To many Nigerians, the Federal House of Representatives has done citizens of the country great service by embarking on the probe of the events and mysteries that surrounded how N 1.3 trillion was expended as subsidy on petrol before the last quarter of 2011. Not a few Nigerians were happy when the lower legislative chamber decided to constitute a probe panel to look into the matter.
With what Nigerians have seen about the proceedings of the committee’s sittings and the revelations that have been made, some individuals by now should have been relieved of their jobs. For instance, the fact that 59 million litres of petrol are discharged daily and subsidy on it is duly paid for by the Federal Government, whereas what the country uses per day is 35 million litres thus leaving 24 million litres of fuel unaccounted for on a daily basis is enough to question the competence and sincerity of some officials in the oil sector. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency (PPRA) already stand indicted. The committee’s findings have already made it open that most of the dealings of the two agencies in the past were done without recourse to due process.
The Ministry of Finance is similarly inclined as it directed that the Customs Department should overlook the vital documents needed to clear fuel imported into Nigeria. As such, most of the imported fuel cannot be accounted for due to improper documentation. Julius Nwagwu, who represented the Comptroller-General of Customs, disclosed that “NNPC does not make any documentation to the Customs. Several meetings were held where the Nigerian Customs Service was directed not to ask for documents. The Ministry of Finance wrote to NCS, warning them not to ask for documents because this will cause crisis.”
Street Journal’s investigation has however revealed that at the end of the day, the probe may not be more than a television comedy show. Millions watched live on television as questions were asked and answered, some satisfactorily, while some questions generated more questions. Some other questions made it clear that some of the officials were either not being honest in their responses or were simply not competent to hold the positions they presently occupy.
Street Journal has already found out that some factors are already at work to influence the result of the probe. The fact that some key members of the legislature have allegedly enjoyed patronage from those being investigated at one time or the other is one of the things that might end up clouding the report of the Farouk Lawan led committee. It has also been discovered that the Peoples Democratic Party and even the Presidency have mounted pressures on the Speaker of the House of Reps over the probe, especially in view of the fact that the report will end up affecting some of the party’s key members and appointees.
Just like the interest generated by the fuel subsidy probe, the situation was almost the same years ago when the House of Reps chose to prober the $ 16 billion spent on the power sector by the Obasanjo administration between 1999 and 2007. Then, the Committee on Power and Steel, with Hon Ndudi Elumelu as Chairman probed the amount the administration claimed to have spent because the spend money was without “commensurate results.”
The calibre of those under investigation further made the probe more interesting: there were Ministers, serving Governors and top executives of parastatals.
The media attention the committee got was believed to have been as a result of the transparency of its members. A chink was however put in the credibility of the Committee on Power Steel members as the committee had a N 100 million bribery allegation to cope with before the assignment was concluded. Though the members were later absolved by the House Committee on Ethics, the N 100 million allegation still went a long way in affecting the work.
The drama that trailed the power probe took a new turn when the panel submitted its report. The review committee set up by the House of Representatives invalidated the report as it rejected 84 of the 88 recommendations made. Incidentally, the Review Committee was headed by Honourable Aminu Tambuwal from Sokoto State, who is now the Speaker of the House.
The Tambuwal Committee went ahead to clear all those who had earlier been indicted by the ad-hoc committee; including Dr. Segun Agagu and Liyel Imoke who allegedly awarded contracts to non existent companies. Tambuwal and his six colleagues also absolved them of wrongdoing. The companies that were indicted for not executing contracts awarded them despite having received hundred percent payments were also cleared by the Tambuwal Committee.
The Elumelu-led Committee had recommended that anti-graft agencies should interrogate some prominent Nigerians including former President Olusegun Obasanjo; the then Governor of Ondo State, Dr Olusegun Agagu; the former Governor of Cross River state, Liyel Imoke; the then Central Bank Governor, Professor Charles Soludo and the Accountant General of the Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo. Alas, it never happened.
An example of one of the many jettisoned recommendations of the Elumelu Committee was the one that stipulated that “Pivot Engineering be further investigated by the EFCC and the ICPC with a view of recovering huge sums fraudulently received on power projects.”
While reviewing the recommendations, Hon Tambuwal and his committee submitted that “we could not sustain the fraudulent receipt of huge sums of money as per verbatim and main report as no fraud was evidenced”.
Another recommendation that was rejected by the Tambuwal Committee was the one that stated that “the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), Mr. Sam Gekpe, be redeployed and that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should investigate dual contracts award in the agency”.
The Tambuwal Review Committee however submitted that “the ad-hoc committee could not sustain the allegation of dual award of REA contract against him (Gekpe), because there was no evidence that he was responsible for ‘dual award’ of contracts by the States and the Federal Government.”
In all, only four rather insignificant recommendations of the Committee on Power and Steel were accepted by the Tambuwal Committee. The recommendations bordered on the staffing and training in power-related establishments.
The same situation has also reared its head in a probe of the Banking sector also ordered by the House of Reps. After the sale of some banks by the Central Bank of Nigeria, the House directed its Committees on Banking, Currency and Capital Market and Institutions to investigate the acquisition of Intercontinental Bank by Access Bank. The House also directed the Committees to investigate the roles played by the Asset Management Company of Nigeria (AMCON), Access Bank and the interface of the Management Team of Intercontinental Bank Plc in the entire acquisition process.
The House also mandated the committees to investigate the involvement of United Alliance Company, a business concern owned by the Directors of Access Bank and report back to the House within two weeks.
Two months have passed and till now, nothing has been heard about the probe or the report.
Those who have expressed satisfaction about the job of the House Committee investigating the administration of fuel subsidy might therefore need to be reminded that the same Tambuwal that headed the Review Committee that threw away the recommendations of the power probe is now the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Not only does he know the ropes, now he has more influence.
Moreover, it is known fact that the House is handicapped in that it can only investigate and advise the Government through its recommendations. The House of Reps lacks the powers to enforce whatever recommendations it makes.
The question on the lips of the few Nigerians who already know that the fuel subsidy probe will not yield much is “why rip Nigerians off in the guise of working for the common man?”
Questions are also being raised in some quarters regarding why start probes when the recommendations will eventually end up under the carpet?
It is an open secret that those indicted by the Ndudi Elumelu panel are still walking the streets as free men. Some are even vying for political offices presently while some are still in leadership positions in their political organisations and nothing whatsoever has been done against them regarding the roles they played in putting Nigeria’s power sector in its current state, yet tax payers would be made to pay for the sitting allowances and refreshments for members of the panel whose recommendations would end up in the trash bin.