by Stanley Azuakola
Members of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly do not have it in them to stay away from controversy. Since 2011, no other assembly has made the news more often than Bayelsa’s, and it’s hardly ever for the right reasons. (See examples here, here and here)
The latest news from that assembly is that members collected the sum of N78 million from Governor Seriake Dickson. The deal was that the money was sponsorhip for the members to South Africa for the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meeting which held from June 29 to July 8. Some reports say that the members did not attend, but did not refund the money to the treasury.
A civil society group, Transparency and Good Governance Coalition first made the allegation in a petition addressed to the inspector general of Police, Mohammed Abubakar. Now, the speaker of the House Kombowei Benson, has responded, saying that members attended the event, but met only the closing ceremony as a result of visa issues. He also said he refunded N19.5m to the state treasury out of N78m on August 3, a month after the event.
The Speaker, who addressed the press on the matter in Yenagoa, through his spokesman, Mr. Piriye Jonathan, during a two-day capacity training for journalists organised by the Federated Correspondent Chapel of the Nigerian Union of Journalists, admitted that the anti-fraud unit of the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission were on his neck over the issue. He said the police stormed the House and grilled the lawmakers on the alleged fraud.
He was silent, however, over the allegations that he failed to honour the invitation of the EFCC. The EFCC through a letter dated August 6 invited the speaker to its office in Abuja for questioning. The EFCC letter which was signed by the commission’s head, economic governance, Olufunke Adetayo, requested the speaker to be at EFCC’s office on August 13.
The letter read thus:
“This Commission is investigating a case of conspiracy, abuse of office and diversion of public funds in which the need to obtain clarification from you becomes imperative.
“In view of the above, you are kindly requested for interview by the undersigned through Mr. Obioha Okorie on 13th August, 2012 at Block C, No 5 Fomella Street, Off Ademola Adetokunbo Crescent, Wuse 2, Abuja by 10 am prompt.
“This request is in pursuant to section 38 Sub 1 and 2 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act 2004″.
But Benson is yet to honour the invitation.
According to reports:
It was learnt that after receiving the letter, Benson wrote to the commission begging that the date should be shifted to August 20. The speaker was said to have reneged in his promise to appearing before the commission on August 20.
Benson, however, said he was willing to be investigated, adding that the allegation that members diverted the money earmarked for the conference was untrue.
“We attended the conference,” he said but admitted that the lawmakers only met the closing ceremony of the conference owing to visa problems.
It was gathered that the speaker took the option of returning part of the money after the matter leaked to members of the public.