When the report of the subsidy probe committee of the House of Representatives was successfully considered and adopted, many Nigerians applauded the National Assembly, the reps especially, for a job well done. But a few months down the road, a bribery scandal threatens to destroy all that was achieved. Adesuwa Tsan writes on the issue.
Few months after the Committee on Capital Market, which was investigating the near collapse of the capital market, had to step down from the assignment following a bribery allegation against the Chairman by the Security and Exchange Commission, the major organisation that oversees the activities of the capital market, the House of Representatives is again enmeshed in a fresh 3 million dollars bribery scandal. This time, it is the prestigious Ad hoc Subsidy Probe Committee led by Farouk Lawan that is being accused.
The allegations which has been a source of embarrassment to the leadership of the House has, however, not been substantiated as investigation into the matter is still ongoing. But in the meantime, the House has said the accused are on their own, asking them to submit to an anti-graft agency for full investigation as it will not be part of any form of corruption.
A statement issued by the chairman of the House committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon Zakari Mohammed, on the subject stated clearly that the House does not intend to cover up any wrong doing, if any is found.
It read in part, “The attention of the House of Representatives has been drawn to reports alleging that one of its members, has in the course of his committee work as a member of the ad hoc committee which investigated the subsidy regime, allegedly received a gratification from an oil baron to exonerate his companies from complicity in the oil subsidy scam.
“While we await investigation into these weighty accusations, we wish to state without equivocation that this Honourable House will never take side with corruption and we will always stand on the side of the rule of law.
“The reason we inaugurated the ad hoc committee to look into the controversial subsidy regime in the first place was to expose corruption in the sector, as such, we cannot, for whatever reason, support any underhand dealing from any quarter”.
The accused had explained that the money was received as alleged but was kept as evidence to prove the attempt to bribe the committee when he reported it to the EFCC. He also said it was for the same reason, according to what was gathered from sources, that he handed over the bribe to the chairman of the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, Hon Jagaba Adams, under whose committee, the anti-graft body is.
Except for the botched Power Probe, the Subsidy Probe has been one of the best investigative assignments done yet by the National Assembly. The calibre of people and companies indicted by the report gave Nigerians the courage to hope that gradually, the ship of the country is being stirred towards the right direction. Many prominent toes were stepped on and so it was anticipated that a backlash will occur. But not many people saw this coming.
There is a segment of Nigerians that believe that this is just another attempt by the indicted party or parties to discredit the report and drag the integrity of the committee through the mud, thus weakening the resolutions passed by the House. This school of thought holds that the scandal is being promoted by people in high places in order to give the executive a reason not to implement the resolutions of the report. Already, several people in government had attempted at different times to discredit it by calling it bias, doctored and several other names.
Despite all that is happening, the lawmakers have stood by the recommendations as passed during consideration of the report and have categorically asked the executive not to make the scandal an excuse to not act on the findings of the committee.
Spokesman of the House, Hon Zakari Mohammed said, “However, these accusations, whatever their merits, do not detract from the quality of the work done by the committee. The report of that committee was adopted by the whole House and we stand by the resolutions of the House.
“The present House of Representatives will not relent in its efforts to render quality legislation and oversight functions to Nigerians. Today, we are gradually beginning to see the end of this monstrosity that has bedevilled our progress as a nation for so long.
“We hope that the Executive will not, because of this allegation, abandon its commitment towards bringing to justice, the culprits already identified in the committee’s report”.
This stand by the committee is perhaps premised on the fact that so far, the allegation against the chairman of the committee is that he alone was the one who accepted the bribe and not the committee. Secondly, the committee was not induced to doctor the report as expected to exonerate the oil companies as agreed between the two parties, hence the indictment of the companies in them report and the subsequent fallout between Lawan and Otedola who have been described as long standing friends.
The seventh Assembly of the House of Representatives has been working assiduously towards changing the image of the House and how it is perceived. But sadly, barely a year after its inauguration, it has had to contend with two major scandals.
It will be recalled that after his election by the majority of House members, speaker Tambuwal quickly went on to design a legislative agenda for the House which was debated and adopted by all in plenary. One of the key areas in the agenda is the eradication of corruption and other wastages.
The General Principles of the agenda include:
1. Initiate a new order that would foster transparency leading to institutional integrity through efficiency of public expenditure management.
2. Restructure management and functions of legislative committees towards adequacy in capacity and improved productivity.
3. Design and implement the e-parliament blueprint that would elevate National Assembly to international best practices and ensure public access to parliamentary information and processes.
4. Review legislative branch budget in line with the requirements of openness, effectiveness and accountability.
5. Review the constitution in all relevant areas to facilitate the implementation of the House of Representatives legislative agenda and in line with the aspirations of Nigerians.
6. Engage actively with other arms of government to restore public order and national security, and
7. Institutionalise mechanisms that will facilitate more effective engagement with various stakeholders including constituents and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs)”.
The House has said it will investigate the allegations against the committee and act appropriately on its outcome.