Much Ado about house of reps probes
The leadership of the House of Representatives has been receiving knocks from several circles for suspending the activities of its standing and ad hoc committees, including panels investigating finances of the Federal Government. However, the suspension, which was announced by the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, via a notice dated August 19, 2020, with reference number NASS/9.HR/OLDR/ADM/VOL.1/0031, was not indefinite. The committees will return to work when the National Assembly resumes plenary after a two-month annual recess.
The committees majorly affected by the order included the Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements investigating external loans and commercial agreements between Nigeria and other countries, especially China; the ad hoc committee investigating the alleged illegal spending and mismanagement of N81.5 billion by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the ad hoc committee investigating the alleged illegal sack of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) and Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) managements by the Minister of Labour, Dr Chris Ngige and the Minister of Power, Mr Sale Mamman.
Coming at a time Nigerians were being entertained almost on a daily basis with sordid revelations of alleged graft and malfeasance during the committees’ sittings, the reactions that have trailed the suspension were expected.
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the decision as a deliberate design “to cover the stench of corruption oozing out of the APC administration.”
In a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, the party charged the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, to “stop circumventing the statutory duties of the House of Representatives and placing wedges in the way of the fight against corruption by the legislature.”
“It is clear that the shutdown directive is targeted at frustrating revelations from ongoing investigations on the $500 billion foreign loan from China, particularly as it related to the mortgaging of our nation’s sovereignty to China,” the party added.
The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project also declared that it was not in the best interest of the public for the National Assembly to stop the probe into the Chinese loans.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, said: “Nigerians have the right to know the exact details about all Chinese loans, including conditions of repayment, spending details, the specific projects and their locations, on which the loans are spent or proposed to be spent, and whether the loans are in fact necessary in the first place.”
To clear the air, Ado-Doguwa recently issued a statement wherein he explained that government had already captured the said loan in the 2020 Appropriation law, saying, “it should not be a subject of any controversy or query in the committee’s investigation process at least for now.”
He added: “Other investigations into government agencies, including the NDDC, NSITF, the review of the Nigerian power sector as well as all other allegations of corruption in government expenditure, Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), have not in any way been discontinued as alleged by the PDP, as all the pending investigations will continue as the House reconvenes.”
The question, however, is how did past probes by the House impact on the polity to warrant the furore trailing the suspension? Records of many probe panels set up by the House in the past, which either could not conclude their assignments or presented reports that didn’t leave the confines of the Chamber abound.
In this year alone, the House has embarked on several investigations in exercise of its oversight functions. These include: The NDDC probe; the N100 billion allegedly “missing” in the North East Development Commission; the N613 billion allegedly not accounted for by the Nigerian Correctional Service; alleged annual revenue leakage due to racketeering of $30 billion foreign exchange by multinational oil companies, banks and others and the $467 million and N43.5 billion spent by the Nigerian Communications Satellites Limited on NigComSat satellites, which have failed.
Others include the investigation of the number and condition of capital projects abandoned by the Federal Government valued at N230 billion; investigation of the environmental hazards posed by a project of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited valued at $10 billion; probe into the disbursement of the N104,226,956,985.10 released by the CBN for the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme and investigation into the payment of $30,000 daily or N4 billion annually as demurrage on a floating dock acquired by NIMASA for N50 billion.
Records also show that the House has been probing the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency for allegedly failing to remit revenue, totaling N1.343 trillion to the Federal Government’s coffers. The House is also investigating Federal Government’s MDAs over fraudulent insurance policies.
On December 12, 2019, the Minority Whip, Gideon Gwani, had in a motion alleged that some of the MDAs enrolled into fraudulent insurance policies outside the country, which the House resolved to investigate.
“Several billions of naira are suspected to be paid as premium annually on either non-existent assets or on unverifiable data, with unadjusted premium in breach of Section 61 of the Insurance Act, 2003, by some Federal Government institutions and some security agencies in collaboration with insurance companies that do not pay claims,” Gwani claimed.
Also, on December 17, 2019, the House started the probe of the NSTIF over alleged illegal expenditure, especially the about N2.3bn spent on staff training without approval.
Based on a motion moved by Mr Benjamin Bem, the House, on December 11, 2019, also resolved to investigate infrastructural decay at the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports and the roads leading to the ports in Lagos, causing Nigeria to lose N600bn revenue monthly.
The House also started an investigation into the collapse of the Delta Steel Company built with $1.89 billion on November 27, 2019. On November 21, 2019, the lawmakers also launched a probe into the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) over a contract entered into on behalf of the country with a foreign private company, HLS International Limited, for the supply of certain security and surveillance equipment and systems.
According reports, the contract was worth $214,830,000, including $195,300,000 for the actual contract and an additional $19,530,000 that NIMASA agreed to pay to HLSI for ‘Management Training Consideration.’
On the same date, the House began a probe into the Turn Around Maintenance of the refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, costing a total of $396.33 million within four years.
Other probes launched by the 9th House include an investigation into the failure to refund $7 billion withdrawn from the foreign reserves by the CBN in 2006, which was paid to banks and assets managers (November 7, 2019); a probe into the indebtedness of the Federal Government to the NDDC amounting to N1.2 trillion and 17 local and international oil companies to the tune of N72 billion and $73 million by the joint Senate and House Committee on the NDDC (November 2019); investigation into the debt portfolio of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria and the bad debtors on its list, whose debts totalled about N5.4 trillion (September 25, 2019); and investigation into the contracts awarded and payments made to contractors by the Federal Government to revive the power sector that would cover the $16bn spent by the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration between 1999 and 2007 (July 25, 2019), among many others.
Lagos-based lawyer and human rights activist, Malachy Ugwumadu, told The Guardian that the litany of probes had not helped the country in any way, predicting that the same fate will befall the ongoing probes.
He said: “There have been probes upon probes, all of which touched on the sensitive sectors of the Nigerian economy. Those probes came to conclusion yet there was nothing heard of them. In short, many of them who were the hunters became the hunted. The point I am making is that with respect to the concluded probes, we did not hear anything. The reports are still gathering dust decades after. This one that they have suspended for whatever reason will suffer a more debilitating fate. This is my prediction.
“But let’s look at the cost of these processes. And when I say cost, I am not just referring to the monetary costs. I am more particular about the effects of these truncated processes on the economy, health and political stability of this country.
“Take this one under review for instance. NDDC is an interventionist commission. Don’t forget that there is the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs; there is also 13 per cent derivation. Yet in the wisdom of the Executive, this commission was created pursuant to an Act passed by the National Assembly and assented by the President. That moment heralded a determination on the part of the state to turnaround the fortunes of the people of those areas.
“The probe being conducted now captures what has been in the commission virtually from inception. The revelations from the probe have been heart rendering. And to hear that the people who have been fingered in all of these are still parading themselves as leaders of this country seems to suggest to some of us that we are taking it very lightly. The cost is that the Nigerian people have completely lost the hope they invested believing that this is the government that will rescue them. I am also talking about the lives that are continually lost in our hospitals. You go to hospitals that are supposed to be equipped by NDDC and people just die for avoidable ailments. You are travelling on a road that ought to be a first class road constructed by the NDDC and it has become a death trap. These are the costs.”