Saraki faces panel, says Senate is being blackmailed over position on Customs
President of the Senate, Senator Bukola Saraki, on Monday, raised the alarm that the Senate is being blackmailed by unnamed persons, whom he said are aggrieved.
He declared that the grievances follows a resolution passed by the Red Chamber which ordered the reversal of the controversial vehicle verification policy introduced by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS).
Saraki made the claim when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, investigating the alleged importation of a N298 million bullet proof Range Rover Sport Utility vehicle by him.
The committee is also investigating an allegation that Senator Dino Melaye did not graduate from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria.
This is the first time since 1999, that a sitting Senate President, will appear before Ethics committee to defend himself on any issue.
The Senate, had a fortnight ago, referred the twin issues to the Ethics committee, following a point of order motion, raised by Senator Ali Ndume, that the issue be investigated to protect the integrity of the Senate.
Ruling on the issue, Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, had urged the Ethics committee to investigate and report back within four weeks.
The probe which kicked off at 1.17pm, had about eight lawmakers who are members of the committee in attendance.
Responding to questions from committee members, Saraki warned those fighting the parliament to stop, adding that democracy cannot thrive if institutions of government are weakened.
Saraki said: “I believe that we must continue to build strong institutions. I am not an importer and at no time did I import any vehicle. It was done through the National Assembly. I did not even order that any vehicle should be imported. What they are alleging is not true.
“There is no document that bears my name. I am here to clear my name. This policy had no value and that was why this motion came up. Those who want to fight back went back to see if they can have something to blackmail us.
“Honestly, this is a great day for our democracy and for the Senate President to appear. Today, it is me, tomorrow, it could be anybody. Tomorrow, I will not be here. When we leave here, we need to leave a legacy. Institutions can only be strong when the parliament is strong.
“That is why I came here, no matter how ridiculous it may have appeared. I am also happy that I came here with Senators who are university graduates. He left at about 3.05pm.”
Ndume came into the investigative hearing room at about 1.48. He took oath of office at about 1.51, just about the same time the Vice Chancellor left the heating room.
After a question and answer session Ndume left the hearing room at about 2.44pm.
The controversy surrounding the importation of the N290 million bullet proof Ranger Rover vehicle, allegedly belonging to Saraki, assumed another dimension, as the importers of the vehicle made fresh allegations.
Mr Tokumbo Akindele, a staff of Oando oil company, who testified before the committee, told lawmakers that the car was imported into the country in September, 2015, by the company.
He said contrary to popular claims, the Senate President did not import the vehicle, adding he had no dealing with the Saraki. “The car was not imported for the Senate President’s use. It was imported in September of 2015,” he said.
Mr Akindele said Oando decided to dispose off the vehicle since it was no longer in need of it. He said Lanre Shittu was contacted to search for a buyer. He said he did not have any direct dealing with the Senate President.
Owner of Lanre Shittu Motors, Mr Lanre Shittu, also confirmed that the car was not imported by the Senate President. He said he midwifed the purchase of the vehicle from Oando, but that fake documents were reportedly detected by Customs officers who impounded it.
He said the fake documents were allegedly part of what Oando submitted to Lanre Shittu Motors.
Customs officials are expected to appear before the committee on Tuesday, to give their own side of the story.