The recent order by the Katsina State Judicial Commission of Inquiry that former governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Shema could be served his notice of invitation through substituted service has become a major political debate in the state. Ibrahim Shuaibu writes
In Katsina State, the trending story lately has been the issue of the commission of inquiry set up to look into how former governor of the state, Alhaji Ibrahim Shema managed money accruable to the state’s SURE-P programme, when he was at helm of affairs. The matter took a different dimension and the anxiety around it heightened, when the commission recently ordered that substituted service could be issued to the former governor as a respondent on Memo number 8, written by the state government, on the activities of the now rested Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
Governor Aminu Masari had constituted a high-powered commission of inquiry to investigate the alleged missing seventy billion naira during the reign of the immediate past administration. He tasked the body to carry out the responsibility assigned to it diligently, to be guided by fairness and justice to all and importantly, be guided by the oath it swore to. He hinted that he was compelled to set up the commission due to the discovery of a whooping N70 billion taken from the state treasury with no evidence of its utility by the immediate past administration.
“The monies were taken cash and were not traced, so we are asking the whereabouts,”Masari said emphasising that“90 per cent of the money were taken cash”.
According to Masari, the new administration is not investigating ex-governor Shema based on contracts awarded,“but based on monies taken from the treasury that were not used. There was no plan to ridicule or witch-hunt anyone”.
To dig into how the money was actually applied, the commission of inquiry was inaugurated on 21/03/16, and it held its inaugural sitting on 12/04/16, almost twenty-two days after inauguration and this was followed by the second sitting on 31st May, where the commission considered some memo and importantly, gave a ruling on an application seeking to discontinue its sitting.
During the inauguration, Masari reiterated his call to members to ensure justice and fairness and expressed optimism that having built reputations for themselves, they won’t indulge in acts that could compromise their names.
At its second sitting, which held a couple of weeks after the inaugural sitting, the commission dismissed an application filed by counsel to some of the respondents, challenging its legality and competence.
Prominent amongst those invited are Shema and his finance commissioner, Lawal Jari, alongside over thirty others, who were all named as respondents on the memo, which accused them of allegedly mismanaging N10 billion SURE-P funds.
Interestingly, while most of the respondents had reportedly been served, efforts to serve both Shema and Jari have allegedly proved fruitless, hence the directive for substituted service to be published in two national dailies. Even as the issue continues to dominate public debate among the residents, an unofficial source said the ex-governor had allegedly reached out to the commission through his counsel and pleaded against media publication of the notice.
“He told the commission how and when to effectively reach him without necessarily using the media,”a source who spoke on the condition of anonymity volunteered.
The commission, in response to an application moved by its counsel, Hassan Liman (SAN), directed that Shema and Jari, be served notice of the memo through substituted service procedure and ordered that the notice be published in two national dailies.
Part of the commission’s order was a directive that the notice be pasted at the gates of Shema’s residences in both Katsina and Dutsinma towns and at Jari’s Kano residence.
Although no date has yet been fixed for commencement of hearing into the memo on SURE-P, the news of the commission’s order has continued to attract the interest of the people and it is eliciting shades of argument because the commission’s job prescription is among others, to“investigate and determine the actual extent of loss suffered by government through the acts or commission of public officers in the state from 2012 to May 2015”.
The commission of inquiry is chaired by Hon Justice Muhammad Ibrahim Siraj, a High Court Judge with the Plateau State Judiciary. Other members include Bashir Abubakar Yusuf, Hajia Indo Mohammed, Alhaji Isa Katsina and Abdulsamad Zangon Daura with Usman Musa as Secretary.
Counsel to some of the respondents, led by Ahmed Abdulmajid had filed an application opposing the continued sitting of the commission. He sought five reliefs including that the chairman of the commission, who is a High Court judge in Plateau State, Justice Suraj, lacked territorial jurisdiction to preside over the commission. The counsel further alleged that Justice Suraj and the commission’s counsel, Hassan Liman, are friends and so are likely to be biased.
When ruling on the application, Justice Suraj, who addressed the reliefs one after the other said all the reliefs failed, noting that“The application is hereby dismissed.”
Therefore, the commission’s directive that Shema and Jari, be issued substituted service subsisted except it was true that the former governor already contacted the commission covertly. The allegations that Shema reached out to the Commission in a bid to ward off substituted service could not be independently verified.
But the days ahead will tell whether or not the commission will execute its order to the letter as far as substituted service for former governor Shema was concerned.
Regardless of how it turns out, the inauguration of the commission in itself underscored Masari’s resolve to recover the alleged missing money and that there will be no sacred cows. The governor had, on several fora, hinted that about seventy billion naira Katsina State money was mismanaged or stolen outright under the watchful eyes of the last administration.
As expected, all eyes are on the commission, which is saddled with an investigative function, to be thorough in its investigation and ensure that justice is not just done but seen to have been done.