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Inside National Assembly’s endless probes of agencies

Since the return of democracy in 1999, both chambers of the National Assembly have been carrying out several probes into the activities of federal government’s ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) as part of their oversight functions. Daily Trust on Sunday, in this report, examines the effectiveness or otherwise of such probes.

In less than three months, the 10th Assembly has launched over 50 probes aiming to dig into alleged malfeasance, mismanagement of funds and other infractions by MDAs, directing either standing or ad hoc committees to carry out the exercise within a time frame.

In plenary sessions, members usually bring up several motions calling for investigations into infractions allegedly committed by government agencies.

This has been the trend for ages, especially at the commencement of legislative sessions.

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But there are concerns about how much these series of unending probes, which often gulp billions of taxpayers’ funds to conduct, have achieved in saving the country’s wobbling economy through blockage of leakages and prosecution of corrupt officials.

Observations over time have shown that many of these investigative hearings which often come with much drama and startling revelations of mind-blowing corruption end up in the “cooler” after the initial media hype.

Many of the hearings are most often never concluded by the committees within the stipulated period and sometimes, those that manage to conclude their probes come up with what many would best describe as “wishy-washy” reports and recommendations that would end up not holding any government official to account.

In the 9th Assembly, just like previous assemblies, hundreds of probes were carried out by both chambers but many of them did not bring out the desired outcome as they were either not concluded or abandoned before the end of the life of the parliament.

Another setback for most of the probes is that the National Assembly lacks the constitutional power to prosecute erring officials.

After investigations, the parliament often sends resolutions and recommendations on issues that had been considered to the executive for implementation. But it is at the discretion of the executive to implement such recommendations.

Experts said the constitutional provisions that make the implementation of the resolutions and recommendations made by the parliament non-binding on the government have only made it easy for agencies to disregard them.

Fresh probes

Like the previous assemblies, the 10th parliament has launched over 50 investigations into various infractions by government agencies. The following are some of the major ongoing probes by the parliament.

Payment of N9.3trn subsidy/under recovery

The Senate, following a motion by Patrick Chinwuba (APC-Imo), launched a probe into payments made as oil subsidies and under-recovery by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s government.

The red chamber described as unacceptable the N9.3 trillion which the Buhari administration claimed it expended on the subsidy regime from January 2021 to May 29, 2023.

The motion was tagged “Need to Investigate the Controversial Huge Expenditure on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) under the Subsidy/Under Recovery Regime by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (NNPCL).”

The sponsor of the motion said available records showed that in 2021, N1.42 trillion was expended; in 2022, it was N4.3 trillion and in the first six months of 2023, N3.6 trillion was spent, totalling N9.3 trillion.

Alleged IPPIS fraud in universities

The Senate also asked its Committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund to investigate allegations of bribery and corruption levelled against officials of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System at various universities across the federation.

This was a sequel to a motion by Senator Ifeanyi Ubah (Anambra South), who, during a plenary, alleged that IPPIS officials requested money before capturing new staff employed by many federal universities three years ago.

Alleged abuse of firearms by Customs officers

Similarly, the Senate constituted an ad-hoc committee to probe the alleged abuse of firearms by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), which resulted in the wanton killings of Nigerians at land borders and checkpoints across the country.

The resolution to carry out the probe was a sequel to a motion titled, “Urgent Need to Investigate the Abuse of Firearms by Officers of Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) in Katsina State. It was sponsored by Senator Abdulaziz Yar’adua (APC-Katsina).

NDDC’s N6.5bn shoreline protection contract in Ondo

The Senate resolved to investigate the N6.5 billion-shoreline protection contract awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2006.

The contract was aimed at constructing a shoreline protective wall designed with geo-tube technology in Ayetoro, a seashore community in Ilaje LGA of Ondo State, which is threatened by ocean surge.

The Red Chamber, following a motion by Senator Jimoh Ibrahim (Ondo South), mandated its Committee on Niger Delta Affairs to look into the urgent need to save Aiyetoro from going into extinction due to the sea incursion.

Ibrahim lamented that the construction firm allegedly abandoned the project despite collecting 25 percent mobilisation.

Concession of Abuja, Kano Airports

The concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was also under probe by the Senate.

The aviation ministry had said that the projected nominal revenues from the combined concession of NAIA and MAKIA are expected to exceed $4 billion.

