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Outrage as probes swept under the carpet raises dust in the National Assembly

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• Most of them abandoned over scandals, bribe allegations

The National Assembly, which in many climes is the symbol of democracy, has passed through many inglorious phases since Nigeria gained its independence in 1960 and became a Republic in 1963. While the Executive and the Judiciary were seldomly balkanised during any military interregnum, the National Assembly on the other hand was always sent packing.

However, since June, 1999, at the commencement of the Fourth Republic, the National Assembly has remained relatively stable despite its many nuisances and other misgivings. It has also intervened when and where necessary. The National Assembly has also faced some major trials with its presiding officers sometimes facing damaging fraud allegations.

As required by the constitution, the National Assembly since 1999, has conducted major probes and investigations. Ironically, over 80 per cent of the probes turned South, when the accuser eventually became the accused. The series of scandals that have resulted from failed probes by the National Assembly have over the years put a dent on the already bad image of the Parliament.

Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowered the National Assembly to oversight Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and investigate any issue, which it is empowered to legislate and to expose corruption in government.

The Assembly which has two chambers – the Senate and the House of Representatives – have had their fair share of the recurring scandals. Sadly, there may not be an end in sight, as the Parliament will always institute more probes.

In November 2016, a six-member adhoc committee was constituted to investigate revenue generating agencies over allegations of abuse, misuse, under remittance/non-remittance and other fraudulent practices from 2012 to 2016. The committe was inaugurated by the then Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki. It was given six weeks to submit its report.

“The various audit queries against these agencies over the years further indicates possible mismanagement of public funds against the spirit of the Constitution and Fiscal Responsibility Act.

“In view of Federal Government’s dwindling revenues from the traditional crude oil sector and the ongoing recession, these government bodies are continuing in short-changing government of needed revenue through various illegal practices,” Solomon Adeola, who moved the motion and was subsequently appointed to chair the adhoc committee, noted.

In the end, Adeola’s committee came up with nothing.

In September 2016, the Senate resolved to investigate allegations of $13.92 billion illicit financial flow involving telecommunications company, MTN, four banks and the Minister of Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah.

In a motion sponsored by Senator Dino Melaye, he alleged that MTN connived with “some influential and unpatriotic Nigerians” to illegally repatriate the money from Nigeria between 2006 and 2016, in violation of the Foreign Exchange (Monitoring and Miscellaneous) Act.

The Senate mandated its Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions to “carry out a holistic investigation into the matter and report back.” It was given a six-week period to submit its report. More than one year after the big bang, Rafiu Ibrahim-led committee is yet to turn in its report.

In March, 2017, the Senate Joint Committee on Petroleum Resources, made up of Upstream, Downstream and Gas, announced the commencement of the probe of alleged N10 trillion subsidy fraud by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and independent marketers in the country.

According to the chairman of the joint committee, Kabiru Marafa, the probe was to look at subsidy spent on importation of petroleum products from 2006 to date. Senators Tayo Alaosoadura who heads Upstream and Albert Bassey Akpan who chairs Gas also co-chaired the probe.

Although it never happened, the probe was expected to cover the tenures of three former presidents, namely, Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan. As President, Obasanjo served as the substantive Minister of Petroleum Resources for almost eight years.

Marafa and his co travelers, relying on media propaganda, boasted to high heavens and summoned past and present executives of NNPC, responsible for the purchasing, financing, transportation and certification of products sold to Nigeria.

Local Oil Companies (LOCs) and International Oil Companies (IOCs) were also summoned to appear with relevant documents to corroborate their business activities.

Chief executives of local and international oil companies who failed to cooperate with the Senate were threatened with adequate sanctions. The sanctions were to range from publishing names in industry news providers and blacklisting.

On October 4, 2017,  the Senate set up a committee to conduct a comprehensive investigation on the alleged insubordination, due process abuse and maleficence leveled against the then Group Managing Director (GMD) of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr Maikanti Baru, by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu. The award of contract is valued at over $25 billion.

