Reps and another high profile probe

Culled from Nigerian Tribune

In this report, KOLAWOLE DANIEL examines last week’s resolution of the House of Representatives to probe allegation of multi-billion financial recklessness against the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.

The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke can safely be referred to as the most controversial minister in the President Goodluck Jonathan administration ever since her appointment and Most of the allegations against her have to do with spending of government money.

Since her appointment, she has continued to face stiff opposition from the opposition parties, civil society organisations and various individuals over the way and manner she is managing the nation’s most precious resource.

Before now, civil society groups under the aegis of Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) had petitioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) calling for the immediate probe of the Minister. The Executive Chairman of CACOL, Mr Debo Adediran, in a three-page petition to the EFCC, had asked the anti-graft commission to investigate the alleged deals between the minister and other oil companies as well as the high rate of oil theft in the industry.

The group, in the petition, noted that, “Since Allison-Madueke’s appointment, Nigeria is reported to have lost billions of dollars. So much noise has been made from various quarters, which include the House of Representatives, without any significant response whatsoever. An invitation from the hallowed chambers to the minister was not honoured.”

And recently another group, Concerned Aviation Professionals (CAP) petitioned President Jonathan on the need to investigate the minister and copied both Senate president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The group’s petition was signed by Abdul Malik Masaya and John Anihinru, chairman and secretary respectively, and it was averred in the petition that, “We have details and impeccable records which confirm that the ‘Super Minister’ has been frittering away scarce Nigerian resources in maintaining the Challenger 850 aircraft at one of the private hangars in Nigerian airports in the last two years.

“The incontrovertible evidence we have is that the minister has been committing 500,000 euros (N130 million), monthly, to maintaining the aircraft in the last two years. Thus, in two years, the minister has committed the sum of N3.120 billion to keeping the jet, which is for personal and family use alone.”

However, last Thursday the House of Representatives decided to investigate the allegation of financial recklessness against the minister, as it  mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to investigate the Mrs Alison-Madueke and submit its finding to the House within three weeks.

The House resolution followed a motion by Honourable Samuel Adejare in which the minister was alleged to have wasted N10 billion on the arbitrary charter and maintenance of a Challenger 850 airplane for unofficial use.

Honourable Adejare motion was entitled, “Urgent Need to Investigate the Raste of resources on the Arbitrary Charter and Maintenance of a Challenger 850 Aircraft for Non-Official Use.” According to the mover of the motion,  “based on reliable evidence, the minister has been committing the sum of 500,000 Euros (N130 Million Naira) monthly to maintain the Aircraft, thus in two (2) years, the Minister had committed at least N3.120 Billion in maintaining the private Jet which is used solely for her personal needs and those of her immediate family, which is an appalling act.”

While moving the motion, Adejare also noted that “in these days of scarce national resources where public finance is shrinking in the face of ever increasing national needs such as roads, health, education and power, amongst others an official of government could waste public funds on such luxury as chartering a Challenger 850 Aircraft for extra official use.”

He added that there are strong indications that “the above expenditure is only a tip of the iceberg as several other Billions of Naira have been allegedly wasted on flying the Jet all over the World obviously for the leisure of the Hon. Minister and her immediate family on trips that were of no benefit to the country”.Specifically, the House alleged that the minister expended the sum of N3.120billion in two years for air charter  services.

Honourable Adejare also argued that the minister allegedly frittered away over N10 billion in the maintenance of the Challenger 850 Aircraft and its crew in the last 2 years.

Explaining further, the lawmaker said  “there are strong indications that the above expenditure is only a tip of the iceberg as several other Billions of Naira have been allegedly wasted on flying the Jet all over the World obviously for the leisure of the Hon. Minister and her immediate family on trips that were of no benefit to the country.

He noted that, “This colossal waste is currently estimated at N10 Billion which include the payment of allowances to the crew for the trips, hanger parking and rent based on the lease agreement.

“It is surprising that government could be bankrolling this waste in the face of ever dwindling public resources which amounts to a misplacement of priority, impudence and breach of public trust, an action that offends the Fiscal Responsibility Act and all other Laws on fiscal discipline in Nigeria”, he stated.

However, efforts by Honourable Friday Itulah to oppose the motion was turned down by Honourable Aminu Tambuwal who explained that the House rule does not give room for debate on motions that has to do with investigation. When the motion was put to vote it was unanimously supported by members.

Commenting on the House resolution, Honourable Tajudeen Yusuf, who represents Kabba Bunnu/Ijumu Federal Constituency noted that, “it is the responsibility of the House to look into the books of MDA’s (Ministries, Departments and Agencies.  The allegation is weighty but it remains an allegation till investigation confirms the true nature of the allegation”.

Honourable Prince Arua Arunsi,a member representing Arochukwu/ Ohafia Federal Constituency  in the House, while expressing his opinion on the House resolution said, “I am happy that the House is doing its oversight function. The Minister needs to be investigated. If it is true she did it, it’s nothing but fraud and the law should take its course”.

In light of the whole allegation against the minister, one needs to quickly bring to fore the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) currently before the National Assembly.Stakeholders in the oil industry have continued to canvass for the passage of PIB which they insist should prune the powers of the minister in the overall running of the affairs of the nation’s oil sector. To this end, passage of the PIB will in a way address the secrecy that has been the hallmark of Nigeria oil sector. Until the step is taken through passage of PIB, questions and allegations will continue to trail the successive oil ministers.

But beyond the façade of the ritualistic invitation of high profile public officials by the lawmakers for explanation on issues which usually centre on disbursement of public funds, will the lawmakers get to the bottom of the allegation as well as the alleged rot in the petroleum industry? Or is it going to be another season of window dressing and grandstanding on alleged graft matters? Will the consideration of this weighty allegation be divested from the usually politics and division along party lines, especially in view of the various probes of public officials done by the House?

Should this probe go the way of others, the erosion of public confidence in government and democratic institutions and their managers may worsen.

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