A motion seeking to investigate the smuggling of $9.3 million into South Africa was blocked in the House of Representatives yesterday, leading to a walk out by most lawmakers, amid allegations that some members were each given $50,000 to stop debate on the arms cash.
More than half of the legislators walked out of the chamber when presiding Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha ruled to disallow discussion on the matter on the grounds that it was a “national security issue.”
The protesting members included all those from the All Progressives Congress (APC) and some of their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterparts.
The motion sought for a “thorough investigation” into the smuggling of cash equivalent of N1.5 billion into South Africa by two Nigerians and an Israeli on September 5 in a jet belonging to Pastor Ayo Ortisejafor, president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
Rep Abdurrahman Kawu Sumaila (APC, Kano), Deputy Minority Leader, moved the motion in which he urged that the Defence and Aviation committees be mandated to conduct the investigation.
He said if action was not taken on this “national embarrassment, the situation may degenerate and overheat the polity,” as well as dent the image of Nigeria.
But Deputy Speaker Ihedioha said the matter was a “national security issue” and therefore would not be discussed.
He called a voice vote on whether the motion should be allowed, and the decision was a no.
This angered the APC lawmakers and some of their PDP colleagues, who then staged a silent walk out.
Even before it was read out, the motion faced opposition from Business and Rules Committee chairman Albert Sam-Tsokwa, who said it should not be entertained because it was supposed to be considered last Thursday.
But Minority Whip Samson Osagie cited instances where a motion that failed to be taken was normally allowed on the subsequent day, and because of this the deputy speaker allowed it to be read on the floor.
Later, the protesting lawmakers addressed journalists, saying Ihedioha’s decision to block the motion was wrong because no rule “allows a presiding officer to disallow a matter already put on notice to the House.”
Minority Whip Osagie spoke on their behalf, saying it was “scandalous and disgraceful” for the Federal Government to be involved in ferrying of such cash to South Africa.
“If indeed the matter involves security issues like the purchase of arms by foreign government like Nigeria, why was the South African government not brought into the picture before hand?” he asked.
“Why would the government that is at the peak of promoting cashless policy in our country be the chief breaker of that policy by moving such amount of cash if indeed it was a legitimate transaction of Federal Government?
“Is it just a wicked coincidence that the aircraft belonging to a personal friend and an un-apologetic ally of the president in the person of the chairman of the CAN that was used to smuggle the cash?
“We find this unacceptable, unethical, illegitimate and in our view, it is an illegal transaction. The Nigerian government owes the Nigerian people an explanation as to what that source of money comes from and the purpose for which it was made.”
Alleged $50k bribe per head
The controversy in the House happened in the shadow of an allegation that some lawmakers were bribed to block any debate on the $9.3 million arms cash.
One of the lawmakers who protested the deputy speaker’s ruling, Rep Aliyu Sani Madaki (APC, Kano), explained to Daily Trust how they heard the allegation and how this caused rift in the chambers.
“Yes, we heard the rumours that PDP members were given $50,000 to ensure that the motion is thrown out. That is what we heard as soon as we enter the chamber and everyone within the chamber have heard the rumour that some members of the House and senators were given the money to scuttle the motion,” he said.
“Upon hearing the rumour, we then put it to ourselves that the motion must pass. And we walked out of the chamber because of the way and manner the motion was treated. The House rule is very clear that unless a motion is on the infrastructure related issue, any motion will be debated.
“Proponents and opponents of the motion must be given chance to debate the matter, he (the presiding officer) refused the debate. Even when he put it on vote, it was not very clear, but he quickly gave it to the ‘nays’. That is why we kicked against that and we walked out.”
But one of the lawmakers opposed to the motion, Rep Abdullahi Rico Mohammed (PDP, Niger), said in reaction: “I am a PDP member, and I have not been given the money. I will be very happy if you investigate who got the money so that I can also collect my own. But as a PDP member I have not been given. If they can tell me the source, I will very happy to go and collect. But I believe nobody has given me anything and I have not heard it. I am just hearing it for the first time.”
Senate opens probe
Meanwhile, the Senate Committee on Defence has commenced investigation into the $9.3 million cash haul involving two Nigerians and an Israeli.
The committee, led by Senator George Thompson Sekibo (PDP, Rivers), met with Service Chiefs at the National Assembly yesterday over the matter, and told journalists they have begun investigation.
“There are several questions here and there and we are digging to find out details and facts of the about what happened,” Sekibo said.
“We are still investigating, we have started the investigation, when we get through the investigation we will brief you. The money belongs to Nigerian government.”
On the death sentence on 12 soldiers over mutiny, Sekibo denied reports that the Senate was under pressure to intervene.
“No we are not (under pressure) because the Armed Forces is established by an Act of the National Assembly. The act spelt out categorically the conduct of the soldiers and the way they are to behave wherever they are. If you join the military that act is to guide you and your conduct. If you go contrary to any of the prescribed sections of the act the punishment prescribed for the act you violated will come on you,” Sekibo said.