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Published On: Mon, Mar 5th, 2018

Scarce resources and Senate’s endless, fruitless probes

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By Ikechukwu Okaforadi

Since June 2015, the Senate has empanelled over twenty ad hoc committees to probe different misconducts, crisis and criminal activities in the polity, including those affecting the economy. However no tangible result has been achieved in most of the investigations which have become winding or endless.
Some of these committees are Ad Hoc committee that investigated the reinstatement and promotion of former Chairman of Presidential Taskforce on Pension Reform, Abdulrasheed Maina, by the Head of Civil Service of the Federation.
Another is the Senate Ad Hoc committee that investigated the shootout between the operatives of Department for State Services (DSS) and Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja over aborted arrest of ex DSS Director General, Ayo Oke.
Senate also set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the alleged absconding of Senator Hamman Misau (Bauchi north) from the Nigeria Police Force. Also, Ad hoc committee was set up, headed by Dino Melaye, to probe the alleged economic waste in the Nigerian Customs warehouses.
Another ad hoc committee was set up to probe the counter allegation by Senator Misau that the Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, had diverted about N120 billion generated from special security cover for international oil companies, multinational business moguls, and big hotel conglomerates in the country.
Similarly, an ad hoc committee was set up by the Senate to investigate the factors behind the recurrent strike by the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), while another was set up to investigate the lingering fuel scarcity and allegations of corruption against NNPC, just to mention a few.
A good number of investigative hearings were also referred to the Senate standing committees. Examples are: Communication Committee which probed the sale of Etisalat, Committee on Local Content, which probed the abuse of Local Content Act in Egina oil field contract.
There were also Labour and Employment Committee which investigated the Minimum Wage crisis between the Labour Union and federal government, as well as under remittances by customs which was assigned to Senate Customs Committee, control and regulation of livestock which was referred to Senate Agric Committee, and many others.
A number of other panels had been assigned to investigate issues bordering on corruption and misconduct involving federal government ministries, departments and agencies, as well as public officials.
Unfortunately, majority of the panels have been on the assignments for between six months and one year now without any result. Also, a few others have only managed to submit interim reports since they were set up by the Senate President many months ago.
Our correspondent observed that the excitement which most often herald the motions calling for the investigations inexplicably end abruptly contrary to expectations, following the inability of the committees to turn in their reports months after they were set up; even when such report comes, it is found wanting in aim and vigor.
Few of the investigative committees inaugurated by the Senate President, of which not much is heard about their report are: committee on Power which probed the privatization of power sector, the Senate committee on Customs which probed revenue leakages in revenue generating agencies.
Others are: Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Southern Kaduna Crisis and Other Parts of the Country, the Killing of Shi’ite members in Kaduna by the military, Senate ad hoc committee which investigated the importation of six hundred and sixty one fire arms into the country, Senate ad hoc committee which investigated alleged N10trillion scam in NNPC, among others.
Investigations by Peoples Daily correspondent revealed that most of the ad hoc committees set up by the Senate leadership are only repeating the works already done by similar committees set up by the Senate in the 6th and 7th sessions.
Also, our correspondent on visiting the clerical office of the Senate, which houses the archive reports, discovered that the recommendations made by these previous committees lay in the shelves without any hope of implementation.
However, contrary to expectations, the present Senate, rather than dust up the existing reports and push for their implementation, prefers to set up fresh ad hoc committees to repeat same works, thereby incurring avoidable expenses and waste of resources on the already receded treasury of the country.
For instance, recall that in the 7th Senate, following a motion moved by the incumbent Senate President, Bukola Saraki, over alleged scam in the fuel subsidy payment by NNPC, an investigative hearing was done, which confirmed the allegation.
Sequel to the motion moved by Saraki then, David Mark, who was Senate President, set up an ad hoc committee headed by Senator Magnus Abe, the then chairman Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), to unravel the veracity of the allegation and he submitted his report to the Senate.
The job was successfully done by Senator Abe, who laid the report in the chamber then, but unfortunately, the far reaching recommendations in that report till today rots away in the Senate archives.
There was also the probe of under remittances, wastage in the Nigerian Customs, as well as abuse of waivers by the same Customs in the 7th Senate, which was probed by the then Committee on Finance and the report is also there today.
Surprisingly, rather than calling up the existing report of the past probe which is laid in the Senate library, the leadership rather set up an entirely new ad hoc committee led by Senator Dino Melaye, to repeat the same job. This time, it is called as hoc committee on economic waste in Nigerian Customs.
