Defying all odds, the House of Representatives yesterday began the clause-by-clause consideration of the subsidy probe report which was laid on the floor of the House last week. Against the wishes of the PDP, the House recommend that former chairman of the party Ahmadu Ali be prosecuted for the fraud that took place in the subsidy regime under his watch as the chairman of the board of the PPPRA from 1999-2011.
This is just as the speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, lambasted oil sector players for attempting to frustrate the investigation of the subsidy regime of the federal government, adding that the secrecy in the operations of the oil sector must be revealed since there is no provision in the law that makes room for secret societies.
While considering the recommendations of the report which was the only listed business of the House in plenary yesterday, the lawmakers vehemently opposed clause 16 of the recommendations of the report which states that the “chairman of the board of the PPPRA from 2009-2011, and the entire board members of the board during the period be reprimanded and their decision which opened the floodgate for the bazaar is condemned in the strongest terms”. They queried why in the case of the management and board of the NNPC, it was recommended that they be investigated and prosecuted while the recommendation for the chairman and board of PPPRA is put differently.
Hon. Musa Sarki Adar then went ahead to propose that the clause be amended to read “...be prosecuted for their decision which opened the floodgate for the bazaar,” which was unanimously adopted by the members when put to voice vote by the chairman of the committee of the whole, deputy speaker Emeka Ihedioha. Attempts to hurriedly pass the clause as it was contained in the report were rejected by the lawmakers who insisted that the decision be rescinded to make room for the amendment.
Before yielding the floor to the deputy speaker to preside over the committee of the whole, the speaker gave an opening speech where he blasted oil sector players for attempting to scuttle the investigation of the committee and condemned reports that the EFCC and ICPC will not act on the recommendations unless it is harmonised with a similar resolution from the Senate.
He said: “I have heard all kinds of insinuations, including the one about anti-graft agencies waiting for a ‘harmonised version’ of this report before taking any action. Let me quickly say here that this is at best an excuse that cannot stand. After all, the same agencies accept and investigate petitions from individuals, how much more resolutions of this House. There will be no such document, so they should just go ahead and do their job and where they find any person or body culpable, they should proceed in accordance with the law.
“The probe of the oil sector has raised so much dust from certain segments of the polity such that it became clear that the intention was to frustrate it. For those who regard the oil sector as a secret society or sacred cow, I wish to state without equivocation that it is not. All public agencies in the oil sector are the creation of acts of the National Assembly and this honourable House has no powers to legislate for the creation of secret societies. Similarly, all private sector corporate bodies operating in the sector are the creation of the Corporate Affairs Commission and that commission also is not vested with any powers to incorporate secret societies. Let it therefore be known that, in our drive to sanitize the polity, there are no sacred cows and we do not intend to discover any.”
However, the lawmakers bowed to pressure, agreeing to give an additional two weeks to oil marketers who were asked to refund the sum of N42 billion to the national treasury to come up and defend their roles in the subsidy scheme with relevant documents, having failed to appear during the three-week investigative hearing.
The move, which may mean that the final consideration of the subsidy report has been delayed, was defended by the House spokesman, Hon Zakari Mohammed, who told newsmen after the day’s sitting that the resolution by the lower House to compel the 17 marketers to face the Lawan panel was done in the spirit of fair hearing and best interest of the country.
“The onus lies on us to give them fair hearing so that they do not rubbish the report in court. In the court of public opinion, people know that the 17 oil companies are being economical with the truth. So we are giving them two weeks to come up and defend themselves,” Zakari said in reaction to the oil firms summons. “If they (17 summoned oil marketers) fail to come at the end of two weeks, the law will take its course.”
The spokesman clarified that the findings of the probe of the 17 oil companies will come by way of a supplementary report of the House upon resolution.
“As far as we are concerned, we have taken that decision in the best interest of Nigeria. Tomorrow (today) we are going to continue with the consideration of the report; hopefully by tomorrow (today) we should be able to conclude the adoption of the report,” he said.
The lawmaker also added that the House was exploring the option of private prosecution, saying: “Our ingenuity about legislation is that if we put it to those who should implement and they refuse to, in the course of time, the private prosecutor case is not out of place. If the attorney-general of the federation (AGF) is not forthcoming, we can get a private prosecutor by a two-thirds vote in the House. Just like it happened in the case of Dele Giwa with Gani Fawehinmi, we can do that too. So it tells you that we are resolved to explore all possibilities within our disposal to ensure that this report for once is not going to be rubbished.”
The consideration continues today from clause 36. The report has 62 recommendations out of which 35 were considered with the additional 27 expected to be taken today.