By Abiemwense Moru
Abuja – The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Yakubu Dogara, on Monday in Abuja advocated for enduring solution to the crises in the Niger Delta region.
Dogara made the call when he declared open a public hearing on alleged violation of Public Procurement Act/Abuse of the Amnesty programme organised by the Committees on Public Procurement and Niger Delta Affairs.
Represented by Rep. Leo Ogor, the Minority Leader, Dogara stressed the urgent need to solve the problems besetting the amnesty programme with a view to making it more result-oriented than it now is.
“Let me use this opportunity to state that a more permanent solution which directly empowers the areas and stakeholders where oil and gas is produced should be instituted in order to achieve better fiscal, social and environmental equity.
“It is in this regard that we welcome the recent announcement of the Hon. Minister of State, Petroleum, Mr Ibe Kachikwu, for the unveiling of a 20-point agenda aimed at instituting permanent peace in the oil-producing region.
“It is worthy of note that the activities of the militants cost Nigeria, the giant of Africa to lose its position as the largest producer and exporter of oil on the African continent,” he said.
The speaker noted that efforts aimed at alleviating the plight of the Niger Delta and the ex-militants had not yielded the desired results owing to challenges of implementing the amnesty programme.
He identified lack of transparency, fraud, diversion and mismanagement of amnesty funds, refusal of agencies to release funds for the effective running of the programme and in some instances outright corruption and impunity as some of the challenges facing it.
“These challenges have led to the renewed tension, agitation and militancy in the region since 2015.
“Indeed, Nigeria lost about 3,000 Mega Watts of electricity to militancy in the Niger Delta, since then, according to Raji Fashola, the Hon. Minister of Works, Power and Housing.
“We as a parliament committed ourselves in our Legislative Agenda to support the Executive arm of government in its efforts to ensure transparency and strict adherence to mandatory public procurement processes as provided in our laws (Public Procurement Act 2007).
“This cannot be compromised in its application to the Presidential Amnesty Programme,” Dogara warned.
Also members of the committee and other stakeholders at the public hearing decried the alleged abuse of award of contracts worth N450 billion approved and disbursed by the last administration.
While responding to inquiries from the lawmakers, Mr Durojaiyeola Tikolo, former Director in charge of procurement in the Amnesty Office, disclosed that none of the contracts awarded were referred to the Federal Executive Council for approval.
He also noted that contracts running into hundreds of millions of Naira for services and a threshold of N1 billion for works were all handled internally based on the emergency nature of the situation.
In his remarks, Mr Abbas Braimah, former House of Representatives member who described the public hearing as “timely”, urged the house to ensure the prosecution of the companies that failed to appear before the committee.
“The joint committee should use the instrumentality of the law and Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), at its disposal to be able to drive this task to a desired stage.
“Those companies that have failed to avail themselves for this exercise should be recommended for prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) because we are talking about N450 billion over a period of 10 years that have been frittered away.
“Till today, Niger Delta is still suffering all kinds of degradation with such huge resources.
“I want to urge the joint committee to be objective, realistic and holistic in putting together its findings so that when the report is submitted to the house, the Parliament will be able to do a comprehensive cerebral architecture of the report for implementation,” Braimah said.
In his presentation, Mr Timi Alaibe, former Special Adviser to late president Umaru Yar’Adua on Niger Delta Affairs, noted that “the times are critical for the people of Niger Delta once again’’.
“Our late President, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua established the amnesty programme to stabilise the condition but today, the circumstances that led to the taking up of arms have not changed.
“What we are doing today in the name of amnesty is only a fraction of the whole gamut,” he said.
According to him, the five-component programme namely disarmament, re-integration and rehabilitation, critical infrastructure and economic development; environmental mediation in line with the UNEP report; involvement of Niger Delta communities in the process of oil and gas assets have been jettisoned.
Rep. Wole Oke, the Chairman, House Committee on Public Procurement, who frowned at the gross abuse of the initiative, queried the award of contracts to fictitious companies and individuals in breach of the Public Procurement Act.
Oke, who accused officials of Amnesty Programme Office, alleged collusion between the amnesty office and some individuals to defraud the government as some of the companies engaged to provide services by the amnesty programme did not meet minimum pre-requisite qualification for contracts awarded to them.
“According to reports we got from the office of Accountant-General of the Federation, the sum of N450 billion has been expended on the amnesty programme and we are asking as to whether all that was done was in line with the Procurement Act,” Oke said.