EFCC Poorly Managing Controversy Over N13bn Discovery, Says Saraki
Senate President Bukola Saraki has said that the controversy surrounding the recovery of N13.3 billion ($43.3 million) from an apartment in Ikoyi, Lagos, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has been poorly managed by the anti-graft agency and the parties involved.
He also said the EFCC has a responsibility to tell Nigerians who the money belongs to, as it had become embarrassing that up till now there was no clarity on the ownership of the money.
Saraki’s remarks on the cash discovery were made last night on Arise News Night, a current affairs programme on Arise News Network, a THISDAY sister broadcast station, just as it was gathered that the EFCC has obtained a warrant from a court to search all the apartments in Osborne Towers where the cash was discovered.
The Senate President said what was presently going on was not good for the image of the country, and the National Assembly, as a last resort, might step in if the parties involved are unable to resolve it and tell Nigerians what is going on.
“I believe this is something simple that the organisation (EFCC) should manage, even before the speculation started coming out. The circus has to come to end as to whether it belongs to individuals, companies, agencies or a state government.
“We, however, believe they will sort it out and eventually tell Nigerians who owns the money. Nigerians deserve to know. The circus must stop,” he said.
He said Nigerians should not see the anti-corruption campaign of the present administration as the fight of President Muhammadu Buhari, but should be seen as a Nigerian fight, as it can only be won when viewed as an institutional issue rather than a personal one.
“I believe progress will be made faster if the process is transparent. Those are ways to strengthen institutions. When the process is transparent up to the investigative stage, people will not believe that it is because of this person that so, so, person is being prosecuted.
“Corrupt people are very patient, but with a transparent process, the fight against corruption will be won.
“On our part, we are doing all it takes to strengthen institutions. We have four bills before us, one is with the Constitution Amendment Committee, one has been taken back by the executive,” he said.
When asked if it was a failure of law enforcement that the EFCC did not monitor the Ikoyi apartment, Saraki said: “I would rather not comment and prejudge them because they might come before us.
“But clearly, Nigerians must know, to save us this embarrassment. I believe they should come out and tell us who owns the money. I believe an agency like this should monitor and clear this mess.”
Also speaking on the face-off between the executive and the National Assembly, Saraki said he has often explained that the relationship between the two arms of government was cordial, and was far better than it was in 2016.
“What we have now is very cordial. If you look at the confirmation of nominations from the executive, we have cleared over 90 per cent. If you look at the national budget, the process is much better than in 2016. In a few weeks, we will be done with the process.
“I think people just sensationalise situations. The fact that one person’s nomination was rejected does not mean there is controversy between the executive and the House.
“We don’t define democracy based on individuals. We follow processes, and that is exactly what we have done. By virtue of our presidential system of checks and balances, there is bound to be one off frictions. That is what democracy is all about,” he added.
When the Arise anchor, Charles Aniagolu, reminded him that the executive recently set up a reconciliatory committee to look into the frosty relationship between the Senate and the executive, Saraki said he was not aware of any committee, as there was no need for it.
“But I don’t think that the committee was set up because we rejected one person. There are many nominees we have rejected, and been re-presented or replaced.
“But we can’t define our democracy based on individuals. There is a process; the process is transparent. The president sent a name and the nominee has been rejected. That is it, we’ve played our own part; and I don’t think the executive is basing the relationship on the rejection of one nominee.
“I’m not aware of the committee, I think it was announced after a cabinet meeting, but since then that has not happened.
“May be on second thoughts, I think the question to ask is, is the committee really necessary? Besides, when the relationship was not as good as this, when we had major issues such as the budget (last year), we didn’t have a committee.
“So this can’t define the relationship between the executive and the Senate based on one nominee, because we are addressing more important issues.
“Also, I think the word face-off is very strong to use, because of the rejection of one nominee, I think there are one or two issues there but they can’t define the relationship,” he stressed.
On why it was taking the National Assembly long to pass the 2017 budget given that the lifespan of the 2016 budget will end on May 5th, the Senate President said he was glad that there was significant improvement in the way the legislature and executive had worked together on the budget.
“I am very sure that by the time we come back from our break on April 25th, the budget will be passed. That is the time we have in place. We are checking with various committees to see that everything is in order.
“Most of the agencies have defended their budgets, so what all the committees are doing is compiling all the reports. The plan is that when we come back on the 25th (of April), that week we should go into the final consideration of the budget.
“What the Appropriation Committees are doing is to just check that the committees have done their work properly. What we are presently doing is just the house keeping part that it going on,” he explained.
Saraki also spoke on the National Assembly’s budget, stating that it was distinct from the federal budget.
“On the National Assembly budget, we hope to change the way it’s been perceived, because in the past, not much was known about the National Assembly budget.
“But when I came in, I said we were going to change that and make it transparent. We hoped that we could have done it in 2016, but in 2015, unfortunately, we did not settle down as a united Senate as quickly as we could.
“But now that everything is fine, the National Assembly’s budget will be transparent. Nigerians will know what every member receives.
“By the time the budget is passed in the next few weeks, we will make it public and it will be to our advantage, because we hear statements like National Assembly members are the highest paid, because what people do is to take the budget and divide it by 469 members and arrive at our salaries.
“But by the time we present the budget and by the time people see what goes to salaries of aides, what goes to capital, what goes to management, what goes to running costs, and what goes to actual salaries of legislators, the commentary will stop after they see the breakdown,” he said.
However, when Saraki was reminded that there is the widespread perception that Nigerian legislators collect humongous salaries estimated at $189,000 per annum, which is 116 times above Nigeria’s GDP per capita, he dismissed the notion, stating: “Those figures like I explained are arrived at when they have taken the bulk budget of N115 billion and divided it by 469 members and come with a figure of $189,000 per annum.
“When we release the detailed budget, you will see what is the salary, you will see what is allowances, you will see what is the cost of running the offices, you will see what is management, you will see the cost of legislative studies, you will see the cost of the capital budget.
“So you will now be able to actually know how much a legislator earns and how much he is even paid to run his office, which he has to retire. But because over the years, it has never been made public, people have concluded that legislators earn a lot more and they are not going to make it public.
“Then again, if you look at other countries like the UK or US, in the US, a senator gets close to $1 million to $2 million to run his office, but nobody adds that to his salary. But because we have not broken down our budget, this has caused the misrepresentation.”
He also explained that the allowances of legilators are determined by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).