Observers have argued that since government is a continuum, and given that the reports of investigations carried out by subsequent sessions of the Senate abound in the records and archives of the Senate, there is no need to set up fresh committees to repeat same probes, but the reverse is the case.
Checks by our correspondent further revealed startling revelations on how expensive investigative hearings can be, even as Nigerians do not get the desired service for the money at the end of the exercise.
Our correspondent also discovered how huge funds belonging to Nigerians are usually frittered away in the sponsorship of such endless and fruitless hearings.
A source in the National Assembly who does not want to be mentioned, confided in Peoples Daily that an average investigative hearing costs not less than five million naira, while a public hearing costs four million naira and above. The source said the fund can be increased depending on the scope and terms of reference given to the committee.
Another source who does not want to be named told our Correspondent that a committee work in the Senate, aside investigative hearing, costs not less than two million naira, while such works involving traveling across the country costs up to ten million and above for both flight and accommodation of the lawmakers.
Meanwhile, when our correspondent sought the opinion of observers of the activities in the parliament on why the lawmakers present reports that are not inspiring particularly where such reports eventually comes, some of the respondents accused some of the lawmakers of having compromised.
According to Breakforth Onwubuya, who is the chairman of Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), there is corruption in the National Assembly, adding that a lot of the senators are not patriotic. He said the lawmakers know the right thing but choose to do what is wrong.
Onwubuya who is also the interim chairman of Coalition of Concerned Political Parties (CCPP), said a lot of the senators and House of Representatives members go there for business and to enrich themselves, adding that they are mostly concerned about how to recover the money they spent during elections.
Another respondent, a staff of the National Assembly, who does not want to be named for fear of witch-hunt, alleged that most of the senate investigative committee members use the opportunity to extort money from the agencies they are probing, especially when the probe involves a revenue yielding agency of government, oil companies, or top business entities like telecom operators, etc.
Although aggressive interrogation is a strategy for extracting information during investigation, he is howver of the opinion that this is why the lawmakers in both chambers adopt a confrontational approach during the hearing, but end up submitting a diluted report in the chamber. He alleged that such agencies usually “greased their palms” in follow up meetings behind closed doors.
According to him, in most cases; the media, both broadcast and print are involved in good numbers during the investigations, as a measure to blackmail and intimidate such agencies or oil companies to part with sums of money for the lawmakers.
He disagreed that such hearings are meant to serve the interest of Nigerians, but the selfish interests of the lawmakers.
Speaking also, Emmanuel Onwubiko, the National Coordinator of Human Right Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), said the lawmakers most times lack the required expertise and in-house training to successfully conduct the probes.
He further said that a lot of them have not been able to appreciate the enormity of the responsibility entrusted on them as lawmakers, regretting that there are many of them who hardly stay in Abuja to settle down to do their jobs.
Our correspondent reports that in one of such investigate hearings involving a multinational oil company, over an Oil Field, being a local content development project awarded in breach of the law, after the Senate ad hoc committee quizzed the oil companies, the expatriates scampered about in the senate new building, seeking the offices of the senators.
However, after they eventually located their offices and held a private meeting with them, the next adjourned day for the hearing was characterized by cordial interactions, contrary to hitherto confrontation and aggressiveness that characterized the beginning of the investigative hearing.
This was also witnessed in the case of Fuel Scarcity probe headed by Senator Kabiru Marafa. In Marafa’s case, while he addressed journalists, he had threatened that the senate will deal decisively with the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) for reintroducing subsidy regime after it was terminated by the APC government.
Marafa said the NNPC GMD must explain before the Senate who authorized the payment of subsidy since it was not approved by the National Assembly in the 2017 budget, even as he warned that if care is not taken, the Senate will compel the federal oil company to refund all the money it paid as subsidy without approval of the National Assembly.
However, during the investigative hearing, as the chairman of the investigative ad hoc committee, he practically prevented his colleagues from asking any question regarding the subsidy payment and the reintroduction of subsidy regime by NNPC without approval by the parliament.
“My distinguished colleagues, please let us leave out all issues regarding to subsidy payment for now”, Marafa told his colleagues at the first day of the probe.
This created mixed impression among participants and even senators who were present during the probe that the senator might be on the same page with NNPC management.
This suspicion later snowballed into the Senate chambers, where the senators unanimously rejected the report submitted by the ad hoc committee led by Senator Marafa, as they accused him of allegedly submitting a report handed over to him by NNPC.

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