Special Report: Rep Gagdi’s investigative committee allegedly extorts millions from MDAs

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Photo: (L-R)Gagdi, Oke, Abbas.

Special Report
Rep Gagdi’s investigative committee allegedly extorts millions from MDAs

The House of Representatives ad-hoc Committee earlier set up to probe job racketeering in the country’s Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs)chaired by Rep Yusuf Gagdi (APC-Plateau)has allegedly extorted hundreds of millions of naira from the agencies who were compelled to pay gratifications to the lawmakers through a dedicated Account Number: 5400495458 domiciled with Providus Bank, among others.

A special investigation carried out like a sting operation into the committee’s activities in the past couple of weeks, has revealed that the committee has been engaging in extortion of money from heads of federal government ministries, departments and agencies, including those of tertiary institutions across the country.

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According to the media investigative findings, the  committee, known for loudly posturing as an anti-corruption body, has ironically been intimidating heads of agencies into paying huge bribes to avoid being disgraced in public and indicted through its report to be issued after the ongoing hearings to which almost all the heads of the nation’s federal institutions have been summoned to appear.

The ad hoc committee was constituted following a motion moved on July 5 by Rep Oluwole Oke, a Peoples Democratic Party member representing the Obokun/Oriade federal constituency of Osun State, who urged the lower legislative chamber to investigate the monumental graft surrounding personnel recruitment in government parastatals.

“The process of employment into the civil service has become one that is fraught with endemic corruption,” Oke told his colleagues as he read a prepared motion listed on the Order Paper of the day.

“Public institutions have since stopped the process of advertising for jobs and vacancies. Even in the few instances where adverts are published, the slots are already commodified and available for the highest bidders.

“Most institutions now sell employment notwithstanding the qualification of the applicant and the ability of the applicant to perform optimally on the job,” he had added.

Reps Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, did not announce a chairman for the Committee. It was Speaker Tajudeen Abbas who, the following day, appointed Yusuf Gagdi (APC-Plateau) who represents Pankshin, Kanke, Kanam, to lead the panel.

Gagdi, one of the contenders who stepped down for Abbas during the June speakership tussle, was not on the original list announced by the Deputy Speaker.

Many Nigerians, especially those feeling shortchanged by the routine recruitment misconducts in several federal agencies, praised the formation of the committee and had high expectations that the panel would produce shocking revelations and restore sanity to the recruitment processes in the federal service.

The highly anticipated inquiry began on July 25 with a classic case involving the Federal Character Commission (FCC), an agency established to ensure every state of the federation is equitably represented in the federal public service, but which soon became notorious for aiding and abetting job racketeering.

The dramatic and nauseating FCC case gave the Committee widespread publicity and heightened public interest in the proceedings. Oke was very active and was highly critical of Muheeba Dankaka,the chairperson of the FCC.

Dankaka had sent representatives to the committee with a letter saying she was too ill to personally attend the hearing on the opening day. But shortly before the letter was read, Oke and another lawmaker from Nasarawa, Rep Jonathan Gaza, walked into Hearing Room 034, the venue of the proceeding.

Not long after the lawmaker’s arrival, Mrs Dankaka’s letter was read by Gagdi, who almost agreed with the request to fix another date for her to reappear. Proving tough, Oke disagreed sharply with his colleagues and insisted that Dankaka should provide a medical report that she was sick.

He described the FCC chairman as having “credibility issues,” a charge echoed by Moses Anaugbe, a federal commissioner in FCC from Delta State, who accused Dankaka of lying about her health. Members of the panel talked tough, vowing to deal with erring agencies and threatening to arrest any invited agency head who failed to appear before the committee.

The revelations from the committee dominated news headlines hours later and for the days that followed. The popularity of the committee soared, with many Nigerians considering its members as saviours who came to sanitise the job hiring procedures in the country’s public service.

