The presidency and the Senate may be heading for another fresh showdown, over the refusal of the latter to approve a $200 million World Bank loan for the EFCC and about six other MDAs under the Economic Reforms and Governance Project (ERGP).
Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign and Local Debts, Senator Shehu Sani, who is at the centre of the new controversy, is being accused by some elements in the presidency of sitting on the request.
Sani, it was gathered, has since the approval of the loan last year by the Federal Government, been playing games with officials of the EFCC.
The development, it was also learnt, may further hamper the work of EFCC, which relies more on such funds for trainings, ICT projects and similar expenditures that have direct bearing on the mandate of the Commission.
The refusal by the Senate may not be unconnected to Magu’s continuous stay in office as Acting Chairman of EFCC, despite being rejected twice by the Upper Legislative Chamber.
Ripples Nigeria gathered that the refusal by the Senate to give priority attention to the loan request, is part of its strategy to send a clear message to President Muhammadu Buhari that Magu is illegally occupying his current position.
But Senator Sani is denying the claims. Instead, he is pushing the blame to the Senate leadership, who he claimed, is in custody of the loan request.
In a recent interview, Sani dispelled claims that he was withholding his approval. Instead, he told our correspondent that the request is yet to be sent to his committee for necessary action and approval.
He argued that as an important agency of government, he cannot in good faith, decline to give approval to a loan request to support the fight against corruption in the country.
Senator Sani explained: “The Federal Government has made its request for $1 billion Eurobond. We have granted that. On Wednesday, we also granted another one of $500 million Eurobond. I can say it authoritatively that we have been able to grant all the loan requests from the Federal Government. That should have taken sometime to process. But we waived that and decided to grant the Federal that loan.
“It’s true that there is a request of a loan of $200 million from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). But before my committee can work on it, it has to be referred to us. If it was something on my table, I would have simply approved it.
“I can confirm to a certain degree or level that there is such a request. It is a World Bank support loan for the EFCC. I can tell you that if it had been sent to me, I would have given it all the legislative backing. It has not been referred to me yet.
“If the loan request comes to my table, I will call for a meeting of all the members of my committee and approve it. For such an agency that has been recovering billions of naira. We are ready to give them the financial backing and ensure that they succeed.
“The way it works is that, government agencies communicate with the Senate leadership. Such a request is usually presented on the floor of the Senate, before it is sent to a committee. No such report has been sent to my committee.
“But I am aware that the EFCC is working towards getting that fund. But that report is not here yet. It may have been stuck with the leadership. The best person to ask will be the Senate Leader. Ask him why the request by the EFCC has not been sent to my committee.”
The Senate leadership has refused to state its own side of the story. When our correspondent visited the office of the Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan, he refused to grant audience, instead, he sent an informal response through one of his aides that he cannot speak on the issue.
Senate spokesman, Abdullahi Sabi, could not also be reached. Series of phone calls put across to his active mobile number, were not answered.
Beyond the refusal of the Red Chamber to consider the loan request, strong indications have also emerged that the Senate is making a last minute effort to block the 2017 budget of the EFCC, following the refusal of Magu to step aside.
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, it was gathered, has instructed the committee chairman on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje and Chairman Senate committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, Chukwuka Utazi, to suspend work on the final copy of the commission’s 2017 budget.
With Saraki’s new stance, the EFCC may be left without a dime to run its operations in 2017. As it stands now, the EFCC, despite realising billions of naira on behalf of the government, cannot spend any dime. It depends solely on yearly appropriation from the National Assembly.
By Ehisuan Odia