Members of a House of Representatives panel were stunned on Monday when a Nigerian Air Force team told the House committee that it lacked the power to investigate the activities of NAF Holding and NAF property limited as they were not funded by public money.
The Force said the two subsidiaries were funded with contributions made by personnel of the Air Force and not by money appropriated by the National Assembly.
For this, it urged the House panel to back down on its probe, which began after a petition was filed by a company, Blue Boulevard Limited, and leave the matter to the court.
The force also said it was opposed to a probe team led by a House member declared wanted by the ICPC for alleged wrongdoing.
The House, at a session in January, had mandated its committees on Airforce and Justice to investigate a petition written by Blue Boulevard. The company accused the military of breaching an agreement they had over a land NAF leased to them.
Both House committees, therefore, in February held an investigative hearing to probe the Air Force over the controversial building project, said to be worth ₦10 billion by Blue Boulevard Limited.
However, when the matter was heard Monday, the Air Force representatives told the panel that they had not been served with the petition, and appealed for a new date to enable them to receive the documents from the petitioner and respond to the issues raised.
Following the request, the chairman of the Committee on Air Force, Shehu Koko (APC, Kebbi), said the hearing would resume after both parties might had tendered the necessary documents to back their cases.
However, at the resumed hearing of the petition on Monday, the lawyer to NAF Property, Uche Duruibe, raised an objection to the continuation of the investigation and the chairmanship of the Committee by the Chairman of the House Committee on Air Force.
Air force’s case
Mr Duruibe argued that the probe into the activities of the Force and its subsidiaries was not the job of the House but the court.
TheNation newspaper quoted Mr Duruibe to have said since “the petition was not about fraud, but about a contractual agreement between two parties, it is out of the purview of the House to investigate and should have been done before the law court.”
By investigating the Force, therefore, Mr Duruibe said the House was taking over the functions of the court. He asked the House to excuse itself from carrying on with the investigation.
Mr Duruibe also said his clients would not be guaranteed of justice if Shehu Koko (chairman, Air Force House Committee) is one of the panelists in the investigation, because “the lawyer to Blue Boulevard who signed the petition hails from the same Kebbi State as the lawmaker.”
In addition, Mr Duruibe said Mr Koko “must excuse” himself from the investigation if it must go on because he was being investigated by the ICPC for wrongdoing, saying having refused to honour the invitation from the ICPC, he should not be sitting on any investigation.
He also said that the letter from the House Committee on Airforce requesting the Chief of Air Staff to respond to the petition by the Blue Boulevard was written several days before the House resolution,” a clear indication that the Air Force would not have a fair hearing”.
Blue Boulevard’s case
On his part, counsel to Blue Boulevard, Junaidu Bello, described the action of the Air Force on his client’s property as “personality attack.”
He added that, even though they are from the same state, he has “no personal relationship with the chairman of the House Committee on Air Force.”
On the power the National Assembly to investigate the matter, Mr Bello said what they sought was not judgement but an avenue to express their minds, and “ensure that they checkmate the activities of the Air Force.” The company has already secured a court judgment against the Air Force, he added.
The Chairman, House Justice Committee, Ozurigbo Ugonna (APC, Imo), in his ruling said the House would proceed with its investigation because the committee was investigating a petition written to the House Speaker and not the chairman of the House Air Force Committee.
He dismissed all the grounds of objections filed by the Air Force, saying the panel’s investigation was mandated by the resolution of the House plenary, which is independent of a court.
He further said that even though the anti-graft agency ICPC declared Mr Koko wanted, the commission has since discovered that the person being investigated by it was Salisu Koko, a former lawmaker, and has since written a letter of apology to the serving member.
On the contrary, spokesperson of the commission, Rashidat Okoduwa, told PREMIUM TIMES Tuesday morning that the commission never apologised to Mr Koko, and he was never mistaken for any Salisu Koko.
“Nobody apologised to Shehu Koko. We are not investigating any Salisu Koko,” Ms Okoduwa over the phone. “The person we are investigating is Shehu Mohammed Koko. We even declared him wanted, and he since has honoured our invitation,” she added, also contrary to Mr Duruibe’s claim that Mr Koko did not honour ICPC’s invitation.