Nigeria: Senators Want Obasanjo Punished

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo may be in for fresh trouble as senators insisted yesterday that he should not go unpunished in the alleged widespread fraud in the privatization of government enterprises.

During a debate on the report of the ad-hoc committee on the probe of the privatization exercise, senators, warned that non implementation of the report which indicted some high profile government officials may create credibility problem for President Goodluck Jonathan.

They said the implementation of the committee’s report would show how determined the President is in the fight against corruption.

The report of the probe panel indicted former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mallam Nasir ei-Rufai, former director of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE), Dr Julius Bala; his successor Mrs. Irene Chigbue for allegedly taking orders from Obasanjo instead of the National Council on Privatization(NCP).

Senator Ahmed Lawan committee had recommended the immediate sack of the current BPE boss Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa for her alleged fraudulent sale of the five per cent government share in the Eleme Petrolchemical Company to Idorama Company limited at N4.3 billion.

Senators who spoke on the report claimed that most of the core investors only fronted for some persons who, according to them, lacked the technical competence and financial muscle to run the enterprises. Senators Basheer Mohammed, Andy Uba, James Manager, Abdulahi Adamu and others in their contributions insisted the exercise failed the ‘integrity test’.

But chairman of the committee at the session yesterday insisted that the recommendation, asking the NCP to revoke the sale of Daily Times Nigeria to Folio communication was in tandem with an earlier court ruling stripping Folio of the ownership of the DTN.

He said the recommendation of the committee was based on the court order which recognized a new ownership of DTN. The explanation followed observation by Senate president, David Mark who drew the attention of the chairman to information that Folio has gone to court to defend its ownership of the DTN.

The senators were, however, stunned when Senator Shola Adeyeye (Ekiti north ACN) told the Senate how the son of former President Obasanjo allegedly brought the Indian company that bought the Ajaokuta Steel Company , which later embarked on mass looting of the company’s assets and sending same back to their country .

He said it was wrong to heap the blame of alleged irregularities in the privatization exercise on former Vice President Atiku Abubakar when his boss Obasanjo who gave certain approvals in contravention to the privatization laws goes unpunished.

Minority Whip, Abu Ibrahim in a contribution, however, argued that it would be unfair for the Senate to recommend punishment for the former BPE bosses for allegedly taken orders from the former President and fail to recommend same for Obasanjo.

He said the report is comprehensive and decisive. I am worried that the main culprit who signed these documents has been left out. This Senate would have been encouraged to indict such person. Such person should be reprimanded. The Senate should be encouraged to indict former President Olusegun Obasanjo for breaking these laws. He personally signed these companies off. I believe the committee on privatisation should consider those companies one by one and see if the former President is involved and he should be prosecuted.

Senate Deputy Leader, Abdul Ningi said: “The report of the committee had given us an opportunity to answer some of the observations raised by Nigerian public and labour organisations on fears of report not properly investigated and not implemented. The entire privatisation scenario is a global phenomenon and a welcome development.

“It is sad that the government through the BPE has betrayed the trust reposed on them. If we have compromised as an institution before, I can confirm this committee did not compromise.”

Senator Olubumi Adetumbi said: “We must point really to where the issue lies. A former leader of this country, who under oath swore to defend the Constitution and the laws of this country is the same person, who in an imperial manner, took decisions to issue executive directives and approvals in contravention of the processes that are enshrined in the Privatization Act signed by himself. That is really the thrust of this report. The findings of this committee are revealing of Executive recklessness… the point must be made as a representative of the people. This institution must take some decisions.

“The enabling environment study around the world says Nigeria is not a safe place to contract. The former President presided over the prodigal sale of our commonwealth. In addition to this prodigal sale was an expenditure on this returns and part of the proceeds were used to finance other companies. It is for us to know that what we are doing here is self censorship because we had privatization committees during those periods. When executive directives are given to civil servants by those who appointed them, we cannot reprimand those who were given directives when the givers of these directives are not questioned.

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