By Ekemini Simon
The Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly has said that it has commenced investigation into the controversial spendings posted in the Akwa Ibom State Annual Report of the Accountant General with Audited Financial Statements for the year ended 31st December, 2019.
The State Assembly had on Tuesday, December 8, 2020 constituted a 5-Man Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the issue and report back to the house within one month.
Members of the Committee are; House Leader, Udo Kieran Akpan, Deputy House Leader, Aniefiok Dennis,
Deputy Speaker of the House, Felicia Bassey, Chairman of the House Committee on Finance and Appropriation, Uduak Odudoh, and Chairman of the House Committee on Public Account, Dr Charity Ido.
However, the Investigative hearing reported to have commenced on Monday, December 20, 2020 held behind closed doors.
It is gathered that the Udo Kierian Akpan-led ad-hoc Committee met at the Conference Room of the Assembly, with those whose offices are involved in the controversial spendings and the Information Machinery of the State Government.
Those reported to have appeared before the committee are; Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem; Commissioner for Special Duties and Aviation Development, Rt. Hon. Okpolupm Etteh; Commissioner for Information, Comrade Ini Ememobong; Commissioner for Finance, Mr. Nsikan Linus Nkan; State Accountant General, Pastor Uwem Andrew-Essien; the Permanent Secretary in the Governor’s Office, Nathaniel Adiakpan, and State Auditor General, Mr. Monday Daniel Akpan.
It was gathered that the Committee on suspecting that Journalists may not cooperate to cover up embarrassing revelations at the hearing,
threw Correspondents of the House of Assembly into information blackout about the hearing.
Checks revealed that the Committee Members used their Aides for the ” Information job” by inviting them to take pictures after which they excused the committee.
After the said hearing, the Secretary of the Committee who also serve as Chairman of the House Committee on Information, Rt Hon. Aniefiok Dennis is reported to have briefed Aides of the Lawmakers to put out reports that the hearing held.
According to reports circulated on social media by Aides of the House Members, Dennis is quoted to have said ” During the meeting, issues were raised, questions were asked and answers were provided. The Committee has also requested for all necessary documents regarding the audit reports”.
House Members who confided in these reporters disclosed that the decision to hold a closed door Investigative hearing on 2019 Financial Statements of the State was taken by leadership of the House with the aim of not embarrassing the Executive.
One of the House Member said ” You know in such a hearing, embarrassing revelations will certainly come to the fore. We can’t be seen by the Executive to be fighting them. That is why the leadership said to fulfill all righteousness, the House should inaugurate an Ad-hoc Committee”.
Another Member hinted our reporter that the Public should not expect “anything big” from the Committee.
” It is just a mere razzmatazz. Haven’t you seen it from the start? Where does an investigative hearing hold behind closed doors? The one that the National Assembly held on NDDC, was it not open to the press and the public? But you won’t blame us, blame the kind of system we currently have in the State”, he said.
It could be recalled that in the 6th Assembly, the House of Assembly held Investigative Hearings on Anchor Borrowers’ Scandal and scandal involving the Akwa Ibom State Government on alleged Exxon Mobil’s N8 billion donation on Eket/Ibeno road.
These hearings were open to the press and the public.
Contacted, the Managing Solicitor, Whyte Horse Solicitors, Lagos and also an International Law Partner in the Law Firm of Ceejay Solicitors Stratford, London, Barr Victor Ukutt said the House of Assembly is empowered by Section 128 and 129 of the Constitution to investigate activities which the State House of Assembly has powers to legislate upon for purpose of exposing corruption.
He noted that when the House sits to consider issues relating to the finances of the State, it has to be in an open House.
Ukutt stated “When the House of Assembly met in a closed door to consider issues surrounding the finances of the State, it is not in line with the provisions of the Constitution.”
“That act purported to have been done by them is null and void. They should have met in an open house because they report will have to be tendered before the House and the Speaker of the House of Assembly will cause the matter to be debated. After this, the issues as directed by the debate will be directed to a Committee of the House which will report their findings back to the House.”
“The House will adopt the Finding and take a position on the matter. And if officials of Government have been indicted, the House will either report the matter to EFCC or other institutions empowered to investigate financial impropriety. The concept of the Ad-hoc Committee meeting with the Executive behind cameras is unconstitutional.”
Attempts to reach the Chairman of the Committee, Rt Hon. Udo Kieran Akpan for comment proved abortive as he neither responded to calls nor text message to his known phone line as at press time.