Plot to weaken opposition to
Lawan’s emergence thickens
…EFCC may arrest, detain
The plot to weaken opposition to the emergence of Senator Ahmed Lawan, the preferred choice of the All Progressives Congress for the position of Senate President, has reached an advanced stage, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
Saturday PUNCH gathered in Abuja on Friday that the ruling party was leaving nothing to chance as it was prepared to take full advantage of pending cases before the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to whip uncooperative lawmakers into line.
It was learnt that the party’s strategists had reached a conclusion that it would be dangerous to underestimate the influence of the outgoing President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, who they argued was keenly interested in who would succeed him.
In order to checkmate him, there are strong indications that the EFCC may arrest and detain him after his tenure officially ends and keep him until new principal officers are elected.
This plot, Saturday PUNCH learnt, was part of strategies being considered in a bid to destabilise the opposition and whip other contenders into line.
A top-ranking security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media, explained that investigations into Saraki’s stewardship as Kwara State Governor and later Senate President was part of a larger plot by the current administration to clip his political wings and ensure the APC had its way.
Saturday PUNCH was informed on Friday that the EFCC’s probe of Saraki’s property in Lagos and the interrogation of the National Assembly clerk as well as other management officials was part of the general plot.
Also being investigated by the anti-graft agency is the Clerk to the House of Representatives, Mr Patrick Giwa.
The clerks were grilled by the EFCC on Wednesday over alleged corruption infraction and diversion of the duty tour allowances of legislative aides to members of the National Assembly.
The EFCC had acted on a petition sent to it by the legislative aides, a copy of which was sent to Buhari.
Nadal dispatches Tsitsipas to reach Rome final
The signatories to the petition were Messrs Chinedu Nwokeukwu and Sunday Chuba on behalf of over 3,000 legislative aides.
They wrote partly, “We are reliably informed, Your Excellency, that the presiding officers of the 8th National Assembly are using the Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Sani Omolori, to cover the alleged diversion of our entitlements and allowances.
“The clerk should have proceeded on pre-retirement leave in November 2018, having attained the mandatory 60 years and 35 years of service. He was allegedly served a letter to that effect by the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation.”
A source said, “The executive and, by extension, the APC are desperate to install Senator Lawan as the next Senate President, but they know that Saraki may frustrate their plans. With him in the upper chamber, the party may not succeed in its bid to have its candidate as the next Senate President.
“So, the ongoing investigation of Saraki has become a tool to be used for the advancement of their cause; the plan is for the EFCC to arrest Saraki and keep him out of circulation shortly before the inauguration of the National Assembly and the election of the principal officers.
“This was the reason the commission grilled the National Assembly clerk and other officials about the finances of the Assembly and other issues relating to the procedure for the election of the leaders of the 9th Assembly.”
Another source noted that with Saraki out of the way, the plot against Lawan by other contenders to the Senate Presidency, like the former Senate leader, Senator Ali Ndume, and Senator Danjuma Goje, could easily be overwhelmed by pro-Lawan senators backed by the ruling party.
Our correspondent further gathered that the EFCC had been dragged into the Senate presidency race by top party and government officials who did not want to leave anything to chance.
The source noted, “The APC and top government officials have been having sleepless nights over the likelihood of Saraki (playing the) midwife and influencing the election of his successor because they fear he may continue to control happenings within the Senate, which may not augur well for the (Muhammadu) Buhari administration.
“This is why the APC Chairman, Adams Oshiomhole and other party chiefs are not taking the issue of the emergence of the new principal officers with levity and they are ready to do anything to get their candidates into office.”
Apart from checking Saraki, it was also gathered that senators who voted against Lawan may face serious consequences for their action as the anti-graft agency was poised to go after them.
Should Lawan fail to clinch the position, Saturday PUNCH learnt that rebellious senators who have pending cases before anti-graft agencies would have their case files dusted up.
“Senators who vote for Lawan’s opponent will not find it easy after the NASS inauguration because their business deals, constituency projects and other activities will be subjected to clinical investigations and we all know what this may mean for some of them,” another senior official revealed.
