Tuesday, 19 December 2017

I Warned Etteh On the Contracts, But She Was Adamant – Yakubu Dogara

The Speaker of the Nigeria House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, has declared that he strictly warned a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh against the contracts she awarded, which led to her impeachment, but she paid deaf ears.

Dogara made this disclosure in a new biography on him written by veteran journalist, and publisher, Chief Dele Momodu, titled Dogara: A Reed Made Flint, and published by Ovation Books.

An effective lawmaker, who became the Chairman of the newly created House Committee on Customs, even as a neophyte in 2007, Dogara threw more light into the situation that led to the unbundling of Mrs. Etteh as the Speaker few months after she assumed the position.

“We had this practice whereby the body of principal officers of the House of Representatives and the body of principal officers for the Senate were like the tenders’ board for award of contracts and like Etteh that was what consumed Okadigbo as well. So when the House awarded the contracts for the renovation of presiding officers’ houses, there were cries that the contracts were inflated and that there was no way Speaker Etteh could wash her hands clean.”

The book highlighted that ‘the moment Dogara heard this allegation and her accusers started bringing out the papers, he knew that it was a high-stake political game involving both members and the management of the National Assembly.”

The book added that her detractors were in possession of some papers which they were leaking, and Dogara saw a controversy that was proving to be more than met the eye, stressing that everything pointed to the fact that the Speaker’s days in that exalted position were numbered.

Being one of those that took the enlightened decision that led to Etteh’s emergence, ‘Dogara was wary of the outcome. Etteh had set a great pace for the undermined women and men by breaking the barrier, the glass ceiling and now there was no doubt a huge, powerful group was about to destroy the symbol of that accomplishment.’

Momodu’s book confirmed that Dogara knew he needed to reach the embattled Speaker as soon as possible. But fate was bent on playing games against the ill-fated speaker as most Reps who could be dissuaded were on an annual recess at that time, and had gone on holidays abroad. This includes the Speaker himself who Dogara recalls was in the US at the time. But he went ahead and put a call across to her!

The call was necessitated based on the fact that he “studied the documents and noticed enough red-flags, as a lawyer, to put the embattled Speaker in a serious fuss.” He still wanted to give the hapless woman the benefit of doubt; that the errors or red flags might have been inadvertent. After all, as a human, anybody could be misled in a world of sundry advisers. He believed that if Etteh must go, she must be given the honour of a gracious exit.

The book went: “I will never forget this,” Dogara reflects. “I remember placing a call to her and advising her like any other lawyer member could have done, to say that ‘Ah, Madam Speaker, I have seen these documents and I have these discussions because it is being discussed among our colleagues. I have weighed it and as a lawyer, this is my counsel and, God bear me witness, I said my counsel was that right from the US where you are now announce to the whole world that you have cancelled these contracts because of the issues being raised and some of the irregularities. Tell the world that you are not an angel. Tell them that because of the possibility of some processes being inadvertently overlooked, you are cancelling the contract. So, even when you come back and somebody raises an issue about those contracts, you will say, ‘Oh is it about the contracts that have been cancelled?’”

But Etteh was apparently adamant. At this moment she still believed that she had done the right thing, and her answer created more confusion than solution.

“Thank you,” she said. “But, no, I will have to discuss with some leaders after which I will be able to take an appropriate decision.”

At this moment, Dogara gave up and, as it were, upon the reconvening of the House after the break, the contract issue developed a life of its own. The agitations continued as a result of which the House couldn’t function for days. The Integrity Group was hell-bent on taking its agitation to its intended conclusion: ETTEH MUST GO!

“Any time we got to the chamber to commence legislative business, the Etteh opponents would raise handkerchiefs, chanting the ‘Etteh Must Go’ slogan and demanding that the speaker stepped down on account of those contracts,” Dogara recollects.

At this point, the House decided to constitute a committee to investigate the allegations of impropriety levelled against Patricia Etteh. The body of principal officers was at that time the Tenders’ Board of the House. So, when the committee to investigate was named, Dogara was included as a member. Besides the Customs Committee Chairmanship, that was the first major assignment he was saddled with in the House of Representatives.

The committee sat for days, took evidence and examined the processes.

“We did everything holistically,” says Dogara. “That committee was chaired by a member from Benue State, Honourable Idoko. We listened to all the evidence, took all witnesses from management, from the body of principal officers and came out with the report and, at the end of the day, we were very clear in that report. There were so many intricacies. We came out with the report which said that due process was not completely followed. That was it. There was no evidence of deliberate misconduct. There was no evidence of any amount being misappropriated. No dime had been paid. It was just the process of awarding the contracts. What we sincerely saw was that due process was not completely followed.

“Etteh’s adversaries relied on that. Thenceforth, they made life unbearable for the embattled Lady Speaker. There was tension in the land and a terrible showdown was brewing in the chambers between those who were for and against Etteh. At this point it became clear to the woman that she had to step down.

Momodu’s Dogara: A Reed Made Flint is a must read for those who wish to understand the intrigues and power play among the high and mighty as presented by someone who has seen if not all, but a tangible bit of power tussle in the nation’s legislative chambers.

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