A former governor of Sokoto State, Aliyu Wammako was the chairman of the committee  that was to carried out the investigation.

The committee was given four weeks to conclude its investigation and report to the Senate. After many weeks were wasted by the committee, the outcome of the probe was never made public.

In the 9th Senate, many probes have been conducted, but the ongoing Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) palaver appears to be the biggest. However, and sadly too, those who were at the forefront of the probe, are today battling without success to clear their names. They have been named as major contractors, paid to execute NDDC projects, but didn’t deliver. Several other probes abound in the Senate.

For instance, the House of Representatives, in the exercise of its power of oversight,  has embarked on several probes of the activities of MDAs.

However,  most of the times,  these investigatations have been marred by controversies as heads of MDAs accuse the various probe panels of pursing selfish agenda, thereby raising questions as to what is the true essence of the investigations.

For instance,  in the last few days,  the House and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs,  Godswill Akpabio have been on a warpath over the probe of alleged financial malfeasance in the NDDC.

Akpabio, while speaking at an investigative hearing organised by the House Committee on NDDC, had alleged that members of the National Assembly are major beneficiaries of contracts in the interventionist agency.

Though the committee,  which investigated the alleged N81.5billion irregular expenditure by the NDDC Interim Management Committee (IMC),  had submitted its report,  the minister’s allegation seems to have taken the sail out of the main subject of the probe.

The chairman of the NDDC committee,  Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo had recused himself on the fourth day of the investigative hearing, following allegations that he is on a vendetta.

Regardless,  Akpabio had demanded that the the investigation should start de novo as the chairman ought to have stepped aside at the  beginning of the exercise. A demand the committee did not accede to.

This is not the first time an investigation by the House will be trailed by controversy. In the Sixth Assembly, the probe of $16 billion expended in the power sector reforms by the President Obasanjo government was equally marred by controversy.

The House had on January 31, 2008, mandated its Committee on Power and Steel, headed by Hon. Ndudi Elumelu, who is now the House minority leader to undertake a probe of the expenditure on the power sector reforms.

The committee,  in the discharge of the assignment, embarked on fact-finding tours across the country. And at the end of its assignment, it recommended the prosecution of several firms and individuals found wanting in the alleged shady contracts in the power sector reform programme of the government.

Before the House could debate the committee report, there was an allegation that some members of the committee collected N100 million bribe from a contractor in Port Harcourt. The bribery claims, ultimately watered down the findings of the committee.

In the Seventh Assembly,  the House in the aftermath of public uproar over attempts by the administration of then President Jonathan to remove subsidy from petroleum products, at an emergency session on January 8, 2012 set up an ad hoc committee to probe subsidy regime in the country.

In April the House considered and adopted the report of the ad-hoc committee, which made far-reaching recommendations on the management of fuel subsidy in the country.

Regardless, few days after the adoption of the committee report, news filtered out that Lawan had allegedly collected a  $620,000 bribe from the Chief Executive of Zenon Oil, Femi Otedola, to shield his companies from indictment. That scandal raised serious questions about the integrity of the panel’s report.

Nevertheless, the then Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, at an emergency session of the House said that the House will stick with the panel’s report. However, the Green Chamber suspended Lawan over the scandal.

Later in the same year,  Ms Aruma Oteh, then director general of the  Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) caused a stir at an investigative hearing organised by the House committee on Capital Market headed by Hon. Herman Hembe.

Oteh, who appeared before the committee, had pointedly  accused Hembe of soliciting N39million bribe from her agency to stage the probe.

“The reason I am questioning your credibility is that on October 20, the SEC gave you estacodes and a business class ticket to travel to emerging markets conference in Dominican Republic. Please tell the Nigerian people whether you actually went there, and if you didn’t, please, also tell the Nigerian people whether you have retired the monies.

