Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) insisted on Thursday that three members of the House of Representatives implicated in the N6 billion Rural Electrification Agency (REA) contract scam must appear before its investigators in person.
To demonstrate its seriousness over the matter, the EFCC refused to grant audience to lawyers representing the lawmakers who have been declared wanted since Wednesday.
One of the three House members declared wanted by the anti-graft agency is Ndudi Elumelu, House Committee Chairman on Power.
A source at the anti-graft commission told Daily Independent on Thursday that the lawyers showed up at the EFCC headquarters “in the afternoon to represent the members but were turned away.”
The source said the Commission insisted that the lawmakers must appear before the investigators, noting that it is only when the case gets to court that their lawyers can represent them.
The affected members were said to have indicated their willingness to present themselves for interrogation but backed out when they were not sure of their fate in the hands of EFCC operatives.
The EFCC on Tuesday, arrested Aliyu Abdullahi, Permenent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Power.
On Wednesday, it similarly arrested the Chairman of Senate Committee on Power, Nicholas Ugbane, and Managing Director of REAN, Sam Gekpe.
The anti-graft commission launched an investigation into the irregular payment of contracts in the electricity agency when it gathered intelligence reports that a few months after the contracts were awarded, Gekpe paid up the complete sum of the contracts even before some of the contractors had mobilised to site.
While investigating the large lodgements in the accounts of the contractors, the EFCC discovered that after the initial payment of 15 per cent mobilisation fee to the contractors, the MD had taken the initiative to pay up the balance of 85 per cent while the projects were yet to be executed.
Femi Babafemi, Head of Media and Publicity of the EFCC, confirmed that the House of Representatives members had indicated willingness to show up for interrogation yesterday but declined further comment.
Meanwhile, the Commission is still keeping everybody who has been arrested in connection with the contract scam in custody until their arraignment latest by Monday next week.
But spokesman of the House of Representatives, Eseme Eyiboh, insisted that the alleged scandal involving the members would not stop the lawmakers from debating the House Power Probe report.
There was concern that corruption allegation against the lawmakers may have been orchestrated by some powerful individuals to sweep the power probe report under the carpet.
Eyiboh told our correspondent in a chat that the House has nothing to do with the contract scam, hence even if it was true that any member was involved, it was strictly a private matter that would not affect the proceedings of the House.
The House, according to him was committed to the affairs of the country and its people, saying that it was that resolve that necessitated the probe in the first instance.
He said the House would not be deterred by the present situation to leave the power probe debate, adding that an individual’s case should not be seen to be a House matter.
In the same vein, Senators spoke angrily on Thursday as they condemned the arrest on Wednesday of one of their members, Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane, by the (EFCC).
They dissolved into a closed session, which turned out to be the longest since the inauguration of the current Senate on June 5, 2007 over the matter.
Meeting behind closed doors for more than three hours, the Senators faulted the procedure adopted by the EFCC in arresting Ugbane and directed the Senate Judiciary and Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes Committee to interface with the Commission on the matter.
Ugbane, representing Kogi East Senatorial District, was arrested on allegations of benefiting from the alleged shady deals surrounding the N6 billion Rural Electrification Agency project.
Senate spokesman, Ayogu Eze, reiterated to newsmen at the end of the marathon session that the EFCC flouted the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act with the arrest.
“You will recall that at the start of the session today, we had a very long closed door session. This will be the longest that we have held since the sixth Senate.
“The attention of the Senate was drawn to one of our colleagues that was reported in the media to have been picked up by one of the security agencies and we reviewed his invitation and the method of his invitation and we noted a number of things.
“First of all, it was wrong for the EFCC to come to the premises of the National Assembly to try to arrest or to bypass constituted authority to pick anybody.
“We have said that in the past and we are saying it again because there is the National Assembly Powers and Privileges Act which forbids anybody from arresting any legislator within the precinct of the National Assembly and the precinct of the National Assembly includes, of course, the residence of legislators.”
Eze said against the backdrop of the Ugbane arrest, lawmakers ere disposed to amending the EFCC and ICPC Acts.
However, he stressed that “the leadership of the National Assembly is committed to handing over whoever is found to have done anything against our laws or to have engaged him or herself in corrupt practices. But the due process must be followed.