The Speaker, Kwara State House of Assembly, Razak Atunwa, is under fire following a petition by the House Chief Whip, Iliasu Ibrahim, over allegations of massive corruption, high-handedness, mismanagement and abuse of office.
The allegations have polarised the assembly and threatened the smooth running of the House.
The Chief Whip, in a petition dated May 2, 2012, addressed to the Speaker through the Clerk of the House, leveled various allegations of corruption which he said had characterized Mr. Atunwa’s leadership and administrative style since the inauguration of the state legislature in June last year.
The petition titled, “Serious Allegations of Mismanagements of Kwara State House of Assembly Fund Against Rt. Honourable Razak Atunwa Representing Owode/Onire Constituency of Asa LGA/Kwara State by Honourable Iliasu Ibrahim of Ipaye/Malete/Oloru Constituency of Moro LGA” raised 18 serious allegations that are now subjects of probe by the House’s Ethics and Privileges Committee.
In the petition, copies of which were distributed to all the principal officers and members, the state Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as well as former governor Buloka Saraki, the Chief Whip accused the Speaker of serially violating the law in running the affairs of the House.
Some of the allegations include refusal to consult with House leadership on legislative matters, arbitrary award of contracts, failure to account for funds allocated for the running of the Assembly, travel allowances for members, as well as alleged diversion of House funds for private use.
Questioning why the Speaker had not found it necessary to convene a meeting of the principal officers more than a year since the take-off of the Assembly as was the practice in the past, the Chief Whip accused the Speaker of hiding from the officers records of all the contracts he had personally awarded, including the renovation of the Assembly Complex for which N18million was released over a year ago.
Other contracts he said the Speaker awarded without recourse to due process and documentation by the Tenders Board, include the acquisition of flat screen television sets and various electronic gadgets; the re-award, for N33.89million, of the website project that was already completed by the immediate past Assembly, as well as various other contracts for which he already asked for reimbursement of about N81.5million vide memo KWHA/5/135/Vol./11/455 of March 12, 2012.
He also accused the Speaker of single-handedly managing the monthly allocation to the House, including the salaries and allowances of members and staff between June 2011 and April 2012, as well as misappropriation of about N135million released for a recent overseas trip for members.
“How much money has so far been released for capital projects between 2011 and 2012, and how much has been spent?” he queried. “How was the N15million released for the hosting of the North Central Forum of Speakers spent?”
“Mr. Speaker, without furnishing us adequate information on the above subject matters as a matter of urgency, we cannot in good conscience dispel or deny the insinuation that the transactions are characterised with sharp practices which require proper investigation as he who comes to equity must come with clean hands.
“As a foremost lawmaker and a lawyer by profession, you cannot claim to be unaware of the deleterious effects of financial mismanagement and other abuses on the integrity and reputation of the Assembly. With this recklessness of yours, how can the House carry out its oversight functions when you are so corrupt and utterly insensitive?” the Chief Whip added.
He said he had contemplated and threatened resignation in the past after the Speaker sacked 18 casual labourers in the Assembly in a bid to award a N18million contract to his consulting firm, adding that on each occasion the Speaker had also responded to his advice with “rude and arrogant attacks.”
Mr. Ibrahim continued, “As lawmakers and custodians of the law and order, we should shun any acts that are detrimental to the welfare of members as well as the wellbeing of the generality of the people of our constituencies,” Mr. Ibrahim said.
“Unfortunately, your attitude and general conduct in the management of the affairs of the Assembly have been one of disappointment and regret because you have been so power intoxicated and arrogant that you have no regret for the views and feelings of anybody on important matters of the House.
“By arrogating all power to yourself and conducting the affairs of the Assembly in absolute secrecy, you have given enough room for suspicion as many of us are of the view that large-scale fraud and financial mismanagement are the order of the day as far as the Assembly matters are concerned.”
“As an elderly person and a father, I told you severally that I will never bear any malice against you. However, it is within my rights and the rights of other members to know what is happening regarding the general administration and finances of the Assembly. And keeping us in the dark can only breed disharmony and crisis as we shall firmly insist on our fundamental right to know and be involved in the process.”
When contacted Monday, the Chief Whip confirmed writing the petition after several personal appeals failed to persuade the Speaker to adjust his style.
“Yes, I wrote it (the petition) and I am very conversant with it,” he said.
“I have made my other submissions to the committee, and I am waiting for the final report. I am a Nigerian. I have no regret taking that step, though I thought it was an issue we could have discussed within the House and warn him against such behaviour.
“The issue would not have gotten to this level if not that he has been using security to molest, harass, embarrass and humiliate me. Last Monday, I was rough-handled by the security. As an elder and member of the Ethics, Privileges and Anti-corruption committee, I must be seen to be transparent and upright.”
But the Speaker told PREMIUM TIMES the allegations were “completely false and fictitious.”
“The allegations are completely false and fictitious. I have referred it to the Committee on Ethics and Privileges which is investigating. I will give full comment after the Committee’s report,” the speaker said.