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The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, has lamented the allegation by a former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Attahiru Jega, that members of the National Assembly are bribe takers.

Saraki, who described the comment as embarrassing, challenged Jega to name the bribe takers in the National Assembly.

Jega had on Monday said chairmen of committees in the National Assembly were more notorious for taking bribes.

Jega made the allegation in Abuja while delivering a lecture titled, “Peace building and good governance for sustainable development in Nigeria,” as part of the activities organised to mark the 2018 Democracy Day.

The former INEC boss told the gathering that included President Muhammadu Buhari; Saraki; Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara; and the Chief Justice of Nigeria, Walter Onnoghen, that the federal lawmakers took bribes at will under the pretence of committee works and oversight functions.

Jega had said, “Members of the National Assembly engage in bribe taking when they pursue committee works and oversight and I wonder what is happening with intelligence and investigative responsibilities of security agencies in policing our National Assembly. Some chairmen of the committees in the National Assembly have become notorious on this issue of demanding bribes with impunity.”

But at the plenary on Wednesday, Senator Isa Misau raised a point of order to call the attention of the Senate to Jega’s allegation.

Misau said, “My point of order is based on the lecture delivered during the Democracy Day (anniversary). President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was in attendance. During the lecture, the guest lecturer, who is an elder statesman and the former Chairman of INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, made a statement which I feel I have to bring it to this floor.

“He made mention that some committee chairmen of the National Assembly are notorious for demanding or collecting bribes, which I feel is unfortunate. For somebody who is well respected to come and make statements on what he was told by some executives, I feel that statement was very weighty because that programme was televised live.”

Misau stated that anybody, including Jega, who would make statements concerning the credibility of the Senate and affected committee chairmen, should be bold enough to mention the bribe takers “especially when it is about fighting corruption in Nigeria.”

Saraki, in his ruling, noted that he was at the event and witnessed how Jega made the allegation.

“A lot of members and colleagues have also approached me on this matter. I was at the programme myself and the Speaker (of the House of Representatives) and we were highly embarrassed by this kind of comment,” he said.

The Senate President condemned Jega for making the allegation without naming names. “All of us are committed to the fight against corruption, but I believe it (allegation) doesn’t help the fight against corruption; it is a slight on the integrity of a lot of us, where a general statement like that is made. If he has those kinds of evidence, he should bring them forward and mention them. To say that is to suggest that either every member of the National Assembly is part of this or those who are not part of this are condoning this action, which is far from the truth.

“I think what Professor, as somebody who is respected, should come out and name these kinds of members that he is aware of. If he can’t come out and name then he should not make such statements. Prof. Jega should name any of those members that are concerned, so that an appropriate action can be taken,” Saraki said.

According to the Senate President, the legislature will not condone corrupt practices by members.

He said, “Going forward, to all distinguished and respected Nigerians, on issues that have to do with the institutions like the parliament, if there are cases like this, we have always said that we are not ready to cover up for anybody. In all future accusations, they should name them and see what the institution would do in trying to ensure that the necessary sanctions are taken.”

Saraki stressed that he hoped Jega would move a step further to name the bribe takers. “I hope that we will see progress on this, by Prof. Jega actually naming those who are involved. If not, then the matter should be laid to rest,” he stated.

Meanwhile, two civil rights groups have urged the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to investigate the allegation of bribery levelled against the National Assembly by Jega.

The groups, the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership and the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, stated this in separate interviews with The PUNCH on Wednesday.

The CACOL Director, Debo Adeniran, said, “The members of the Senate need to sit up and clean themselves of the corruption cases that have become their trademark. The Senate should prove to Nigerians that they are not corrupt. When the members of the Senate embark on oversight functions to government ministries, departments and agencies, and they collect gratifications, will they be able to make policies that will benefit Nigerians or that will benefit the MDAs?

“There are a lot of under-hand dealings in the legislature and the Senate has to address them, rather than denying their existence. I support Prof Jega’s claim that corruption is endemic in our legislature. You remember the case between Femi Otedola and Ahmed Lawan. In the days of Prof Adenike Grange as the Minister of Health and other officials, we saw allegations of bribery in the legislature. I am surprised that the Senate has not invited Jega as is their usual custom. The police and the EFCC should jointly investigate the claim by Jega against the National Assembly.”

Also, the CDHR President, Malachy Ugwummadu, said, “Prof Jega, being a former chairman of the country’s electoral body, which brought the legislators to power, cannot be said to be speaking off the point. If the police are ready to work, they ought to have invited the former chairman to shed more light on his statements which would make the law enforcement agencies to commence investigations. The Senate cannot be in utmost denial of the bribery allegations.”

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