However, the ad hoc committee has been discovered by a well orchestrated investigation to be a corrupt committee that indulges in a shake-down scheme.

The initial drama and tough stance of the so-called anti-corruption committee were orchestrated to gain credibility and intimidate agency heads before launching a well-designed scheme to extort money from them through fronts disguised as consultants.

According to Premium Times, while a few agencies with uncompromising leadership were being scapegoated and harassed during the daily hearing as TV cameras rolled, some committee members were detailed to, behind closed doors, negotiate illicit payments by heads of institutions considered culpable of recruitment irregularities.

In exchange for the money paid, those agency heads were to be exempted from scrutiny and public humiliation. They would also be exempted from indictment in the committee’s report. Those who failed to pay were to be subjected to public humiliation and disgrace during sham public hearings flooded by journalists, cameras and microphones.

For instance, on Tuesday, August 15, some committee members met with heads of the nation’s federally-owned universities – 51 vice-chancellors – and afterwards secretly negotiated two million naira bribe from each of them to save themselves from public humiliation and eventual indictment.

During the negotiation with the leadership of the Committee of Vice Chancellors, for instance, representatives of the committee demanded three million naira from each institution. The professors protested, saying their institutions were poorly funded and that it would be difficult to raise the bribe money.

The committee members then shifted ground, reducing the bribe payment to two million naira each but warning of dire consequences for anyone who failed to pay. The vice-chancellors were then given Account Number 5400495458, domiciled in Providus Bank, to pay into. The lawmakers even instructed the vice-chancellors to “clearly indicate the name of the institution in the payment invoice”.

The committee members also held separate meetings with rectors of the 35 federally-owned polytechnics and provosts of the 27 federally-owned colleges of education. Three million naira bribe was then demanded from each of them.

When contacted, the chairperson of the Committee of Vice Chancellors of Nigerian Universities (CVCNU), Lillian Salami, said she was at a meeting and would call our reporter back. The University of Benin Vice Chancellor has yet to do so as of the time of publishing this report. Subsequent calls to her did not connect as her mobile telephone appeared to be switched off . She also did not reply to a text message sent to her on the matter.

Sagir Abbas, the alternate Chairperson of the group and Vice-Chancellor of Bayero University Kano, did not answer or return calls. He also did not reply to a text message sent to him.

The committee’s bagmen gave the institution’s officials a deadline of Thursday, 24 August, to pay or be ready to incur the wrath of the entire House of Representatives, not only in the job racketeering case but in other matters as well. Several agency heads, panicked by the threats of the lawmakers, have since paid the bribes.

From the tertiary institutions alone, over N267 million is estimated to have been collected by the panel in illicit payments. And with the scope of the committee now expanded to cover the federal government’s almost 1,500 MDAs and corporations, the committee may be on its way to extorting billions from the nation’s federal institutions.

It was discovered that one of the bank accounts into which the bribe payments are being made belongs to a certain Ama Business Solutions, a company fronting for the committee as a consultant. The company, with registration number 3156889, was incorporated on 12 August 2020 to engage in the business of general contract and merchandising. Company documents gave the firm’s principal place of business as Plot 2249, Zone 4 Plaza, Constantine Street, Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.

AMA Business Solution has two directors – Abubakar Lawal Sambo (44) and Abdulrahman Lawal Sambo (48). Both men, who appear to be brothers, claim to be businessmen, according to their corporate filings.

But the older of the brothers, Abdulrahman Sambo, was also profiled as having served as a senior legislative aide to former Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila between 2019 and 2023. That meant he served as director of a private enterprise while being a public servant, a violation of Nigeria’s Code of Conduct law.

His profile also claims he served in the 2019 APC presidential campaign council and sits on the Board of Chrysalis Youth Foundation, of which Olawale Edun, the minister of finance and coordinating minister of the economy, is chairperson.

The Sambos could not be reached to comment on the findings while their company has no online presence, and could not be found in their business address that is listed on the company’s corporate fillings. They also have yet to respond to an email sent to them.

