As the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, takes on the management of the United Bank for Africa (UBA), tomorrow (Wednesday), over alleged embezzlement of N41 out of N42billion liquidators of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL), deposited with its bank, Taiye Odewale examines the trend of probes in the 9th Senate so far.
Legal right to probe
In line with section 88 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), which empowers both chambers of the National Assembly to carry out investigation on suspected financial malfeasance in any public institutions in the country, the 9th Senate and by extension, 9th National Assembly, have been carrying out series of investigations on suspected corrupt practices in financial transactions of some public institutions over the last one year.
Series of probes
In the Senate in particular, such investigations have been carried out in the power sector where it has been alleged that over N1.5trillion has been injected into the sector by successive governments since 2013 till date without corresponding results.
The latest of such investigations , was the one recently carried out by an ad- hoc committee of the Senate on alleged financial recklessness in the Niger Delta Development Commission ( NDDC) where it was established that between October 29 , 2019 and May 31, 2020, whopping sum of N81.6billion was squandered by the Interim Management Committee ( IMC) of NDDC , particularly the current one headed by Professor Daniel Pondei, who fainted in the House of Representatives penultimate week, in the heat of the investigation.
UBA’s petition induced probe
However, while many of such investigations at both chambers are carried out on the strength of resolutions to that effect driven by motions by concerned members, the planned UBA probe in the Senate this week is triggered by petitions to that effect forwarded to the Senate by J.U Ayogu and Co, on behalf of Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) and Nigerian Mobile Telecommunications Limited (MTEL).
It will be recalled that the federal government after many years of looking for buyers, eventually sold NITEL/ MTEL in July 2006 to TransCorp for $750m. TransCorp, a Nigerian multi-national, multi-sectoral conglomerate emerged the winner in a negotiated bid, beating six other companies to the sale. Ndi Okereke-Onyiuke, chairman of TransCorp said the company would invest over $1bn to turn NITEL and MTEL around and that TransCorp had secured €1bn at 4% interest from the European Union Development Council (EUDC) to fund the acquisition at a minimum cost.
But since then, liquidators of the firms have been having problems with the United Bank for Africa over alleged mismanagement of the N42billion deposited there through withdrawals without authorisation or approving tickets.
Briefing journalists on the alleged fraud by UBA against NITEL and MTEL, last week Tuesday, the chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Ayo Akinyelure (PDP Ondo Central), said UBA made unauthorized withdraws from the accounts of the liquidated telecommunications companies four different times in technically stealing N41 out of N42billion liquidators of the forms deposited there.
According to him, as clearly stated and explained in the petition, UBA withdrew N29billion, N11billion, N6.8million and N22million at different times between 2006 and 2015 from the accounts without relevant tickets or authorizations for that purpose. He added that liquidators of the firms explained further in the petition that officials of UBA have been hiding under litigated N685million it withdrew from the accounts.
“Being a committee adhering strictly to Senate rules, the litigated N685million is not part of what the UBA is being invited for despite even losing to NITEL liquidators at both the Federal High Court and Appeal Courts.
“The committee’s right of investigation under section 88 of the 1999 Constitution will be exercised to the fullest on this matter because the owners of the stolen monies by UBA are dying”, he said.
He explained further that UBA promised to provide tickets for the withdrawal of N22.5bnb withdrawn from the NITEL accounts without authorisation but has not been able to make provisions for that.
Complaints against UBA
He said: “A human rights lawyer had sent a petition on behalf of the liquidators and creditors of NITEL and MTEL, that if the N685m is a subject of litigation, there is a third account meant for taxation and disasters which has N169m.
“It was also unilaterally withdrawn by the UBA. Seven years after the withdrawal, they’ve not provided the tickets, instead, they were asking the liquidators to get the tickets from the dead liquidators, which is wrong. They are yet to provide the tickets.
“In other accounts which had N29bn, the UBA also unilaterally withdrew the money from NITEL accounts without authorization tickets. Most of the creditors of NITEL have sued the liquidators that they’ve collected money from the UBA without paying them.
“The human rights lawyer wrote on behalf of the dying creditors to the Senate for legislative interventions. There is another MTEL account N11bn withdrawn by the UBA and it has not been accounted for till today.
“The creditors don’t have money to go to court because they are already bankrupt. They sued UBA over the N685m and they won at the Federal High Court, Appeal Court and the Supreme Court. Up till today, they didn’t respect the court judgement by not paying the liquidators.
Senate piqued by UBA’s court claim
“When the Senate wrote the UBA management, they responded that the matter was in court. The Senate is hereby insisting that the matter is not subjudice, and we are calling on them to appear before us on August 5, 2020.
“The Group Managing Director of UBA, Kennedy Uzoka, should come and explain how the other funds withdrawn were before the court. They are owing the NITEL and MTEL over N41bn and they should come and explain to Nigerians”.
The allegations are no doubt weighty but UBA being one of the leading financial institutions in the country, will definitely have a response to them.