Faces impeachment this week
A massive shake-up is imminent within the week in the Bayelsa House of Assembly. This is as a result of a proven case of ‘Conspiracy, Misappropriation and Conversion of Public Funds’ leveled against the Rt. Honourable Speaker of the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Hon Kombowei Benson and his Deputy, Hon. Victor Sam-Ateki and the Clerk, Mr. Aaron Timiye.
National Daily reliably gathered that on the 2nd of May 2012, the Speaker requested for the approval of a sum of N100million from His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Bayelsa State for sponsorship of a trip for the Honourable Speaker and 23 Honourable members of the State House of Assembly to attend the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) African Regional Conference in South Africa from 29th June to 7th July 2012.
The Governor, however, approved a sum of N78million on 20th June 2012 and the Speaker allegedly disbursed the funds to each of the 23 Honourable members of the House of Assembly and adjourned sitting of the House and the members proceeded on leave after the adjournment.
It was later discovered that the Honourable Speaker and the Honourable members of the State House never attended the conference but rather converted the money to their personal use and were playing around in Nigeria while the conference had already commenced on the 29th of June.
It was also gathered that the Honourable Speaker and his colleagues departed the country on the 6th of July and arrived South Africa in the morning of the day slated for the conference to end which was the 7th.
Rather than go to the venue of the conference, the Speaker and his members proceeded to the Courtyard Sandton Hotel where they entertained themselves to an all-night party till the 8th and returned to the country on the 9th. Upon their arrival, the Honourable members announced to Bayelsans that the conference was successful and were better equipped to serve the people.
Sources informed that unbeknown to these legislators, a non-governmental organization (NGO) got wind of their misdeed and petitioned the Police for thorough investigation.
Facts of the case
National Daily findings revealed that a letter of investigation activities was raised and served on the Country Manager of South African Airways to furnish it with dates of departure to Johannesburg, South Africa and arrival there. The airline sources confirmed responded volunteered the information.
The Police on the strength of further findings extended a letter of invitation to the Speaker and 23 other members of the State House of assembly.
The Speakers and the members refused to acknowledge the invitation, thus forcing the Police to travel to Bayelsa to effect its interrogation.
Sources close to the Police disclosed that the Speaker confessed to the fact that the House members applied for the sum of N100million for members to travel to South Africa to attend the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference that was supposed to run from the 29th to 7th July 2012.
He stated that only N78million was approved and covered local costs, estacode, conference fees and return tickets, adding that each member received a sum of N2.3millionexcluding conference fees.
He stated further that all members except one Hon. Nestor Ibinabo collected the money and that three members who could not make the trip did not access the conference fee of N300, 000 and have returned what they collected.
He equally confessed to having embarked on the journey on the 6th of July and arrived in Johannesburg on the 7th but that the conference ended same day and could not be allowed to register and had paid back the conference fees to the State treasury. He attributed his late departure to delay in obtaining visa.
The Deputy-Speaker confessed to having received a sum of N28million to cover his cost of transportation; locally and internationally as well as estacode. He stated that he arrived in South Africa on the 7th but that because the House did not pay the conference fees, the organisers refused to provide him with accommodation and feeding which were part of the conference fees hence he used part of the N2.8million to pay for hotel accommodation.He also attributed his late departure to delay in visa issuance.
Sources told National Daily that other members involved in the trip confessed to have arrived in South Africa on the 7th and proceeded to the venue of the conference only to be told that the conference had ended and could not register. They claimed to have received N2.3million each for the trip and blamed their late arrival on the late issuance of visa by the South African Embassy.
Hon. Omekwe Azibola in his statement informed that he was to attend the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference but could not make it because he did not see any reason in travelling on the 6th and arriving on the 7th when the conference was ending same day. He also blamed the lateness on delay in visa procurement.
He also claimed to have been given N1.3million cash and a return ticket to South Africa, though he signed to have collected N2million. He stated that he had since returned the sum of N1million to the State coffers being the balance of what he expended on his trip from Yenogoa to Lagos and back.
Hon. Angaye Fini Terah’s statement was akin to Azibola’s but that he received N1.1million and refunded N920, 000.
Police findings, according to informed sources, revealed that the only delegates to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference from the Bayelsa State House of Assembly are the Speaker and the Clerk of the House, and that other members can only attend in an observer capacity at the behest of the Speaker, thus their attendance is neither mandatory nor obligatory.
The Police also found out that the Speaker and the Clerk as the only delegates knew well that the conference will officially end on the 7th but willfully led other 20 members including his Deputy to South Africa.
It was discovered that in South Africa the Speaker and his colleagues did not make any attempt to reach the venue of the conference, but stayed back in their hotel rooms and relied on the Clerk and Protocol officer to go to the venue of the conference and brought information that the conference had ended.
The only exception was Hon. Omonibeke Kemelayefa who attended the programme and paid the conference fee of $3,500 having arrived two days earlier out of the N2million given him. And that he, like other Honourable members on his return received an additional N300, 000 thus making N2.3million on his return from the journey.
The Police believed that the $3,500 conference fee paid by Kemelayefa was not reimbursed even as the Speaker had collected same for each member from the State. And that this raises doubt as to the real intention of the leadership of the House in not giving the conference fees to each participant in advance.
The Police also discovered that the Speaker was not transparent in administering the entitlements of the members. From the N78million approved, each member excluding the Speaker and the Deputy was entitled to N2.54million but each received N2.3million. The Speaker thus defrauded his colleagues to the tune of N5.4million. The Speaker also fraudulently inflated the South Africa Visa application fee to N150, 000.
The Police, National Daily gathered, recommended at the end of its investigation that the Speaker, the Deputy and the Clerk be prosecuted for conspiracy with intent to defraud the Bayelsa State Government, that the Speaker and the deputy be charged with conspiracy to defraud other Honourable members the sum of N5.4million of their entitlement.
The Police also recommended that 15 Honourable members should be made to refund to the state the difference of what they spent between Bayelsa and Lagos out of N2.3million received with the exception of Kemelayefa.
Information available to National Daily showed that the Speaker is due for impeachment within the week to pave way for full prosecution.