“Is it fair, Honourable Chairman that you would try to damage my own reputation, because I want to serve my country, because I am fighting to sanitise the Nigerian capital market? Is it fair on me as a Nigerian? Is it fair on the apex regulator? Is it fair on the Nigerian people,“ Oteh had queried.

In a bid to salvage the situation,  the House set up a new panel to complete the exercise.. But the damage had been done as Oteh’s allegations rubbished the capital market probe.

Also, several  attempts by the Eight House to probe the activities of National Pension Commission (PenCom)  were marred by controversies, as  stakeholders accused the heads of the probe panels  of being interested parties in the issues they are investigating.

The first attempt to probe the agency was scuttled after the chairman of the Ad-hoc committee in charge of the probe,  Hon. Ehiozuwa Agbonnayinma,  resigned following allegations by PenCom that he was on a revenge mission.

Revelation has emerged,  midway into the probe,  that one of Agbonanyinma’s daughters,  was sacked  from the agency  for allegedly securing employment with fake certificate. Consequently,  PenCom said it was not confident that it will get justice before  the committee.

After Agbonnayinma’s resignation took the sail off the ad-hoc committee probing activities of PenCom, the House joint committee on Pension and Public Procurement commenced a fresh probe into the activities of the agency.

The new pension probe was to cover the activities of the agency, especially alleged procurement abuses between October 2014 to 2017.

However, the investigation had hardly kicked off, when allegations against the chairmen of the two committees surfaced.  Some of the firms invited to appear before the committee had accused the then chairman of the committee on Procurement,  Oluwole Oke of allegedl y shielding some companies allegedly linked to the members of the House, which are also doing business with PenCom.

The lawmaker who denied the allegations had told  our correspondent that “Nobody, nobody will bungle the investigation of PenCom. Initially, they said I wanted to help PenCom to bungle the investigation (of the ad-hoc committee). Where do I stand in all of this? How do I bungle what I am investigating? We acted based on submission from PenCom. No lawmaker has approached me that they have interest in PenCom, I don’t have any  interest in PenCom.”

Another probe that generated controversy was that of $18.72 billion Centenary City Project, The Centenary City, which sits on  1,267 hectares of land in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) was conceptualised during the tenure of former President Jonathan to commemorate Nigeria’s centenary celebration in 2014.

The project became a subject of investigation in the House during the Eight Assembly, with Hembe as chairman of the House Committee on FCT presiding.

At the commencement of the probe,  the former Secretary to Government of the Federation,  Anyim Pius Anyim accused Hembe of wanting to use  the investigation to get even with him on Oteh in 2012.

“You have told everybody  that cares to listen that when the former DG of Security and Exchange Commission accused you of demanding bribe from her, you pushed for her to be sacked and I refused to sack her while I was SGF and so this ia an opportunity for you to pay me back…”,Anyim had said. Nevertheless,  the committee proceeded with the investigation and made far-reaching recommendations to the House at the end of the exercise.

Similarly,  the Eight House investigated over N33 billion fraud at NEMA and consequently advised President Muhammadu Buhari to sack the former Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, Engr. Mustapha Maihaji, for alleged mismanagement and embezzlement.  The committee also said Vice President Yemi Osibanjo as chairman of the NEMA “may have questions to answer,” among  others.

Amidst speculations that the probe had a predetermined aim,  and was targeted at the Vice President,  the chairman of the panel,  Ali J.C. Isa said, “there is nowhere in my report where I mentioned the Vice President or Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, but he may have questions to answer as the chairman of the governing board.”

Isa  added: “No single leader of the House directed the committee to carry out any action. I personally threatened to pull out if certain things were not done.

“I will be surprised if the Speaker had any interest in what is happening in the Northeast. But  Benjamin Wayo from Benue State who sponsored the motion, did so because of the series of complaints from various quarters.”

Despite repeated promises by the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila that it will not be business as usual, recent events have sadly proved that new probes may go the way of those before them – left to gather dust in the shelves of the National Assembly.

Lady Decency
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