Wasiu Olanrewaju-Smart, the former chief of staff to ex-Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, was also contacted to confirm if Sambo indeed served as a senior legislative aide to the former speaker, but his phone number did not connect. A text message sent has yet to be replied to. Olanrewaju-Smart is currently a top aide to the current Speaker Abbas.

Oke was first elected to the House of Representatives in 2003. Since then, he has retained his seat, missing only the 2011-2015 session. In the years he has been a federal lawmaker, he has, at different times, served as chairperson of the House committees on Defence, Procurement and Public Accounts.

In the 8th Assembly, Oke was accused of interfering in running a committee other than his own. Johnson Agbonayinma, the Chairman of the Committee on Pension, was forced to recuse himself from investigating the Pension Commission (PenCom) after Mr Oke accused him of being conflicted.

Mr Agbonayinma’s daughter was in February 2019 sacked by PenCom for allegedly presenting a fake certificate. The lawmaker later stepped down following pressure from PenCom and Oke. In an interview at the time, Agbonayinma said Mr Oke brought the management of PenCom to his office to persuade him to compromise the probe, but when he refused, the Osun lawmaker began discrediting him using the misdeed of his child.

“Without fear or favour, I must say that I am very disappointed in one of our colleagues, Wole Oke, who is now working in the interest of PenCom,” Agbonayinma said at the time.

“He brought this same acting DG to my office. I told them, ‘Madam, I am not witch-hunting you. Submit what we are requesting.’ But to go public, just to portray me in a bad light, to discredit my person, that is very sad. PenCom must try to tell us what happened to the N33 billion of pensioners’ money. Nigerians must know what happened to their money. They deserve to know,” he said.

Rep Abdulmummin Jibrin, a member of the 8th House, had, during the budget-padding scandal of 2016, also accused Oke of using investigative hearings to shake down MDAs.

“Hon. Oke is in the habit of frequently inviting MDAs to extort money in the name of investigation or oversight where he has no mandate. Many committee chairmen in the House are at loggerhead with Hon Oke because of his fraudulent activities as Chairman of Public Procurement,” Mr Jibrin tweeted in response to Mr Oke’s call for his probe over alleged budget padding scheme.

Most Nigerians are often suspicious of Nigerian lawmakers conducting investigative panels due to a long history of using such committees for extortion.

A classic example is the fuel subsidy investigative panel in the 7th Assembly led by Farouk Lawan, who is currently serving jail term following his conviction for corruption.

Lawan, a self-proclaimed “Mr Integrity” lived a double life as chairman of his committee during the probe. In front of cameras and microphones, he spat fire and thumped his chest as he vowed to clean up the extremely dirty Nigeria’s oil and gas sector. But behind closed doors, he was stuffing huge kickbacks, in dollars, into his cap and flowing gown.

It took a sting operation by security agents to unveil the facade put up by the lawmaker, who received a $500,000 bribe from billionaire Femi Otedola.

In 2012, a House Committee chaired by Herman Hembe from Benue State was also accused by the then CEO of the Security and Exchange Commission, Arunma Oteh, of demanding millions during the probe of the Nigerian capital market.

Ms Oteh, during the hearing in 2012, publicly questioned the integrity of Mr Hembe to continue the investigation after allegedly demanding N39 million and N5 million on separate occasions. She also said the lawmaker was sponsored by SEC to attend an investment summit in the Dominican Republic but that he did not attend. He failed to return the estacode paid to him by the commission, Ms Oteh said.

“Now I question, Hon. Chairman, your credibility in carrying out this public hearing. The reason is that on October 20, the SEC gave you an estacode and a business class ticket to travel to an emerging market conference in the Dominican Republic. Please tell the Nigerian people if you actually went there, and this was in November. Please tell Nigerian people, if you did not go, whether you returned the money.

