SUNDAY ABORISADE and LEKE BAIYEWU examine a series of probes by the National Assembly into the finances of the Federal Government’s ministries, departments and agencies that end as mere academic exercises
The National Assembly, as part of its oversight function, has been probing the activities of ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government, especially their revenues and expenditure.
Nigerians are, however, divided over how much the probes have achieved in saving the economy through blockage of leakages and prosecution of corrupt officials.
Close watchers of the probes have stated that leakages in the system can be stopped if only the legislature have been carrying out its oversight duties effectively by nipping the corrupt activities in the bud.
Several members of the National Assembly have, by way of motions and bills, 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 differ the assignment till the Assembly winds down or the issues are overtaken by events.
The House, for instance, has set up an ad hoc committee to investigate the activities of the National Pension Commission and the violation of the PenCom Act.
The committee was mandated by the House to probe the withdrawal of N33bn by PenCom from a Central Bank of Nigeria account, the 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 National 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 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 an ad hoc committee, which investigated the local content elements and cost variations of the $16bn Egina Offshore Oil Project.
The panel recommended that the accounts of the project should be audited 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 be almost 90 per cent completed as of January 2018.
Since the 9th National Assembly was inaugurated on June 11, 2019, the House alone is presently handling various cases bordering on public institutions and funds.
For instance, the House has begun one of the biggest investigations in terms of monetary value, to probe the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency for allegedly failing to remit revenue totalling N1.343tn to the Federal Government’s coffers.
On December 12, 2019, the House resolved to investigate the Federal Government’s 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 the 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 the probe of the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund over alleged illegal expenditure, especially the about N2.3bn spent on staff training without approval.
Also, on December 11, 2019, the House, based on a motion moved by Mr Benjamin Bem, commenced an investigation into 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.
Similarly, on November 27, 2019, the House started an investigation into the collapse of the Delta Steel Company built with $1.89bn.
On November 21, 2019, the House launched a probe into the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency over a contract entered into on behalf of the country 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 that 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 refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, costing a total of $396.33m within four years.
On November 7, 2019, the House launched an investigation into the failure to refund $7bn withdrawn from the foreign reserves by the Central Bank of Nigeria in 2006, which was paid to banks and assets managers.
Also, in November 2019, the joint Senate and House Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission launched a probe into the indebtedness of the Federal Government and 17 local and international oil companies to the NDDC to the tune of N72bn and $73m, while the Federal Government alone owes the agency N1.2tn.
On October 25, 2019, the House queried the abandonment 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.
On September 25, 2019, the House resolved to investigate the debt portfolio of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria and the bad debtors on its 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 former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration between 1999 and 2007.
In 2020 alone, the House is carrying out various probes. Prominent among them is that of the NDDC, especially its Interim Management Committee, over alleged illegal spending of N81.5bn.
Another is the N100bn allegedly “missing” in the North East Development Commission.
There is also the N613bn allegedly not accounted for by the Nigerian 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 the Nigerian Communications Satellites Limited on NigComSat satellites, which have failed.
The 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.
The same day, the House also commenced a probe into the disbursement of the N104,226,956,985.10 released by the CBN for the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme.
The lawmakers are shedding the 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 the payment of $30,000 daily or N4bn annually as demurrage on a floating dock acquired by NIMASA for N50bn.
Also being probed by the House are funds donated by international organisations to finance projects in the agriculture sector, such as the FADAMA, amounting to over $1bn.
The Senate in recent times launched a series of probes with resolutions forwarded to the Presidency for implementation.
For instance, the Senate has probed the over N1.8tn Federal Government’s interventions in the power sector since privatisation of the sector from 2012 to date.
It demanded the review of the alleged financial waste from the agreements signed by the Federal Government and some power generation firms in 2015.
It lamented that the country was currently losing $30m every month to the firms for power that Nigerians were not getting.
The Presidency had since faulted the findings and recommendations of the Senate, an indication that the probe remained inconclusive.
The red chamber also probed the invasion of a court by the personnel of the Department of State Services sometime in December 2016 with the report yet to be treated by the Senate.
Perhaps, the celebrated probe by both chambers is the alleged mismanagement of N40bn by the Expanded Interim Management Committee of the NDDC between October last year and May this year.
The Senate had recommended, among others, the sacking of the IMC and the movement of the agency back to the Presidency from the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs for effective supervision.
The Presidency has yet to act on the Senate resolution just as it has ignored its call for the sacking of the service chiefs over worsening security challenges.
The Presidency has also overruled the resolution of both chambers on the planned recruitment of 774,000 jobseekers being coordinated by the Federal Ministry of Labour.
The National Assembly ordered the suspension of the programme and that the National Directorate of Employment should take charge, but the ministry went ahead with the exercise.
The Executive Chairman, Centre for Anti-Corruption and Open Leadership, Mr Debo Adeniran, criticised both the National Assembly and the MDAs it performs oversight on.
Adeniran pointed out that the government could recover so much from looters and tax evaders.
He said, “The National Assembly itself is an added problem to the problem of cost of governance in Nigeria.
“The so-called oversight function that they are supposed to carry out, they do it in breach of the rules and guidelines guiding the exercise.”
In his submission, a lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Abuja, Prof. Saleh Dauda, lamented that the National Assembly had not displayed adequate commitment to carrying out its oversight function.
Dauda said, “The National Assembly should intensify its oversight role, especially on how resources are dispensed and how they are being managed. I hope the National Assembly will have a rethink and change its style, otherwise, the way things are, it is like it is already compromised in carrying out its oversight function.
The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Musa-Rafsanjani, said, “The National Assembly has a responsibility to ensure a proactive and responsive oversight.
“The executive arm of government also has a responsibility to ensure that the MDAs respect the resolutions of the parliament.”
The Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr Benjamin Kalu, explained that the parliament had the constitutional role to probe all bodies for which it approved their budgets.