But the Senate, after considering a motion by Senator Suleiman Kawu Sumaila (NNPP, Kano), said the concession was hurriedly done and not in the public interest.

Makeup gas reprocessing deal

The Senate is also investigating a consultancy agreement facilitated by Zainab Ahmed, former minister of finance, for a questionable gas deal.

The resolution to this effect followed a motion by Senator Aniekan Etim Bassey, (Akwa Ibom Northeast), titled: “Need to investigate the controversial Makeup Gas (MUG) Reprocessing Deal involving the Federal Ministry of Finance, Niger Delta Power Holding Company, Calabar Generating Company Limited and ACUGAS Limited.”

Make-up gas (MUG) a power generation company (GenCo) has already paid for but has, for one reason or another, not utilised.

Ahmed engaged Ahmed Zakari & co, as transaction advisers, to liaise between Calabar Generation Company Limited (Calabar GenCo) and Accugas Ltd, with the view to converting MUG to liquefied natural gas (LNG) for export to earn the country revenue.

Bassey, in his motion, alleged that the process in which the advisers were paid for their services was not transparent.

Aniekan said the federal government was expected to pay over $10 million monthly to ACUGAS Limited, which was under the protection of the “take or pay” clause.

N483bn loan disbursement

The Senate is equally probing the alleged uneven disbursement of intervention loans to the tune of N483 billion by the Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) in the six geopolitical zones.

It raised a seven-man ad-hoc committee to probe the matter and report back in four weeks.

This followed a motion by Senator Ali Ndume (Borno South), who called for an investigation into the disbursement of loans by the Development Bank of Nigeria, and related financial institutions to micro, small, and medium-scale enterprises (MSMEs) in Nigeria from 2015 to date.

Ndume said the DBN’s Annual Integrated Statutory Report showed that it disbursed a loan worth N483 billion in 2021, out of which only 11 per cent went to the 19 northern states totalling N53 billion while Lagos alone got 47 per cent, which amounts to N227 billion.

Job ‘racketeering’ in MDAs

In the House of Representatives, one of the ongoing major probes which have been raising a lot of controversies and mind-blowing revelations is the one on alleged job racketeering and mismanagement of the Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) by Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs).

On July 6, the House of Representatives resolved to beam searchlight on MDAs over alleged employment racketeering following a motion by Oluwole Oke at a session presided over by Deputy Speaker Benjamin Kalu.

Oke said the process of recruitment and payment of civil servants and public officers is fraught with corruption, noting that public institutions have since stopped advertising for jobs and vacancies.

Alleged non-remittance of N2trn, other taxes by NNPCL

On July 18, the House of Representatives mandated its committee on Finance to investigate the alleged non-remittance of N2trn and other due taxes by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited into the federation account.

This followed the adoption of a motion by Rep Uduak Odudoh who said the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) had severally accused the NNPCL of short-changing it by refusing to pay over N2trn to the Account from crude sales, royalties, and taxes.

He said the NNPCL had averred that the federal government owed it over N4trn in subsidy payments, power debt, and other sundry charges and therefore would not remit until the debts were recovered.

$4bn crude oil theft

In a similar scenario, on July 12, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate alleged crude oil theft to the tune of $4 billion, with a view to curbing economic loss to the country and ensuring that everyone involved was brought to book.

Philip Agbese (APC, Benue), who sponsored the motion, said: “According to reports, about 40 per cent of crude oil loss is due to inaccuracies in measurement, and theft as metering errors continue to occur as a result of poor maintenance of metering facilities, thus resulting in lack of transparency in hydrocarbon accounting.”

He said reports revealed that in 2021 alone, Nigeria lost $4 billion to oil theft at the rate of 200,000 barrels per day, adding that the figures had risen since then.

N14trn revenue loss from tax incentive, waiver ‘abuses’

On July 13, the House resolved to investigate the allegations of abuse of tax incentives, tax breaks, and tax waivers by public institutions and companies benefitting from such incentives, leading to a loss of N14 trillion in revenue.

This was a sequel to the adoption of a motion by Hon. Oluwole Oke (PDP Osun) at plenary, arguing that Nigeria loses about N8 trillion annually to tax incentives and waivers and N6 trillion to companies that abuse the system.

