Friday, June 3, 2011

House clears former speaker Etteh of wrongdoing

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After four turbulent years that featured some of the most brazen scandals in Nigeria's legislative history, the House of Representatives ended its sixth session on a farcical note yesterday by overturning a 2007 corruption charge that ousted former speaker, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh. Ms Etteh, who was forced to resign after three months on an allegation of spending N648million to upgrade her official residence and her deputy's, did no wrong and had no case to answer, the House ruled in its final resolution for the session.
"There is no record or proceedings of the House where Patricia Olubunmi Etteh was ever indicted," read a motion hastily put up at the request of Ms Etteh. The motion was unanimously approved by the House.
Ms Etteh was the Speaker of the House of Representatives between June 6 and October 30, 2007 when she was forced to resign with her deputy, Babangida Nguroje. She was first elected to represent Ayedaade/Isokan/Irewole Federal Constituency of Osun State in 1999 under the platform of Alliance for Democracy (AD) and then crossed to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2003 and got elected again in 2007.
The declaration was the highpoint of a dramatic, and at some point, emotional valedictory session, in which members delivered speeches framed by the reality that while more than 260 of them will not return, a few have left for the Senate, and one is now a governor in Zamfara State.
John Agoda, a three-term lawmaker from Delta state who lost re-election, wept as he addressed his colleagues, speaking of how his life had been shaped by an uninterrupted 12 years in the lower chamber.
"I wake up and carry my constitution"
"I have been here since 1999, and my life has been used to that for 12 years. Every morning I wake up and carry my constitution," Mr Agoda said before sobbing.
Ms Etteh, one of the earliest to speak, sang and recounted the allegations that led to her removal as Speaker in 2007. She urged her colleagues to proclaim her innocence since she had never been indicted after four years.
"I am saying this before this House and Almighty God that a kobo of this House or the government is not in my account," she said, ironically drawing applause from the same colleagues who moved against her.
"I came here in 1999; I have never stolen one kobo that belongs either to this House or the government. What happened happened, (and) the rest is now history."
Ms Etteh said any decision taken while she was in charge, was a joint decision, repeatedly challenging her colleagues to provide evidence to the contrary.
"A committee was set and till date, I have not heard anything. I have not been indicted. I want this House to pass a resolution before closing; if I am guilty, they should not hide it," she added.
The House subsequently passed the resolution clearing her of wrongdoing, but offered no apology for her loss of the speakership, or the allegations.
The end of a political drama
The House declaration, coming four years after, in a way, marked a seeming end to the chamber's first financial crisis since 2007, but also, showcased the drama that defined the sixth session of the House. Etteh and her deputy were booted out after becoming the first female Speaker to lead the House of Representatives. Some lawmakers, under a so-called "Integrity Group" led by Farouk Lawan, pressed for her removal for allegedly spending N648 million for the renovation of her official residence and that of her deputy, and the purchase of 12 official cars for the House.
With a new Speaker in place, the reports of the investigation ordered into the allegations, have remained unpublished since, a pattern that would be followed by series of other scandals linked to the new Speaker, Dimeji Bankole.
Without an indictment or a report, the allegations against Ms Etteh, are now viewed to have been politically motivated-a theme which she leaned towards yesterday. Moreover, the charges are said to have been raised when the money was not spent but was only budgeted. After leaving office, Ms Etteh, herself, stayed off discussing the matter or calling for a discharge, but has consistently directed her fury at the media, blaming journalists for allegedly hyping the episode.
"I will advise you people to publish the truth so that it will be well with you," Ms Etteh said yesterday, looking directly to the television cameras after her speech. Many lawmakers including the Minority Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila, joined the former speaker in issuing harsh words to members of the news media.
"Most of the problems that this outgoing House has faced came from the media," Mr Gbajabiamila ridiculously claimed.

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