By Gift Chapi- Odekina
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila on Monday said that the House was determined to plug all loopholes in revenue generation just as the House commenced investigation into huge revenue loss due to leakages in the past ten years amounting to almost over $30 billion annually
The Speaker stated this during the investigative hearing in Abuja.
However, there was a mild drama as one of the 24 banks invited by the House for questioning, Stanbic IBTC, brandished a court order preventing them from making a disclosure before the committee, it was not prepared to make any presentation as a result of the court order stopping it from making any disclosure regarding its foreign exchange transactions of its customers
Representatives of the Bank, Ngaragu John told the Committee that one of its Customers, Chief Wale Taiwo had gone to court seeking an order barring the bank from making any disclosure to the committee.
A copy of the order given by Justice A.O. Faji oof the Federal High Court in Lagos obtained by The Nation revealed that Chief Wale Taiwo, suing for himself and as well as representing all the Customers of Stanbic IBTC who are opposed to a disclosure of their foreign exchange transaction spanning the past 10 years to the House of Representatives.
In a letter to the Joint Committee signed by the Head, International Business Centre, Olushola Folahan and Executive Director, Operations, Bunmi Dayo-Olagunju, Stanbic IBTC said “the bank has been served with court processes in respect of an action initiated by a class of customers of our bank who are opposed to the disclosure of the details of their foreign exchange transactions to the House of Representatives.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, James Faleke and Chairman House Committee on Banking and Currency, Victor Nwokolo questioned what they called a class action by the bank’s customers and asked whether the bank has a group of registered customers with the bank, to which the bank’s representatives answered in the negative.
However, they could not provide an answer when Rep. Faleke told them that the Customer who went to Court, Chief Wale Taiwo was actually the bank’s Attorney as he has been responsible to signing all audit reports of the bank which the Committee has seen.
He wondered what the bank has to hide that they would be going to court to stop the House from carrying out its legitimate duty as proscribed in section 88 and 89 of the Nigerian constitution as amended, insisting however, that the bank may have some skeleton in their cupboard.
Faleke said “by the time we finished this investigations, Nigerians will know why Stanbic IBTC went to court. We have some documents which we wanted them to come and clarify. But rather than doing so, they are inducing someone to go to court to try and stop our work. When we conclude, the government may have to collect some interest from them”.
Members of the Committee who were not happy with the development drew the attention of the representative of the bank to a recent judgement of the Federal High Court in Abuja which ruled that the court cannot stop the legislature from carrying out its activities.
However, addressing newsmen at the end of the sitting, Faleke said “we want to make it abundantly clear that this investigative hearing is not about witch-hunting anybody or any organization. But it’s about assisting Nigeria in getting out of its financial woes that we found ourselves.
“We are very sure that Nigeria has enough resources within its system if and only if every player on the economic sector play by the rules. What we mean by play by the rules is that everybody should pay the taxes that the organisations or individuals are to pay.
“The letters also were written to the oil companies too. We expect responses from the banks. Some have submitted documents, partial documents, some have not submitted at all.
“We want to plead that if the banks have nothing to hide, they should respond to our letters and submit all the required documents.
failure which of course as mentioned by Mr. Speaker, the Committee and the House may be forced to use the constitutional powers available to it and that is to say, to compel appearance by issue warrant of arrest.
He disclosed Stanbic IBTC decided to challenge the powers of the House and to stop the ongoing investigation in the Court, saying “they went to Court using one of their customers who’s of course their lawyer.
“So we know he’s the lawyer of the bank and I say clearly, that by the time we finish the investigation, IBTC will tell Nigerians what they want to hide why they went to Court because we will tell Nigerians what we know and what is in our papers. We are only asking IBTC to submit documents to clarify so that we can give fair hearing and not seen to be judgmental even before asking them.”
However, declaring the hearing open, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila however frowned at the attitude of Nigerians who fragrantly disregard the summon of House Committees to investigative hearings, but rather seek ways of frustrating such hearings, saying the House may be forced to invoke relevant sections of the law against them.
The Speaker said nobody will succeed in stopping the House from carrying out its investigation into the revenue leakages which has denied government several billions of dollars which could have been used to finance the budget without resorting to borrowig.
“The House of Representatives has resolved to identify the sources of these leakages, and the systemic failures that have either created them, or caused them to persist. We will follow on from that by taking necessary action to propose and implement solutions that will ensure our country no longer loses these huge sums we desperately need to build infrastructure and support enterprise that creates jobs for our people.