When contacted, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, said he would not respond to speculations about a possible arrest of the outgoing Senate President.
He said, “I will not respond to speculations on this matter. I do know the Senate has its rules and the election of principal officers is done in accordance with these rules.”
But the acting EFCC spokesman, Tony Orilade,
said the commission had no interest in the election of principal officers of the National Assembly. He said in line with its mandate, it was only interested in persons who had questions to answer with regards to the mismanagement of public funds.
He cautioned politicians against “dragging the EFCC into the National Assembly’s internal affairs,” stressing that the anti-agency was not a political organisation.
He stated, “Like the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, said, our investigation of any citizen is not personal and we are not after anybody. We invite or arrest people who have committed a crime, people who are corrupt. If you are not corrupt, we can’t arrest or detain you.”
Asked about the reported interrogation of Mohammed Sani-Omolori-led National Assembly management, including the Clerk of the Senate, Nelson Ayewoh, and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Patrick Giwa, Orilade said he did not have information about it.
Kwara computing Saraki’s earnings
Meanwhile, the Kwara State Government has yet to respond to the letter from the EFCC demanding details of Saraki’s earnings as the governor of the state.
It was gathered that the government was taking its time to compile Saraki’s earnings for the eight years he spent as the Kwara State helmsman.
The Commission, as part of investigation into Saraki’s stewardship in the Senate and his tenure as Kwara State Governor, wrote to the Kwara State Government for details of his emoluments and other benefits.
The commission in a statement said it had indicting evidence and documents against Saraki, stressing that the probe was in the public interest.
The agency asked Saraki not to fret over the investigation into his earnings as governor and his stewardship in the Senate, “so long as he has no skeletons in his cupboard.”
APC accuses PDP of fuelling crisis
The All Progressives Congress has accused the Peoples Democratic Party of being behind allegation that it is using the EFCC to witch-hunt perceived enemies.
The ruling party said the allegation was an indication the opposition party was running from its sordid past.
In a statement on Friday, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu, said the party was “confused and desperate.”
“They created the EFCC and used it to witch-hunt anyone that was not in their good book. That is because they don’t believe in building institutions. If they had allowed government institutions freehand like the APC is doing, there wouldn’t have been the need for them (the PDP) to be crying wolf now.
“Strong institutions would protect everyone and enshrined social justice. PDP made this impossible. They compromised institutions and undermined the statutes that give our institutions mandates.
“They bastardised institutions and expect everybody to be like them. The EFCC is a public institution and should be allowed to do its job. The clerk of the National Assembly is a public officer and could be quizzed in his official capacity if he is suspected to have breached the law. He has the right to defence. If he feels his rights have been infringed upon, he can seek redress in court.”
He added, “The way the opposition is crying wolf about his invitation and investigation makes one wonder if he is a member of their political party. It is only the guilty that are afraid.
Presidency declines comment
In reaction to the development, the Presidency on Friday avoided making comments on the ongoing investigation of the Clerk to the National Assembly, Mr Mohammed Sani-Omolori, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
However, a State House source said the Presidency would only comment on such a matter if there was evidence of President Muhammadu Buhari’s involvement.
On Friday, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr Garba Shehu, declined to speak on the issue on the grounds that he was out of the country to Saudi Arabia and not in a position to speak.
But, a presidential source at the State House in Abuja told Saturday PUNCH no official of the Presidency would comment on a matter that had no proof linking Buhari to it.
The source stated, “When you say the Presidency, the Presidency is very large. Who will speak for the Presidency in this case?
“If they had mentioned President Muhammadu Buhari in name, that he was involved, then you can expect a reaction from his office.
“That is as far as I am concerned. We will come in whenever they say it is the President directly.”
The source further said the EFCC should be asked where it got it alleged directive to probe the National Assembly clerks.
“Why don’t you speak to the EFCC? Who gave the EFCC directive? Ask the EFCC to tell you”, the source added.