In this report, SUNDAY ABORISADE and LEKE BAIYEWU examine endless probes by both chambers of the National Assembly and observe that the investigations have produced few or no effects.
Consecutively, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, asked all ad hoc committees of the House to lay their reports by the end of April 2021. He made the announcement on April 20; reminded the concerned committees again on April 21.
Indeed, many probes have been pending – or even abandoned – by the various panels given the tasks. Yet, hardly does the House sit without resolving to carry out one investigation or the other. It is a similar case in the Senate.
Since the 9th National Assembly was inaugurated on June 11, 2019, the House alone has been handling various cases bothering on public institutions and funds. Close watchers of the probes have stated that leakages in the system could be saved if only the legislature has been carrying out its oversight duties effectively.
Several members of the National Assembly have by way of motions raised the alarm over the alleged corruption and mismanagement of public resources, leading to investigations by standing and ad hoc committees. The panels either promptly carry out the probes and present their reports or dither on the assignment till the Assembly winds down or the issues are overtaken by events.
While it is part of the oversight function of the National Assembly to carry out the various probes, Nigerians are, however, divided over how much the probes have achieved in saving the economy or fixing the rot in the system.
Probes, probes and probes
The House alone is presently handling various cases bothering on public institutions and funds. For instance, the House began one of the biggest investigations in terms of monetary value, to probe Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency for allegedly failing to remit revenue totalling N1.343tn to the Federal Government coffers.
On December 12, 2019, the House resolved to investigate Federal Government MDAs over fraudulent insurance policies. The Minority Whip, Gideon Gwani, had in a motion raised the alarm over some of the insurance ventures outside the country which “tremendously promote money laundering and illicit financial flow to the tune of several billions of naira in the insurance sector.”
Gwani had said, “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 Insurance Act 2003 by some Federal Government institutions and some security agencies in collaboration with insurance companies that do not pay claims.”
On December 17, 2019, the House started investigation of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund over alleged illegal expenditures, especially the about N2.3bn spent on staff training without approval.
On December 11, 2019, the House, based on a motion moved by Mr Benjamin Bem, started an investigation of the decadence of infrastructure at the Apapa and Tin Can Island Ports and the roads leading to the ports in Lagos, causing Nigeria to lose N600bn revenue monthly.
Also on November 27, 2019, the House started an investigation of the collapse of the Delta Steel Company built with $1.89bn. A member of the House, Mr Ben Igbakpa, while moving a motion to call for the probe, said, “By 1997, all the mills had lain comatose despite decades of funding by the Federal Government as a one-million tonne capacity steel plant billed to produce 950,000 metric tonnes of billets and 320,000 metric tonnes of rolled products could hardly produce a single billet and the foundry unit, which earlier produced spare parts for Peugeot Automobile of Nigeria in Kaduna, had long been closed down.”
On November 21, 2019, the House launched an investigation of the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency over a contract entered into on behalf of Nigeria with a foreign private company, HLS International Limited, for the supply of certain security and surveillance equipment and systems. The contract was said to worth $214,830,000, including $195,300,000 for the actual contract and an additional $19,530,000 NIMASA agreed to pay to HLSI for ‘Management Training Consideration.’
Also on November 21, 2019, the House began a probe into the ‘Turn Around Maintenance’ of the petroleum refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna within four years, costing a total sum of $396.33m.
On November 7, 2019, the House launched an investigation of the failure to refund $7bn withdrawn from Nigeria’s foreign reserves by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2006, which was paid to banks and assets managers. A member, Mr Abubakar Ahmad, who moved the motion for the probe, recalled that sometime in 2006, the CBN disbursed $7bn of Nigeria’s $38.07bn foreign reserves to 14 Global Asset Managers and their 14 Nigerian banks local partners to manage. The House was now interested in why the money had not been repaid 13 years after disbursement.
Also in November 2019, the joint Senate and House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission launched a probe of the Federal Government and 17 local and international oil companies over their indebtedness to the NDDC to the tune of N72bn and $73m, while the Federal Government alone owed NDDC N1.2tn.
On October 25, 2019, the House queried the abandoned state of the contract awarded for the installation of closed circuit television cameras in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, for which $460m loan obtained was obtained from the China-EXIM Bank. The Committee on Finance asked why the CCTV cameras are not working years after the loan was obtained. The fund for the project was to be taken out of a $600m financing portfolio, which was secured as a soft credit loan, with interest repayable in 10 years, after an initial 10 years of grace.
On September 25, 2019, the House resolved to investigate the debt portfolio of the Assets Management Corporation of Nigeria and the bad debtors on AMCON’s list, whose debts totalled about N5.4tn.
