Federal lawmakers of the All Progressives Congress yesterday walked out on their colleagues in the House of Representatives after a botched attempt to discuss the scandalous $9.3 million seized by the South African government on 5 September. The Nigerian government had explained that the money, thought to have been smuggled into South Africa aboard a private jet belonging to the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, was purportedly for arms buy.
Calling for a debate on it as a matter of urgent national importance, on Tuesday, Deputy Minority Leader, Suleiman Abdulrahman-Kawu, said there are grey areas that needed clarification. Abdulrahman-Kawu said the debate was necessary especially at this time that arms smuggling was on an “alarming rate.” The lawmaker cited that the money was neither declared at the exit point in Lagos nor its landing point in South Africa, fuelling speculation that it was indeed smuggled.
“While many South African security agencies, including the National Prosecuting Authority, are involved in the matter because of its gravity, nearly all the relevant Nigerian agencies, especially the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, the Nigeria Airspace Management Authority, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority and the Nigeria Customs Service do not have any information on the matter.
“The development will further tarnish the image of Nigeria in the eyes of the international community.”
If the lawmaker and his partymen in the House had thought the matter worth the bother of the PDP controlled Chamber, Deputy Speaker Emeka Ihedioha, would prove them wrong. Ihedioha, relying on the rules governing motions in the Chamber, referred the matter to a standing committee for discussion given that the matter had security implications. Unrelenting, the APC lawmakers pressed, but met a brick wall when Ihedioha called for a voice vote, which went in favour of the PDP members. By Ihedioha’s pronouncement that opposition to the debate was in the majority, the Minority Whip, Samson Osagie, led other members of the APC to walk out of the chambers. The vexed APC lawmakers later addressed journalists where they further vented their dismay and vowed to re-list the matter for discussion again.
Senate begins Probe
Unlike in the House of Representatives, the Senate launched discussion on the controversial money, which saw its Committee on Defence (Army) finding facts from service chiefs behind closed-door.
The service chiefs were of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and others with relations to the issue. Senator George Sekibo, who chairs the Senate Defence Committee, after the session, told journalists that investigation had begun on the alleged smuggled money.
“We have started investigations. When we get through with it, we will brief you,” Sekibo, (PDP, Rivers) said. He foreclosed speculations that the money belonged to anybody or group other than the Nigerian government by stating unequivocally that the latter owned it. Prodded to speak on the responses of the Defence chiefs to questions from the Committee members, Sekibo replied: “There were questions here and there. We tried to find out the details and facts from them and I think the sub-committee was satisfied that they briefed us properly.”