Country Director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Nigeria, Dr Paulin Basinga, on Monday, denied allegations over the $10 million bribe purportedly given to the leadership of Nigeria’s House of Representatives.
Dr Basinga stated this at the opening of the investigative hearing held at the instance of the Special Ad-hoc Committee on the allegation of bribery against the House of Representatives, chaired by Honourable Henry Nwawuba, who allegedly declined to accept the Court Order at the venue of the investigative hearing which was presented by the legal team to the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CUPP) spokesman, Mr Ikenga Ugochinyere, to the committee at the venue of the hearing.
The controversial bill was sponsored by the Speaker and two other lawmakers.
In his brief presentation, Dr Basinga said: “The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had recently been made aware of an allegation circulating in certain elements of the Nigerian media that the Foundation was involved in a payment purportedly made to the Nigeria House of Representatives. Any such allegations are entirely false and without merit.
“To be clear, the Foundation has not offered any financial incentives to any member of Nigeria’s legislative branch for the passage of legislation nor has it offered any grants to organisation in Nigeria in connection with the same. The Foundation adheres to strict ethical and legal guidelines across all areas of its operations.
“What drives the Foundation’s work is the simple and compelling belief that all lives have equal value and that everyone deserves to lead a healthy productive life. The Foundation works in very diverse settings around the globe in a non-partisan fashion, consistent with strict US private foundation restrictions on political and legislative engagement.
“In Nigeria, the Foundation’s focus is on improving the quality of life for the Nigerian people and the Foundation works closely with many partners in achieving that goal. The Foundation invests in programs that address Nigeria’s health and development challenges which align with Nigeria’s development agenda and priorities.”
In his remarks, chairman of the Special Ad-hoc Committee, Hon Henry Nwawuba who assured all the stakeholders that they were not on trial, disclosed that the committee had taken presentations from the House leadership on camera and off-camera.
While assuring that the Committee was set out to identify the bad eggs among the leadership and other members of the 9th House of Representatives, he vowed that those found culpable would not be protected.
“As you know on the 5th of May, the House got news of an allegation, a very grave and serious allegation of bribery to do that which we consider to be what we are elected to do, which is to make good laws for the good governance of the people of Nigeria.
“The allegation was very clear, the source was very clear; and in our own wisdom, the House has decided to set up an internal investigative inquiry outside of whatever legal option will be available to this House.
“So, this Ad-hoc committee has the mandate of the House to find out if while the house is on the journey to build Nigeria to stamp out corruption at any level, if perhaps some members, be it the leadership or floor members are compromising the integrity of the House.
“We want to thank all those who are here today. We want to thank those who have moved this allegation and we want to assure all Nigerians that we will leave no stone unturned in digging out this allegation, confirm whether there are moles in the National Assembly.
“We have already taken response from the leadership of the House of Representatives on camera. We have also engaged them off-camera. Most of you here today have submitted memoranda explaining yourselves.
“The Committee investigating this graft, this bribery allegation, we are here simply to find out where the bad eggs among the membership of the 9th House of Representatives may be, and if we find them we wish to assure Nigerians that we will not protect them, we will expose them and we will fish them out,” Hon Nwabuwa said.
Meanwhile, representatives of various media houses who spoke on the publications on the allegation, disclosed that they have retracted the reports published on their websites on the ground that the CUPP spokesman has not provided documentary evidence to support the allegation.
On his part, the Chief Operating Officer of Premium Times, Mr Muskiliu Mojeed, who denied knowledge of the controversial report on the $10 million bribe levelled against the House leadership, maintained that: “Premium Times did not at any time publish an article accusing the House of Representatives of Infectious Diseases bill, 2020. You may wish to furnish us with evidence to the contrary.
“We hope you will review your records to determine the factual basis of the summon you sent to us. We appreciate the work the House of Representatives is doing and we are always willing to partner it in strengthening accountability and good governance in our dear country.”
Also speaking, Vanguard Newspaper’s Regional Editor (North), Mr Soni Daniel, who affirmed that the report was published online, however, explained that the management has set up an internal investigation to know how the report got online, adding that it was not published in the subsequent publication since there was no documentary evidence of the allegation.
He, however, noted that the newspaper has published a retraction of the story in line with legal requirement.
Speaking at the sidelines of the investigative hearing, leader of the CUPP spokesman legal team, Mr Tochukwu Ahazubike, argued that Ikenga was never invited to appear before the Committee, adding that the Ad-hoc Committee tantamount to the Speaker being the Judge in his own case.
“He approached the Federal High Court to challenge that breach of the rule of natural justice that a man cannot be a judge in his own case. That case is before the Federal High Court, the Clerk of the National Assembly has been served, the Clerk of the House of Representatives particularly has been served, attempts have been made to serve the chairman of the panel.
“He refused to acknowledge service this morning, I and my colleagues went to his office we tried to serve him, the Clerk of the Committee took the letter they went inside and brought it back to us that they are not going to collect it,” he noted.
According to him, the intent of the serving him the letter before the commencement of the investigative hearing was to notify him that the Court Order was challenging the terms of reference of the Ad-hoc Committee, adding that it was a breach of the provisions of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).