On July 25, 2019, the House resolved to investigate the contracts awarded and payments made to contractors by the Federal Government to revive the power sector. According to a motion unanimously adopted by the lawmakers, the probe will cover the $16bn spent by the President Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration between 1999 and 2007. It would also over the administrations of Umaru Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan and the incumbent Muhammadu Buhari, according to the resolution by the House.
In 2020 alone, the House is carrying out various probes. Prominent among them is that concerning the Niger Delta Development Commission, especially its Interim Management Committee, over alleged illegal spending of N81.5bn.
There is also the N613bn allegedly not accounted for by the Nigeria Correctional Service (formerly Nigerian Prison Service).
The House is also probing alleged annual revenue leakage due to racketeering of $30bn forex by multinational oil companies, banks and others.
Similarly, the lawmakers are investigating the $467m and N43.5bn spent by Nigerian Communications Satellites Limited on NIGCOMSAT satellites, which have failed.
Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, had on May 12, 2020, inaugurated an ad hoc committee to investigate the number and condition of capital projects abandoned by the Federal Government across Nigeria, valued at N230bn.
Earlier on March 19, 2020, the House had resolved to investigate the environmental hazards posed by a project of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited valued at $10bn.
Same day, the House also started to investigate the disbursement of the N104,226,956,985.10 released by the Central Bank of Nigeria for the Anchor Borrowers Programme of the regime of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). The lawmakers are shedding its spotlight on the N81.5bn which the borrowers have allegedly not refunded, out of the N86.6bn so far disbursed to them by the Bank of Agriculture.
On March 4, 2020, the House resolved to investigate payment of $30,000 daily or N4bn annually as demurrage on a floating dock acquired by the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency for N50bn.
Also being probed by the House are the funds donated by international organisations to finance projects in the agriculture sector, such as FADAMA, amounting to over $1bn.
Committee reports abandoned not considered months after
As far back as July 23, 2020, the House Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission had laid its report on the infamous investigation of alleged extra-budgetary spending and mismanagement of funds by the NDDC.
The committee had in the report indicted the then Interim Management Committee of the NDDC and recommended members of the IMC for prosecution by anti-corruption agencies for alleged breach of financial regulations.
The House had, however, stepped down consideration of the report for a review. Nothing has been heard of the bill since then.
Both the Senate and the House had on May 5, 2020, separately resolved to investigate the alleged spending of over N40bn by the Expanded Interim Management Committee of the NDDC between October 2019 and May 2020 without approval.
It was later discovered that the NDDC had spent N81.5bn by June 2020.
Almost one year after the House raised the alarm over “dangerous” clauses in loan and commercial agreements with international bodies and other countries, especially China, the probe has become inconclusive, our correspondent reports.
The House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, which is conducting the investigation, held its last public activity on the matter on August 18, 2020, when it suspended its investigative hearing. Chairman of the committee, Nicholas Ossai has yet to lay a report on the probe before the House.
The House had in plenary on May 12, 2020, criticised Nigeria’s loan agreements with China, calling for a review of the deals and cancellation of the latest ones under the Muhammadu Buhari-led regime. It had also decried that the National Assembly does not have the details of the loans, insisting that subsequent ones must comply with the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Another issue of public interest is the investigation of the DSTV, a digital satellite television broadcaster owned by Multichoice, a South African-based company.
The House had set up and mandated an ad hoc committee on March 17, 2020, to investigate DSTV and other cable television service providers in Nigeria. The House had, again on June 2, passed another resolution, mandating the panel to invite DSTV to explain its tariff increment on June 1.
Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Communications, Unyime Idem, who headed the panel had since February 24, 2021, laid the report and it has yet to be considered by the House.
Critical bills also suffer delays
Like probes, reports on bills also suffer delays. While some committee have yet to hold public hearings on bills referred to them, some have taken inputs from stakeholders but have yet to turn in their reports, while other have laid their reports but the House has yet to consider them.
Apart from the fact that the Committee on Justice laid its reports on the establishment of the South West Development Commission and the South-South Development Commission, the House has yet to consider the documents over two months after.
Chairman of the committee, Ozurigbo Ugonna, laid the reports on March 25, 2021. Meanwhile, the House referred the bill on SWDC to the panel on February 25, 2020, while the SSDC bill was referred to it on March 4, 2020.
Also, the Committee on Electoral Matters had since February 23, 2021, laid its report on the Electoral Act 2010 (Amendment) Bill. Chairman of the committee, Aishatu Dukku, had prayed them House to “receive the report of the Committee on Electoral Matters on a Bill for an Act to Repeal the Electoral Act, 2010 and Enact the Electoral Act, 2021 to Regulate the Conduct of Elections in Federal, States and Area Councils in the Federal Capital Territory; and for Related Matters.”
