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Beyond window-dressing probes, knee-jerk reactions, National Assembly owes Nigerians explanations on Baru-gate and fuel shortages

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The Senate has served notice to hold a public hearing on January 4, 2018 on the acute scarcity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), which inflicted untold hardship and marred the Christmas and New Year celebrations of millions of Nigerians across the country.

This should ordinarily be a commendable step in the right direction especially as it reveals the fact that the National Assembly is not taken in by the explanations so far offered by the Executive on the harrowing fuel crisis which is only just abating in a few cities while citizens in many parts of the country continue to wallow in fuel queues and are compelled to purchase products at exorbitant rates well above government-regulated prices.

But Nigerians are worried that the National Assembly, which is constitutionally empowered to investigate and expose corruption and waste in government, has shirked its responsibility in first of all providing effective oversight in the critical oil sector; and then failing to follow up on leads on illegal, unwholesome and corrupt practices provided by useful sources.

Nigerians are very worried that three months after the Senate sensationally announced and constituted an Ad-Hoc Committee to investigate damning allegations of breach of due process and corruption in contracts awards to the tune of 25 billion US Dollars in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), no progress has been reported by the Red Chamber. In fact, mum has been the word, as there appears to be an institutional conspiracy to sweep the matter under the proverbial carpet.

When the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, blew the lid in his famous leaked letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on disregard for due process and untidy deals by the Dr. Maikanti Baru-led management of the NNPC, not a few Nigerians were peeved at the sordid revelations which if properly investigated and addressed by appropriate authorities could possibly have averted the current fuel crisis.

As the Presidency played casual over such grievous expose, it was therefore reassuring when the Senate took on the issue and expanded the scope of its probe by calling out the NNPC in the application of the Direct-Sales-Direct-Purchase arrangement to unduly favour certain companies, including Duke Oil.

According to Senator Samuel Anyanwu who moved the motion on October 4, 2017 which was adopted by the Senate, Duke Oil was incorporated in 1989 in Panama specifically to play a dominant role in the trading of petroleum products especially crude oil in the international oil market. The Senator further affirmed that the company, compared to other major players in the sector, was still grappling with the basics of what it was registered to do in spite of massive support from the NNPC.

He had therefore queried “the decision by the current GMD to allocate almost all products to Duke Oil in addition to its automatic inclusion in the lifting of Crude Oil, Gas, etc, which thus made Duke Oil a money spinning outfit that is accountable only to NNPC. Since NNPC owns NNPC Trading Limited and the refineries, they also shortlist companies that get allocation of products, lifting of crude oil and importation of products thus, giving undue advantage to the in-house company, even where it lacks the capacity and requisite requirements to do what it is doing today.”

The Senate naturally hugged the headlines the next day. And then days turned to weeks with no concrete word as to when the Committee would be inaugurated. It was when tongues began to wag over the delayed take-off of the Senate probe that the Committee Chairman, Senator Aliyu Wammakko, spoke and dismissed claims that the investigation had met a solid brick wall.

A statement signed by his Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Bashir Mani, denied “intense pressure whether from the Presidency or elsewhere,” and blamed the absence of key committee members who “were out of the country to Russia with the Senate President” for delay in take-off. This was in the last week of October 2017.

Fast forward to January 2018 and without a word about that seemingly abandoned investigation, the Senate is set to regale Nigerians with another merry-go-round scandal mill that may lead the country nowhere.

In an earlier statement on the heels of Senate’s announcement of the Baru-gate probe, OrderPaper had cautioned against hinging parliamentary investigations on sensationalism and stressed that particularly on Baru-gate “the National Assembly should note that the highly short-changed and increasingly restive Nigerian public will hold it to account on the swiftly announced intervention this time around.”

We will continue to hold the National Assembly, particularly the Senate, to account both on the abandoned $25 billion NNPC contracts breach investigation and the now hurriedly launched hearing on the Yuletide fuel crisis. Nigerians demand concrete changes to their lives from the gains of the country’s rich oil and gas resources and not fruitless probes that tend to serve parochial and pecuniary interests.

Epia is Executive Director, OrderPaper Advocacy Initiative


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