery was to verify whether or not the complainant is the owner of the signature, why is the Nigerian police whose officers are only on secondment to the EFCC not directly involved in the matter.
Three, should the EFCC not advice itself that issues of this nature are only capable of making the public perceive it as an agency of government that offers itself for use by the ruling party to intimidate and harass opposition members.
Can the EFCC prosecute successfully the trio of Igbe, Shaibu and Ogedengbe on this matter on the basis of the law setting up the EFCC?
I made bold to say that this is a clear case of the EFCC allowing itself to be used by the ruling party to intimidate the opposition and the ruling government in Edo state. It shouldn’t be and it cannot be.
What a principal officer ought to have done who has been removed from the office is to go to the regular court if he feels that his rights have been trampled upon or deprived of his privileges to challenge his removal. There are precedents in this direction. In this case, Ebea ought to challenge, if he is not already challenging, his removal as the deputy speaker and then possibly call one of his member who thinks he is not part of it. The EFCC in this matter has no jurisdiction, has no competence to interfere in this matter.
Finally, while asking peace to prevail in Edo state and advising politicians that they employ all rules of civility in their conduct so as not to jeopardize public peace, I am asking for normalcy to return to the state house of assembly.
Do you then think that the EFCC is going to resolve the matter?
I want to submit that the actions of agencies, such as the EFCC, in this whole crisis can only exacerbate the situation. We believe that anti-corruption agencies must face issues of corruption abounding in our country today and bring people who are involved in cases of corruption to book rather than vie off their traditional part which the law has mandated them.
In this case, we will be on the part of ensuring high moral rectitude in government, accountability on the part of political officer holders and transparency in the running of government affairs.
It is not the business of the EFCC or any other anti-corruption agencies to dabble into how a member of the house or its principal is removed from office when there are no economic or financial crime that have been disclosed.
I believe with this matter, the EFCC will better advice itself not to be used as agent of destabilization of a state or states that are under opposition especially as we approach the 2015 general elections. I believe at this stage, enough is enough of this harassment.
Is there any plan by the NASS to review the law setting up EFCC, especially in the face of what has happened to avoid being used by the ruling party to harass and intimidate opposition?
I think as this stage, it is worth looking at. Of course, we have had to amend the law setting up the commission in times past to strengthen them in order to tackle corruption cases. I think and I believe strongly that it is also high time that for us to have a re-evaluation of the EFCC act in order to ensure that they don’t become agents of oppression of people in the society.
And I also believe it is time that will looked at that act again to remove any area of ambiguity for which the EFCC will want to hide under to be used as political tools by the ruling government.
But the EFCC had given reasons for detaining the EDHA lawmakers, not on the impeachment of the deputy speaker, but on something else.
I was one of those who stood as surety for the trio we are talking about. What they were called to answer was the alleged forgery of the signature of Momoh for the purpose of impeaching Ebea.So, I sought to find out whether there was any issue regarding contract administration or any missing money in the EDHA for which they could legally be called to questioning but I find no such thing.
Rather, they were asked to answer questions bothering on the removal of the deputy speaker and they were asked to make statements as to how a principal officer can be removed from the parliament. That is uncalled for.
I am speaking as someone who intervened in the matter and not one who was told or heard. I am not speaking out of hearsay. I was there and asked question why they were invited by the EFCC and I was told why they were invited by the EFCC.
For me, if they were invited on matters bothering on financial impropriety, I have no problem at all, at all, EDHA is not above the law but to be called to answer questions as to the regularity or otherwise of the removal of a principal officer of a house of assembly, it is well beyond the functions of the EFCC. No matter how the PDP wants to stress it to justify their unwholesome use of the EFCC to oppress and intimidate the opposition.
In any case when Sule Lamido’s son was confronted at the airport to be carrying money well in access of 50,000 dollars, it was made public. Let them tell the world what these three principal officers of the EDHA have done to warrant the invitation and subsequent detention for a night by the EFCC. They should disclose whether what they called them for carried any financial crime or offence.
Part of the in gradients for the rule of law is that the offender must be told what his offence he has committed. So in this case, they cannot deny that this is the reason why they called them and indeed I challenge them to prosecute them if they legally do so under the economy and financial crimes establishment act.The petition has been with the EFCC for over three to four month. This is a reaction or part of the strategy of the EFCC to oppress or intimidate the people of Edo state. Momoh did not write the petition to the EFCC from his sick bed.
In the wake of the recent crisis which came up again, the PDP felt they want to show our power. The first thing was to arrest some of them and charge them to court and the next one is that let them not have peace by taking them to the EFCC. It is uncalled for.
Much as I don’t subscribe to violence in the pursuit of the goals and aspirations of a political party, I also do not subscribe to the recourse of using institutions of the state that are supposed to strengthen governance or government to oppress members if the opposition and it shows the impunity and lack of transparency on the part of the ruling government today.
This is very unfortunate and in Edo, we cannot be intimidated and we believe that we will be on the side of the law and be protected by it.