Despite that the House had on different occasions listed the bill as one of the priority legislations in chamber, the report has not been considered and adopted ever since.
Another bill of interest is the controversial Quarantine Act (Repeal and Enactment) Bill 2020, also known as the Infectious Diseases Control Bill. The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; Chairmen of the House Committees on Health Institutions and Health Services, Messrs Paschal Obi and Tanko Sununu, respectively, jointly sponsored the bill.
The House had on May 1, 2020, passed for bill for second reading, with a plan to skip its referral to a committee to conduct public hearing but to consider it for third reading same day. The stiff opposition by some members of the chamber had forced the House to suspend the process.
Sununu had laid the report on the bill on February 9, 2021, though it was referred to the panel on May 12, 2020.
Following the nationwide protests against police brutality and human rights abuses, codenamed #EndSARS, the House had introduced a bill seeking to give more powers to the Police Service Commission, including taking complaints, investigating and punishing men of the Nigeria Police Force.
The Police Service Commission (Reform) Bill had passed the first reading on November 24, 2020; second reading on December 15, 2020, but public hearing was not held on the bill until March 25, 2021.
While the Committee on Police Affairs has yet to turn in its report, the acting Inspector-General of Police, Usman Alkali Baba, who met with the leadership of the House of Representatives April 21, 2021, urged the lawmakers to expedite action on the police bills before them. “Like Oliver Twist, we will still ask for more because there are still other laws that will help us in our operations and performance. Two of them are pending: the Police Service Commission Bill and the National Institute of Police Studies Bill. These are two bills that are also germane and they will assist us in our day to day running of the Nigeria Police Force,” he said.
Leadership’s move to reconfigure committee activities
At the peak of the hullabaloo over Chinese loans, The PUNCH had gathered that standing and ad hoc committees of the House would soon get new rules, modalities and terms of reference. On August 31, 2020, it was gathered that the leadership of the House would create the new policies in a move to prevent recurrence of the embarrassments caused by the recent and ongoing activities by its panels.
The new rules would, among other things, check “highhandedness” by the chairman of a committee when engaging the head of a ministry, department and agency of the Federal Government. The new policy will also prevent clashes and rivalry among the committees, while the terms of reference and scope of assignments given to them would not be modified or expanded without the approval of the entire chamber. The leadership was also considering forcing panels to conclude probes and assignments within specific times, while the chairmen must carry the vice-chairmen and members along on every task.
A top official close to the leadership of the House had alleged that committees were breaking the House Standing Orders in the process of carrying out responsibilities assigned to them.
House blames delays on COVID-19 pandemic
Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu has, however, blamed the COVID-19 pandemic for frustrating the legislative activities in the National Assembly. The House’ spokesman noted that duties were either suspended or skeletally carried out during the lockdowns.
Kalu said, “I have answered this question before; I think that was at the last interaction we had (between him and journalists). I told you that because of COVID-19, a lot of speed of the parliamentary processes have been reduced, because we are not sitting fully all the time. We moved from three days to two days and at a point, one day. So, you don’t expect everything to be at the same speed that ordinarily it should be. It is a common knowledge what is happening in the whole world; it is not just Nigeria alone. In the parliaments across the world, the speed of everything is affected – businesses, everything. Gradually, things are picking up and I think this addresses your concern. There is no explanation other than our inability to work hard as before.”
Kalu noted that while committees have been working underground, reports are being considered gradually as the House sits as Committee of the Whole. He, however, noted that the plenary can also not exceed a duration of time, in compliance with COVID-19 protocol.
When asked about committees that had been given tasks long before the outbreak of the pandemic, the House’ spokesman stated that panels are allowed to seek extension of time if they are not done with specific assignments. “It is part of parliamentary practice that, if in the course of an investigation, the time allocated by the House is not enough, they are allowed to seek the permission of the House to extend their time and widen the scope of their investigation,” he noted.
Kalu also stressed that while the standing committees were inaugurated in October 2019, some of the mandates given to them might not have been executed by the time the pandemic began.
What House earlier claimed to have frustrated Electoral Act amendment
Kalu had addressed journalists after plenary on February 24, 2021, to say that the ongoing nationwide registration and revalidation exercise by the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress, was frustrating the amendment to the Electoral Act. He had also said the chamber would consider and pass the report on the Electoral Act Amendment Bill 2020 when members, who were in their constituencies to campaign for APC membership, returned to legislative duties. He had also noted that the electoral bill is one of the priority legislations of the parliament.
