John Ameh, Abuja
The House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Insurance has threatened to issue a warrant for the arrest of the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (retd.), over an alleged N250m insurance fraud committed by the NCS.
The infraction reportedly took place between 2013 and 2015.
Details of the committee’s proceedings, which The PUNCH obtained on Sunday, indicated that Ali was given up till Wednesday, November 9, to appear before the committee or risks being arrested.
The committee, which is chaired by an All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Ogun State, Mr. Adekunle Akinlade, had earlier summoned the CG to appear before it on Friday last week over the allegation.
But on Friday, the CG delegated three of his subordinates to attend the committee’s session on the grounds that he had “other important national assignments to attend.”
The committee turned down the appearance of the Deputy Comptroller-General (Human Resources Development), Mr. Austin Warikoru; DCG, (Welfare), Umoru Dinatu; and DCG Rufai Alawo whom Ali sent to represent him.
“By the rules of proceedings of the House, the committee will not entertain appearances other than that of the heads of the agencies.
“The committee will not accept the submissions of officers who will tell you they cannot answer certain questions or that they will first report to a higher authority,” the panel stated.
Lawmakers were also miffed that Ali had not responded to any of the letters the committee sent to him, directing the NCS to submit documents in defence of the insurance transaction in which an “unlicensed broker was paid N250m.”
The records of proceedings quoted Akinlade as saying, “Let it be on record that we wrote Customs CG; we published adverts in newspapers and also made physical visits to submit letters to Customs.
“Until the CG creates time, after he is done with the other national assignments he considers to be more important than a parliamentary proceeding, we will hold the agency accountable.
“We have powers to make sure that he (Ali) appears, even if it means that he will be carried to the National Assembly, he must appear.”
The PUNCH gathered that the committee insisted on having Ali’s presence after the brokerage firm that allegedly handled the deal for the agency, FORTIS Insurance Brokers Limited, disowned the NCS over the deal.
Fortis wrote the committee formally to deny ever participating in any insurance transactions by the Customs.
A copy of the letter, which The PUNCH obtained on Sunday, read in part, “Our attention has been drawn to the effect that we participated in the insurance of the Nigerian Customs Service and our firm was paid N250m or N105m.
“Also, it was alleged that our firm is an unlicensed company, which is not correct.
“We wish to reiterate categorically that we had never participated in the insurance of the NCS and had never been a recipient of such commission.”
A copy of the letter, which was signed by the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of Fortis, Chief Lawrence Dafiode, was sent to the National Insurance Commission.
Two other members of the House Committee on Insurance, Mr. Gabriel Onyenwife and Mrs. Ayo Omidiran, said the Customs CG missed the opportunity of explaining the actual firm that received the N250m payment since Fortis had denied any involvement with the agency.
“The committee cannot bend the rules for the CG. He should come and he must come,” Omidiran, a member of the APC from Osun State, said.
On his part, Onyenwife, a lawyer, and member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance from Anambra State, also restated the consequences of lying before a parliamentary committee.
“Lying before a parliament, under the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, carries a prison term of two years, on conviction.
“So, let the Customs and its officials take note of this provision of the law,” he stated.
A source in the committee informed The PUNCH on Sunday that lawmakers had an “interesting case” before them, as they were bent on uncovering the ‘Fortis’ that received the payment.
The source added, “The evidence before the committee indicates that Fortis Insurance Brokers was paid the money.
“Now, Fortis has disowned the Customs. Was this a case of forgery? Did someone in the Customs forge the name to divert public funds?
“These are questions seeking answers and it is the reason the committee wants Ali and the CEO of Fortis to appear on the same date to provide the answers.” Punch.ng.com