“In asking the SEC to contribute N39 million to this public hearing, do you think it has undermined your capacity to conduct this public hearing? I don’t think I should be subjected to what you subjected me to because the SEC did not give you N5 million in cash on Tuesday, the 13 of March. It should not be,” she said.

Mr Hembe, in his response, did not deny the allegations. He only called on anti-graft agencies to investigate the allegation.

In the last Assembly, the probe by the House Committee on NDDC into the activities of the Niger Delta Development Commission turned into a game of accusations and counter-accusations. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, the then Chairman of the Committee, recused himself after the management of the commission accused him of being a beneficiary of some contracts being probed.

Olubunmi-Ojo, who is now the Minister of Interior, denied wrongdoing and recused himself from the hearing after the NDDC management staged a walkout. The probe was later derailed after the then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, now Senate President, alleged that several lawmakers were also beneficiaries of the contracts in NDDC. The exchange led to the infamous “off your mic” moment in the committee.

Some Nigerians believe that a number of investigative hearings by the two chambers of the National Assembly are often instituted to extort agencies of governments and private businesses. Some of the so-called investigative committees, at times, end up not submitting any report.

Lawmakers often push for the creation of ad hoc committees despite the existence of standing committees. In the current Assembly, which only took off in June, there are no fewer than 15 ad hoc committees investigating different issues, and most of them are summoning different agencies, sometimes unduly disrupting operations in these organisations and extorting money from their leaderships.

One such committee, known as the Ad Hoc Committee to Probe TETFUND (Tertiary Education Trust Fund), also being led by Oke, has been travelling around federally-owned tertiary institutions in the country, shaking down their leaderships.

There is documentary evidence that some of the committee members extorted five million naira from a vice-chancellor in the South-West after initially demanding a N15 million bribe.

Reacting to these findings when confronted with them, the Chairman of the Committee, Gagdi, denied demanding or receiving money from heads of agencies, including heads of tertiary institutions and vowed to resist any attempt to discredit the committee.

He confirmed that there were indeed meetings with heads of tertiary education institutions but that the parley was held in the open and that no money was demanded or received from the lecturers during the session. Gagdi said the meeting was presided over by Mr Oke.

“How can a member of a committee ask you for money, and you will not report to the committee Chairman? He asked. I am the one presiding over the committee. If someone had asked you for money, you should report to the chairman,” Gagdi claimed.

Also, when contacted, Oke, on his part, said he was abroad and that enquiries on the matter should be directed to Gagdi.

He, however, added, “I don’t agree with this insinuation (allegation of extortion put to him by our reporter). No responsible member of parliament will ask an agency under probe for employment racketeering (for bribe) and yet be exposing them.”

When told that he and his colleagues have been found to use fronts to collect bribes from agencies, he said, “No sane person will make such frivolous allegations against me. I have been out of the country for the past two weeks. We are talking about a serious matter affecting our children, brothers and sisters, yours inclusive, and some people are trying to divert attention from the main issues with cheap blackmail.”

But Gagdi and Oke are not telling the truth. Investigation was able to determine that the lawmakers’ ad hoc committee negotiated for bribes with some of the agencies that appeared before their committee.

When contacted also, the spokesman of the House of Representatives, Akin Rotimi (APC, Ekiti), said the House would investigate the allegations.

Rotimi said, “But the least that you can do for me is the phone number that sent the account number and the account number. What you are doing—both of us—is in the interest of the Nigerian people, you guys in the media and for those of us in the House.

“To aid our own investigation—I am going to take it up with the leadership of the House and the Chairman of the Committee.

“As I said, members of that committee are very reputable. They are from professional backgrounds, and their integrity is not in doubt anyway. You should substantiate and provide those details for the House to investigate. This House is not going to tolerate any malfeasance.”

Premium Times reports that multiple calls to the Speaker of the House, Abbas, did not connect, and he also had yet to reply to a text message sent to his mobile telephone.

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