The House’s spokesman said, “We have promised Nigerians that the bill will be out before the middle of this year, which is June. We are certain that it will not go beyond the middle of this year. The determination of the House is to get it discharged even before the end of April. As you all know, the report is ready; it was tabled for presentation yesterday (Tuesday). But due to the fact that most members wanted the report to come in and be considered the same day, and the House needed to be full to do that, it was stepped down. The Electoral Act is very important to what we do and you cannot consider it when we have a lot of constituencies not represented on the floor.
“As you are aware, most members are at their various constituencies now particularly members of APC, doing the membership drive and if you consider the report and you cut out some members who are supposed to be there to see whether the clauses, paragraphs, the provision of the particular bill covers their interest or not, you are doing a disservice to the people that they represent.
“So, in the wisdom of the leadership of the house, it decided to suspend it until we are able to have a fuller house to be able to do the consideration because it is one of those laws that affects the whole nation. It is time sensitive. In law, we say time is of the essence in the formalisation of this Electoral Act and having that in mind, we are going to prioritise the Electoral Act because of the time element in it.
“Be assured that in no distant time, it is going to come up for laying because they have finished the technical work on it. So let’s have a fuller house that will be able to ensure that all the clauses carry the intention of the house.”
Kalu was asked whether party issues should have priority over national issues. Responding, he said, “No, reasonability takes place. We need to apply our reason.” He added, “For example, if a member goes out to pray and you raised a very important motion when you know most of them are praying. You are not being reasonable. It is just like asking whether religious interest should go against national interest. You are not killing the initiative, but suspending it to carry members along. The parliament of the people should carry everybody along.
“It has nothing to do with the political party. But APC is a major political party in the House and you know that the House works with numbers. It is important to give everybody the opportunity to participate in either voice vote or saying no.
“The House was under pressure to get it done the same day and we know it is important to do it so that the timetable of elections will start counting very well, we must consider the fact that it must be done in a better way that is all inclusive. That was what influenced it and not the political party influencing it. It was reasonability that took the order of the day.”
Parliamentary resolutions are only advisory – Lawmaker
Speaking on the principle of checks and balances, the lawmaker representing Bida/Katcha/Gbako Federal Constituency in Niger State, Mr Saidu Abdullahi, said the National Assembly has done so much in carrying out its oversight roles on the Executive arm of government.
When asked about the series of resolutions by the parliament through bills and motion, which the Executive has allegedly serially ignored, Abdullahi said, “Now, you have a point there. I am sure that the leadership (of the House) is approaching it differently. There has been that concern from members of the House that in spite of the support that we are giving the Executive, we are not getting reciprocity from the Executive. I am sure that it is a problem that the leadership of both chambers (Senate and House) are taking it very seriously. You have seen a lot of engagements with the Executive, particularly the President and some ministers. I am sure those meetings are tilted towards ensuring that the relationship we are enjoying now translates into something meaningful for the betterment of the country.
“The fact of the matter is that motions do not carry the weight of a law; they are not binding on the Executive, they are more like suggestions. Of course, nobody has monopoly of wisdom and I think, just like you said, there is the need for the Executive to open their minds more; to listen more to the words of wisdom coming from both chambers of the National Assembly.”
When asked if the resolutions by the 469 members of the National Assembly, who are representing the over 200 million Nigerians on national issues, do not carry weight such that the fewer members of the Executive can easily dismiss them, the lawmaker said, “That is why I said the Executive must be more open to accepting some of those things that are coming out of the National Assembly.”
Mega probes that died with 8th Assembly
In the 8th National Assembly (2015 to 2019), the House had set up an Ad Hoc Committee Investigating the Activities of the National Pension Commission and Violation of the PenCom Act. The committee was mandated by the House to probe into the withdrawal of N33bn by PenCom from a Central Bank of Nigeria account, alleged non-remittance of funds to Pension Fund Custodians and Administrators, among others. Several staggering revelations were made during the investigative hearings by the panel. The probe, however, died with the 8th Assembly.
Another botched probe in the 8th Assembly was done by the joint Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff; and Marine Transport to investigate the revenue leakages in the import and export value chain valued at N30tn. The committee had presented an interim report in 2017 in which it claimed that it had recovered over N140bn from banks and companies. The final report did not come till the Assembly was terminated in June 2019.
Another major probe by the 8th Senate, which was inconclusive, was by the Ad Hoc Committee on Investigation of the Local Content Elements and Cost Variations of the $16bn Egina Offshore Oil Project, which had ordered that the accounts of the project be audited. The committee had said the audit was to ensure that Nigeria was not trapped in “perpetual debt” without any benefits from the project. The project, which started in 2013 and is being undertaken by Total Upstream Nigeria Limited, was said to have been almost 90 per cent completed as of January 2018.