Events in the Senate last week were full of surprises. Different activities which took place in the upper chamber were marked by intrigues. First, a bewildered Senate committee probing bribe-for-job scam in the country was told how two employment letters possessed by two individuals were signed by a dead man. The beneficiaries – Mrs. Rose Odey and Idachaba Tijani – reportedly paid over N250,000 to Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC) to secure jobs in federal ministries. But months after they were absorbed into the civil service, it was discovered that their mode of employment was faulty. Curious investigation into their entry into the civil service later showed that their letters bore the signature of a dead man.
Upon her appearance before the joint Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs and Employment, Labour and Productivity on Wednesday, Chairman of FCSC, Deaconess Joan Ayo, revealed that the employment letters that the duo claimed they were given were mere “photocopies.”
Beyond the fact that Ahmed S. Dantanko, who allegedly signed the employment letter is dead, two other issues came to the fore. First, at the time the letters were signed, the signatory had left the services of the commission before losing his life in an accident last year.
Second, he was not even qualified to sign an employment letter since he never attained the rank of a director before his exit. At best, he was described as a “pool officer” while in the service.
However, it was learnt that masterminds of the scam, Juliet Egobunor and Simon Odujebe, are now at large. Ayo then told the committee that the entry of Odey and Tijani into the service remained a mystery as there’s no record of their employment anywhere in the FCSC.
The FCSC Chairman therefore revealed that the commission was currently on the trail of these two individuals with the disclosure that the ministry where they worked had been mandated to produce them. If otherwise, they must produce their next-of-kin, Ayo said.
The development only showed the depth of job scam in both the public and private sectors of the society. For instance, when the chairman of the Senate joint committee probing the scandal, Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta, asked how Tijani was absorbed into the civil service, his response was shocking. “A file was just opened for me at the ministry and that was it,” he said, without any fear of equivocation.
Another mystery worth being noted was that the employment letters issued to Tijani and Odey bore the same numbers. But what does that imply? Ayo provided an answer. “It means that somebody’s employment letter has been photocopied and being used over and over again.” Nevertheless, events in the days ahead will reveal where the intrigue will ultimately end.
End of the Road for Advocates of Ex-leaders Remuneration
Persistent efforts to remunerate former presidents, heads of state, chief justices of the federation as well as heads of federal legislative chambers came to an abrupt end during the week when a bill to that effect was thrown out after a heated debate.
The bill, entitled: “A Bill for an Act to Provide Remuneration for Former Presidents, Heads of Federal Legislative Houses and Chief Justices of the Federation and Other Ancillary Matters 2013,” had been passed by three consecutive assemblies and yet failed to become law. It was first passed by the fourth National Assembly but the then president withheld his assent from it. The fifth National Assembly also did the same. But it yet suffered the same fate as the president did not assent to it. Yet undeterred by the trend, the sixth National Assembly re-opened debate on the bill and again passed it but the story was not different. Hence, the National Assembly was yet optimistic that it would be lucky this time. Against this background, the bill passed through first reading on the floor of the Senate. But the bill was not lucky last week when it came up for second reading as most senators vehemently opposed it, culminating in its death.
Several issues were advanced against its passage. Chief among them was the decision of the leadership of the Senate to include the presiding officers of the National Assembly as well as other principal officers in the package. For instance, some senators believed that seeking to remunerate leaders of the National Assembly was in bad faith as they reasoned that it would create leadership crisis in the legislature.
According to them, each of the 109 senators in the Senate for instance, would either struggle to attain the leadership of the Senate because of the juicy benefits awaiting them after their exit.
Besides, other senators felt that if the bill was passed into law, it would be in conflict with the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended. Section 84 of the constitution has provided for the remuneration of former presidents, vice presidents and chief justices of the federation through the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Senators in this school of thought therefore warned their colleagues to tread with caution.
Besides, some other senators were of the opinion that presentation of the bill was not only ill timed but also counter-productive in view of the increasing clamour for the reduction of the cost of governance in the country. Some other senators also said devoting time to deliberate on remunerations for past leaders who had the privileges to occupy exalted offices with huge benefits at their disposal, was misplaced.
They also argued that the move would be unfair to the vast majority of Nigerians who are being maimed and killed everyday with many of those who are alive having no promising future.
Although there were other senators who supported the bill and even canvassed the need to include former military rulers in the package. Such argument provoked anger in Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi) who raised a point of order to interrupt the submission of his colleague, Senator Ehigie Uzamere, who submitted that past military rulers deserved to be included in the package. Adeyemi said it was immoral on the part of Uzamere to stand in the hallowed chambers of the Senate and yet sang the praises of those who truncated democracy.
Before the end of the debate, it was already clear that the bill would meet its untimely death which became a reality when the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the sitting called for a voice vote.
While the voice of opponents to the bill was higher during the first call, it even rose much higher after the second call and without attempts to apply the power available to the presiding officer to safe the bill, Ekweremadu announced the death of the bill and forthwith, it was thrown out.
Coming Soon, Corporate Manslaughter as Criminal Offence
A bill seeking to punish organisations for any act of negligence which results in the destruction of human lives, was unanimously supported by stakeholders at a one-day public hearing in the Senate last week.
Entitled “A Bill for an Act to Create the Offence of Corporate Manslaughter and Matters Incidental Thereto 2013,” the bill was the offshoot of the June 3, 2012 Dana Air Crash which claimed no fewer than 163 lives in Lagos. It sets out to create punishment for corporate manslaughter which does not currently exist in the Criminal and Penal Codes.
Sponsor of the bill, Senator Pius Ewherido (DPP, Delta), said the bill sought to fill such lacuna in criminal and penal codes. He also said he was miffed by alleged reports that the technical crew of Dana Airline reported that the ill-fated MD83 aircraft was not airworthy, but yet was forced to fly by the management. He said it was much more provocative that till date no one is being punished for that alleged willful destruction.
While declaring the public hearing open, Senate President David Mark, who was represented by the Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba, described the move to create punishment for corporate manslaughter as a novel idea which must be accorded due attention. He recalled that the move to create punishment for manslaughter is very new in law, disclosing that it is already operational in places such as the United Kingdom, Wales and Hong Kong. Further, he said the bill aimed at re-writing the law of thoughts as well as company law since it sets out to hold corporate organisations guilty of criminal offences bordering on negligence.