Closure of 47 micro-finance banks by CBN

On July 26, the House mandated the Committee on Banking and Currency to investigate the recent revocation of the operational licenses of 47 microfinance banks across the country and report back within four (4) weeks for further legislative action.

This followed the adoption of a motion by Rep James Shuaibu Barka, who informed the House that on May 22, 2023, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) revoked the operational license of 47 Microfinance Banks across the country, saying, the closure had caused undue hardship to the people who depend on the banking and financial services offered by the bank for their small and medium enterprises.

‘Non-remittance’ and utilisation of NHF

On July 19, the House of Representatives resolved to investigate the non–remittance to the National Housing Fund (NHF) and utilisation of the fund from 2011 to date.

This followed a motion titled ‘Need to Investigate the non–Remittance to the National Housing Fund and Utilization of the Fund from 2011 to date’ sponsored at the plenary by Hon. Zakaria Dauda Nyampa.

The ad hoc committee on non-remittance to NHF is to be chaired by Dachung Bagos (PDP, Plateau).

$9 billion revenue loss to gas flaring

On July 25, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rep. Tajudeen Abbas, inaugurated an Ad hoc Committee to investigate the alleged $9.05 billion revenue loss from gas flaring in the last decade in Nigeria.

Abbas, at the inauguration, charged the committee to get to the root causes of gas flaring and make recommendations to end the menace.

Alleged abuse, mismanagement of peacekeeping mission proceeds

On July 26 the Green Chamber set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate alleged abuse and mismanagement of proceeds of peacekeeping operations from 2010 to 2022.

The committee which is headed by Shehu Raji is to undertake the probe and report back to it within four weeks for further legislative action.

NIMASA’s ‘fictitious’ contracts

The House on July 12 resolved to investigate alleged fictitious contract awards, gross mismanagement of billions of naira, and lopsided placement of directors by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).

The resolution followed the adoption of a motion by Rep. Kingsley Chinda (PDP-Rivers) and five others on the house floor in Abuja on Wednesday.

In his motion, he expressed several allegations of questionable, inflated, and fictitious contract awards, particularly for non-operational speed boats, security surveillance contracts, and the Deep Blue Water contract.

The lawmaker said this had led to revenue leakages and the award of contracts to cronies of the agency’s director-general and other top management staff.

Speaker Abbas reads Riot Act to committee chairs

Meanwhile, Speaker Tajudeen Abbas has charged chairmen of the various standing and ad-hoc committees of the House to be diligent and thorough in the discharge of their oversight legislative functions.

Abbas, who spoke while inaugurating the Standing Committees, warned that those that fail to meet the House performance benchmark will be reconstituted for greater productivity.

‘Some committees protect looters’

The chairman of the Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), Debo Adeniran, described the unending probes and failure to implement recommendations by various probe panels set up by the National Assembly and the executive arm as unfortunate.

He said the practice, while wasting resources on futile exercises, was also frustrating all efforts to tame corruption in the system, especially in the civil service

“We also noticed this and on several occasions, we tried to do a follow-up within the limit of our capacity. We are partnering with some of our colleagues, especially SERAP, who engage in litigations. At our level, we don’t engage in litigations. Sometimes, we need to compel these people to implement the recommendations that were contained in the reports of most of the probes.

“Some of the probes come up with useful recommendations. Some of them are actually protecting the looters because some of the members of the probe panels are part and parcel of the people that commit the crimes.”

It won’t be business as usual – Reps spokesperson

Speaking on the matter, Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Akin Rotimi, said it would not be business as usual, saying the 10th House was committed to pursuing all probes to a logical conclusion.

He said the 10th House had charged all the chairmen and members handling the various probes to be up and doing in the discharge of their oversight legislative duties.

“You know that all the probes and all the investigation currently going on are being handled by House adhoc committees. The probes were instituted following legislative actions, specifically in terms of motions brought up by members that also have the prayers for those adhoc committees to be created to take further actions on those aspects.

In terms of the effectiveness of the probes, he said the 10th House was committed to making its probes effective and result-oriented.

However, efforts to reach Senate spokesperson, Yemi Adaramodu, were not successful. His phone line was switched off when our reporter called. He also did not respond to text and WhatsApp messages sent through his phone line.

(Daily Trust)

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