The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole may have wriggled out of an impending suspension and humiliation which had been caused by an alleged tricky mishandling of funds meant as salaries and emoluments for some member of the House of Representatives.
According to sources, he owned up to borrowing N10bn from a commercial bank to manage the affairs of the lower arm of the National Assembly, and has pacified that he would make sure the House indebtedness to some members would be sorted in due cause.
A member of the House leadership, told our correspondent that Bankole, who was absent at Wednesday’s plenary when the issue came up, gave satisfactory reasons for the loan during a closed-door session by the House leadership on Thursday.
The member said, “He gave reasons why the loan was taken. We were satistified. In fact, most of us who make up the House leadership were in the know about the loan.
“We just agreed that he should convey our decision at the plenary which will have all members in attendance. The decision was to prevent a row in the House.”
Bankole had come under fire during Wednesday’s plenary with members giving him till last Thursday to explain why the loan was taken by the House leadership without carrying them along.
The bank had reportedly withheld the second quarter allowances of members on account of the loan, resulting into anger and anxiety in the chamber.
But on Thursday, rather than hear the speaker in the open, the House went straight into the closed-door session, which lasted for nearly two hours.
When it reverted to plenary, Bankole read out two resolutions he said were taken at the closed-door meeting.
He claimed that the members “discussed House matters and issues and the Speaker offered satisfactory explanations.”
The speaker added that the meeting also resolved that the remuneration of the 11 re-admitted lawmakers led by Mr. Dino Melaye should be paid to them immediately.
However, mixed reactions greeted the resolutions. Some lawmakers shouted “no”, “no”, indicating disagreement, while others shouted “yes”, “yes” as Bankole asked whether what he said was the true reflection of the resolutions of the meeting.
Findings however revealed that at the closed-door session, the speaker clarified that the loan was an institutional loan as against the rumour that he used the name of the House to take a personal loan.
He was reported to have said that the money was used to manage the affairs of the House.
A disgruntled member said that the loan was used to fund the “recklessness” of lawmakers, who raised the quarterly allocation of each member from N28.9m to about N42m in July last year.
The decision, in addition to other “unnecessary expenditure”, reportedly left the accounts of the House in the red, necessitating the pressure to resort to borrowing.
One of the lawmakers told our correspondent after the plenary that the loan would have been as high as N60bn if not for conditions set for banks by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The lawmaker, who did not want his name in print, said, “Besides the N42m, they were even demanding other money. The real loan would have been N60bn; but any bank doing this type of transaction needed the approval of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“It was because there was no CBN approval that they were left with what they got (10bn).”
The money for the repayment of part of the loan was said to have been built into the 2011 budget which is yet to be singed by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Another member of the House disclosed that one of the decisions taken at the closed-door session was that the leadership would “meet with the Presidency to find ways of freeing the allowances of lawmakers being held by the bank.”
The loan was allegedly taken in three tranches of N6.1bn, N2.5bn and N1.5bn in May 2010.
However, some lawmakers were said to have insisted that the leadership was also reckless on its part by undertaking certain expenditure that they were not briefed on.
One of them said, “We are funding the recklessness of the leadership. What pains me most is that the people who will suffer for this recklessness are the Nigerian tax payers.
“We are kept here at the expense of the tax payers who are suffering. The speaker did not say it all; the loan was taken to fund their own recklessness, which they can no longer defend.
“What they have decided to do is to roll the loan over in the budget at compound interest.”
“He was practically begging; he assured us that something would be done very soon to pay the money,” one of the 11 re-admitted legislators confided in our correspondent.
Each of them is said to be owed about N120m for allowances covering 11 months.
As the House rose, Melaye stormed out, still protesting that Bankole did not offer satisfactory explanations.
“No sinner will go unpunished, I repeat. I have been vindicated. I have always shouted that this House has lost focus,” he said.
A four-time member and Chairman of the Integrity Group, Mr. Farouk Lawan, blamed the development in the House on “communication breakdown.”
Lawan, whose group ensured the exit of a former Speaker, Mrs. Patricia Etteh, from office in 2007, claimed that there had been a communication breakdown between the leadership and members over the handling of House finances.
He said, “What has happened today is that the communication channels were opened and people aired their views. The leadership also took time to explain a lot issues aggitating members, with the result that people left the meeting satisfied.”
But, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Ita Enang, who later briefed journalists on the outcome of the meeting, tried to douse the seriousness of the matter.
He was, however, unwilling to admit that a loan was taken on behalf of the House by the leadership.
Enang also claimed that the withholding of lawmakers’ allowances by the bank was “a temporary, normal bank-customer issue, which the House is working to resolve.”
He said, “Whatever is happening between any bank and the House is a domestic banking transaction between a bank and a customer.”
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, may have wriggled out of an impending suspension and humiliation which had been caused by an alleged tricky mishandling of funds meant as salaries and emoluments for some member of the House of Representatives.
Source: John Ameh, Punch