Some former top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration clashed verbally with lawmakers probing alleged fraud in land allocation to private firms for the construction of a Centenary City in Abuja.
A former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Pius Anyim, and ex-FCT Minister, Bala Mohammed, used their appearance on Friday to clash with the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on FCT, Herman Hembe, accusing him of being ignorant, fraudulent and disrespectful before storming out in anger.
Mr. Anyim, also a former President of the Senate between August 2000 and May 2003, opened his appearance remarks by excoriating Mr. Hembe over the manner with which the committee chairman invited him to appear for the hearing.
“Mr. Chairman, if you want me to appear before you, I have no issue with that; but I cannot accept any attempt to subject me to disrespect,” the News Agency of Nigeria quoted him as saying. “You cannot ask a committee clerk to invite me to appear before you, it is unacceptable, even you, Mr. Chairman, you are not qualified to sign such letter of invitation to me.”
Mr. Anyim said as a former chairman of the National Assembly, his invitation should have been routed through the Clerk of the National Assembly.
“Please if you need the attention of any former chairman of the National Assembly, get the Clerk of the National Assembly to sign such letter,” NAN further quoted Mr. Anyim as saying.
Mr. Anyim accused Mr. Hembe of making attempts to extort money from the Managing Director of Centenary City Plc and other subjects of the House investigation.
“Mr. Chairman, you have been threatening to conduct this public hearing for over a year now. In fact, you ended last year with it and this year, you started again with it. You scheduled it for 27th of January and you later moved it to 1st of February and again moved it to 3rd of February.”
“Mr Chairman, we only discovered your game plan for all the postponements when you started sending messages to the Managing Director to come and see you privately. It was after all your efforts to get the Managing Director to come and see you privately failed that you confirmed this date. I want you to know that nobody will see you privately, rather we are ready for the hearing.”
The Nation Newspapers also quoted Mr. Anyim as further accusing Mr. Hembe of using the investigation to harass him as a way of getting back at him for refusing to fire a former Director-General of Securities and Exchange Commission, Arunma Oteh, despite relentless demands from Mr. Hembe.
“When the former Managing Director (sic) of Security (sic) and Exchange Commission accused you of demanding bribe from her, you pushed for her sack and I refused to sack her as Secretary to Government of the Federation. I will not allow you to use the platform of this committee to victimise me,” the Nation reported.
With that, Mr. Anyim dredged up a 2012 bribery scandal in the House of Representatives that highlighted the incestuous corrupt practices that often get in the way of lawmakers’ oversight functions.
Although Mr. Hembe denied receiving the over N30 million Ms. Oteh accused him of having solicited from her agency at the time, he, nonetheless, yielded calls for him to resign as the then chairman of House Committee on Capital Markets.
The Nation said Mr. Anyim walked out of the hearing room on Friday after his demands for Mr. Hembe to excuse himself from the proceeding and hand over to his vice chairman were rebuffed.
Mr. Hembe also came under intense ridicule from Mr. Mohammed, who said he had no knowledge of the arrangement put together by the Jonathan administration for the Centenary City.
”You’re putting the cart before the horse, we have procedures here. The minister of the FCT ( Mohammed Bello) is here, yet you’re behaving childishly,” Mr. Mohammed was quoted as saying by The Nation.
Mr. Mohammed, who is currently facing trial for alleged corruption bordering largely on his involvement in several land deals as FCT Minister, rejected requests for him to withdraw his comments.
“I will not take it back. You can take me to court,” he said.
Mr. Hembe then shot back at him, saying “we expect that, as an elder, as a senator and a former minister, your conduct should be above board.”
Mr. Hembe responded to the allegations by Mr. Anyim in a telephone interview with PREMIUM TIMES Sunday afternoon.
He said the politician was out to discredit him and his committee because he didn’t want his questionable role in the centenary project to be uncovered.
“He doesn’t want the proceeding to go on and that is why he’s just coming up with different allegations,” Mr. Hembe said. “They are throwing everything at me to deface me in the public using many media houses.”
Mr. Hembe said Mr. Anyim brought in television cameras as part of alleged plot to ridicule him but vowed to remain resolute in his pursuit of accountability for the Nigerian people.
“He brought some TV stations with him to the committee room to cover his frivolous allegations against me and do the dirty job for him,” he said. “That’s why they left with him when he walked out of the hearing.”
“But the committee will not be distracted in its determination to ensure that they explain their role in the allocation of over 1,200 hectares of land to the Nigerian people.
“The huge fraud that was committed and those behind it will be revealed by the committee and this is what we’re going to focus on,” he said.
Mr. Hembe also dismissed Mr. Anyim’s assertion that he could not be invited by a House committee by virtue of his record as a former Senate President.
“There is nowhere in the constitution where former National Assembly chairmen were given preferential respect when it comes to inviting them to account for their role while in public service,” Mr. Hembe said. “We followed a simple protocol which is to channel communications through the clerk of the committee.”
The Centenary City land was allocated by the Jonathan administration as part of the activities marking the 100 years of Nigeria’s amalgamation in 2014.
Former Head of State, Abdulsalami Abubakar, is the chairman of the Centenary City Plc which is working with a Dubai-based developer to advance the project. Mr. Anyim told the committee that he sought permission for his absence from the hearing and requested a new date to appear.
Three years after, issues of genuine ownership of the project, funding, relocation and compensation of original inhabitants of the land, amongst others, remained largely unresolved.
Mr. Hembe said his committee will continue hearing on the $18 billion project on Tuesday.