Femi Gbajabiamila, the federal lawmaker from Lagos, who initiated impeachment proceedings last week against President Goodluck Jonathan, tried frantically Wednesday to explain his past and defend himself against allegations of theft and name falsification.
And Mr. Gbajabiamila has immediately blamed the presidency for sponsoring media onslaught against him.
An unsigned advertorial, published in some newspapers Wednesdays alleged that Mr. Gbajabiamila, who practiced law in Georgia, United States, ahead of his political career in Nigeria, was suspended in 2007 by the US authorities for thirty-six months after absconding to Nigeria with a client’s US$25,000.
Back in Nigeria in 2002, the publication further alleged, the lawmaker, who was legally known and addressed as “Gbaja” in the US, effected a name change to “Gbajabiamila” to avoid detection.
In a statement, Mr. Gbajabiamila accused Mr. Jonathan of sponsoring the attacks in response to the impeachment motion he raised on the floor of House of Representatives over President Goodluck Jonathan’s poor budget implementation.
“For the avoidance of doubt,” the lawmaker said, “let me repeat my comments on the floor of the House just 5 days ago: ‘I like my President, but I like my people and my country more. If Mr. President does not implement the budget 100% by September 18, this House must begin to file articles of impeachment against him.’ To this faceless group my position has not changed.”
He added: “I must also remind Mr. President that it is on record that I fought tirelessly for him to be made the Acting President in this country in the face of serious opposition and at great risk to my wellbeing. It is with that same passion that I will and must continue to push that he obeys the laws of the land. That is my job. No more no less, and for that I have no apologies.”
The presidency could not be reached for immediate comments on the allegation. Spokesperson Reuben Abati’s telephone did not connect.
The allegations add a new layer to the running conflict between the presidency and the lower house and the lawmakers, traversing an unprecedented summons over insecurity, threat for not executing a debt ceiling within 60 days, and now impeachment warnings over budget performance.
The three direct warnings to the president, coming within four months, were sponsored by Mr. Gbajabiamila, the House Minority leader and a third term member.
This time, the lawmakers, acting on Mr. Gbajabiamila’s proposal, have warned that by September 2012, they will initiate proceedings to remove the president if the budget implementation remained abysmal.
Spokesperson, Zakari Mohammed, said on Monday the resolution of the House was irrevocable.
In a twist however, the details of misconduct, which were initially published by Saharareporters in 2007, resurfaced against the lawmaker in Nigerian Tribune on Wednesday, five days after the house resolution.
The US authorities, according to the report, said Mr. Gbaja was suspended from the Georgia Bar, instead of being expelled, because he cooperated with investigators and expressed remorse.
In his response, Mr. Gbajabiamila admitted the incident, but said the money was stolen by his paralegal, whom he had instructed to pay the client after he, Mr. Gbajabiamila, relocated to Nigeria in 2002.
“This did not come to my knowledge until I received a letter from the Georgia Bar in 2005. The letter was addressed to my Lagos address which I had left with the Georgia Bar as my contact address for any housekeeping matter that may arise after I might have left. It is necessary to state this as it is alleged that I absconded. On the contrary, I informed the State Bar that I was moving back to Nigeria and left a forwarding address and email. Both remain valid till date,” he narrated.
“Upon receipt of the letter from the Bar, I immediately travelled to Atlanta to find out what had gone wrong. Upon discovery of what had happened and being unable to trace the paralegal, I found myself in a bind as the disciplinary committee insisted I had violated rule 1.15 of Georgia Professional conduct pertaining to safe keeping, co-mingling of funds and allowing others to handle clients money. I accepted full responsibility and was sanctioned with a suspension. Had I anything to hide, I would not have gone back to Atlanta to clear all the issues.”
On the change of name, the lawmaker said he adopted “Gbaja” in the US since it was simpler to pronounce and was interchanged with “Gbajabiamila” by his family.
He said the incident had already been captured in his book, Fearless, published in June this year.
“I will refer this faceless group to Page 29 of the book which speaks to the issue. It is clear therefore that I had nothing to hide,” he said.
Then, to President Jonathan, he quipped: “I have stated my case now, let the President state his. Now as we were saying, Mr. President Sir, before the debate was rudely interrupted by these guys, where is the peoples’ money? We must as a country learn to address issues and not skirt them. We must leave shadows alone and deal with substance.”