by John Alechenu, John Ameh, Ade Adesomoju and Seun Ariyibi
Angry All Progressives Congress members in the House of Representatives staged a walkout on Tuesday in protest against a failed debate on the controversial $9.3m seized from two Nigerians and an Israeli by the South African authorities on September 5.
The two Nigerians and the Israeli had flown the money in a Challenger 600 jet from Nigeria to the Lanseria International Airport, Northwest Johannesburg, where the money was uncovered in three suit cases.
The aircraft was said to belong to the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria and President Goodluck Jonathan’s confidant, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.
The matter had since generated international attention, forcing the Federal Government to admit knowledge of the movement of the cash.
At the House on Tuesday, the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Suleiman Abdulrahman-Kawu, had raised the issue on matters of urgent public importance.
But, the House rejected to debate his motion in a majority voice vote during the plenary presided over by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha.
The APC lawmakers who could not believe the development stormed out of the chambers angrily, abandoning the rest of the proceedings for their Peoples Democratic Party colleagues.
Abdulrahman-Kawu’s motion sought to debate the alleged “attempt to smuggle $9.3m cash into South Africa” and an investigation by the House Committees on Defence and Aviation.
He argued that a lot of questions begged for answers, particularly at this time of “alarming rate” of arms smuggling.
The APC lawmaker had noted that the fact that the money was not declared at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja where the aircraft took off , and in South Africa raised grave concerns.
He said, “While many South African security agencies, including the National Prosecuting Authority, are involved in the matter because of its gravity, nearly all the relevant Nigerian agencies, especially the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, the Nigeria Airspace Management Authority, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority and the Nigeria Customs Service do not have any information on the matter.
“The development will further tarnish the image of Nigeria in the eyes of the international community.”
However, both the sponsor of the motion and his APC colleagues were taken aback when the motion failed.
The lawmakers seemed to have taken it for granted that because of the gravity of the issue, the motion would be overwhelmingly supported.
Ihedioha merely applied the rules of the House, which require that a motion moved and seconded, should be put to vote to decide the next line of action.
The deputy speaker put the motion to vote and ruled in favour of the “nays”, whom in his opinion, shouted louder.
Prior to putting it to vote, Ihedioha had appealed that the motion “if passed”, should not be debated due to the security implications of the transaction.
He wanted it referred to the committees for immediate investigation, if passed, instead of debating it.
The Minority Whip, Mr. Samson Osagie Osagie, who sat on the front row, sprang up and beckoned on all the APC members to walk out of the chambers.
He was followed by Abdulrahman-Kawu; the Deputy Minority Whip, Mr. Garba Dhatti; Ms. Jumoke Okoya-Thomas, Mr. Rasaq Bello-Osagie and other APC members.
As they departed, one PDP member from Edo State, Mr. Friday Itulah, mocked them, saying, “bye-bye, APC; bye-bye, APC; go well.”
Addressing journalists shortly after, the APC lawmakers expressed disbelief over the turn of events.
They said they could not comprehend how a matter bearing on corruption, security and the integrity of Nigeria was easily rejected by some members.
Osagie, who spoke for his angry colleagues, described the “illegal” cash movement as “a very scandalous, very disgraceful issue.”
He explained that the reason some lawmakers sought to debate the motion was to ensure that necessary actions were taken to protect the image of Nigeria.
Osagie said, “We are disappointed and most shocked that the debate was denied. How would a matter having to do with corruption, financial crime and money laundering be denied debate?
“What are we hiding? In any case, what is sensitive about an issue that has dominated the public domain for days?
“This is an illegal transaction and the Federal Government must explain to Nigerians how this is not money laundering.”
However, the House dismissed the protest by the APC members, insisting that no rules were breached in rejecting the motion.
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Ogene, told The PUNCH that the normal procedure, after a motion was read out, was for members to vote to either debate or reject it.
He said, “That was what happened. No rules were breached. In any case, equity does not reward the indolent.
“In this case, the motion did not even cross the first hurdle of admitting it for debate.
“So, in the end, there was nothing any more to debate because the motion didn’t make it.”
But, the APC caucus posed a number of questions to the government to answer without delay.
It is asking to know whether it is faster to buy arms by ferrying cash or to do “wire transfer.”
The caucus also wants to know why the authorities in South Africa were not aware of the transaction, nor were Nigerian security agencies involved in the movement of the money.
Besides, the APC caucus queried the choice of an aircraft owned by a religious leader “known to be a very close friend of Mr. President.”
It queried the choice of a private jet when there were many aircraft, which could have been used, if indeed it was a government transaction.
Again, it observed that the same government promoting a cashless policy back home was ferrying “$9.3m, crisp notes” to another country.
The caucus doubted whether it was actually a government transaction, as it would appear that government was covering up some persons.
The APC caucus however vowed to re-list the issue for debate on another day .
But in the Senate, members began a probe of the movement of the $9.3m to South Africa.
Their Committee on Defence (Army) held a closed-door fact-finding session with the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh, and the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minima, on Tuesday.
The committee Chairman, Senator George Sekibo, told journalists after the meeting that investigation had commenced
Sekibo said, “We have started investigations. When we get through with it, we will brief you.”
He, however, said the money belonged to the Federal Government.
When asked the focus of the meeting with the CDS and COAS, he replied, “There were questions here and there. We tried to find out the details and facts from them and I think the sub-committee was satisfied that they briefed us properly.”
He also spoke on the death sentence passed on the 12 convicted soldiers who were tried for mutiny; the legislator said the military acted professionally.
Sekibo added, “The Armed Forces were established by an Act of the National Assembly and then the Act also spelt out categorically their conduct and the way they are to behave wherever they are.
“If you join the military, that Act is to guide you. If you go contrary to any of the prescribed laws, the punishment prescribed will come on you.
“The military did not wake up one day and say that they are going to kill Mr. A or Mr. B. It went through its processes and found them guilty, but I think that they also have a way out. They can appeal.”
Meanwhile, the Advocacy for Societal Rights Advancement and Development Initiative as well as the Conference of Islamic Organisations has joined in the calls for a probe of the $9.3m deal.
The ASRADI, in a letter dated September 22 and addressed to the Central Bank to Nigeria , asked a number of questions on the controversial money.
It asked the CBN to respond to the questions within seven days as stipulated by the Freedom of Information Act.
One of the questions ASRADI wants the CBN to respond to is, “How often does money get spirited out of Nigeria in this clandestine manner?”
Also, the CIO, a coalition of several Muslim organisations, central mosques, Muslim professional bodies, urged the National Assembly to unravel the identity of the two Nigerians arrested in connection with the deal.