Posted by News Express | 12 May 2017 | 1,625 times
“A man interrupted one of Buddha’s lectures with a flood of abuses. Buddha waited until he had finished, and then asked him: If a man offered a gift to another but the gift was declined, to whom would the gift belong? To the one who offered it, said the man. Then, said the Buddha, I decline to accept your abuse and request you to keep it for yourself.”
The above quote to a very large extent captures the relationship between the National Assembly and some Nigerians who see no good in the parliament. So, like Buddha, the National Assembly can reject the abuses, but must continue to deliver on its legislative functions. The National Assembly has been abused and there have been strident calls for its abolition, as many continue to question its relevance. The example of Senegal, which recently did away with its Senate, has no doubt provided some impetus.
The National Assembly must take some blame for its poor rating in the estimation of some Nigerians. The media that would have played a mediating role hasn’t also been helpful. It has consistently portrayed the National Assembly as the most corrupt of the three arms of government, a portrayal that some Nigerians have bought hook, line and sinker. But there’s abundant evidence that the Executive arm is the most corrupt – the Global Health Fund scandal in which seven officials of the Federal Ministry of Health were caught “red handed” stealing funds meant for HIV/AIDS Programme is just one example of many. The Global Health Fund has in very clear terms asked the Federal Government for a refund of the $4 million the seven officials of the Federal Ministry of Health stole, through over-invoicing. There is also the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), David Babachir Lawal’s grass-cutting contract. He was only suspended following the intervention of the European Union, which raised the funds in question for the reconstruction of the North-East. If these scandals were by any of the two arms of the National Assembly, heavens would have fallen. The truth is that in spite of the negative perception, the National Assembly is no doubt working.
But for Senator Kabiru Marafa, Chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum Downstream Sector, Nigeria would have lost N11 trillion, an amount almost twice the size of the 2017 budget. But not many Nigerians took note of the tremendous work the Senate committee had put in, in uncovering the monumental corruption, not to talk of giving the National Assembly any credit. The Senate had uncovered the N11 trillion fraud perpetuated by officials of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) in connivance with officials of some independent petroleum marketers and some other key players in the petroleum sector, between 2006 and 2016.
Credit must go to the ‘useless’ National Assembly, and Senator Marafa in particular, for the painstaking job that unravelled the scam. Like the National Assembly, Marafa had for some weeks ago come under heavy attack, for “being quiet”. One of his attackers had asked: “Do people still remember the name Senator Kabiru Marafa?” He went on to ask: “Have you heard his voice lately?” Unknown to these attack dogs, Marafa was quietly conducting an investigation that will recover for Nigeria more than N11 trillion, an amount that can comfortably fund the 2017 budget, with some hefty balance.
The takeaways in the vicious attacks against the National Assembly, is an alarming ignorance about the working of the National Assembly. It is sad that many of those attacking the National Assembly, do not know that most work is actually done in the committees, than in plenary. Another take-away has to do with the fact that of the three arms of government, only the National Assembly conducts its affairs in the full glare of the public. So, while we can see a Senator Dino Melaye fight, we don’t get to see the former Minister of Environment Amina Mohammed tongue-lash Abba Kyari, the Chief of Staff. So Nigerians have this impression of an executive that is united, and a rowdy parliament.
Marafa, as chairman of the Petroleum Downstream Sector committee and Dr Bukola Saraki, Senate president, must be commended for their deft moves, which significantly helped in exposing the oil thieves. Before moving the motion on the theft of petroleum products, they had sought audience with President Muhammadu Buhari, who doubles as the Minister of Petroleum, to intimate him with the scandal. The need to see the President and “carry him along” was necessary and a political master-stroke by Saraki and Marafa, otherwise political jobbers would have interpreted it to mean “fighting” the President. And there would have been a march on the National Assembly. Lawal, the suspended Secretary to Government of the Federation, was notorious in funding such demonstrations against the National Assembly. Credit goes to the president for giving them the much-needed support. Not many Nigerians remember that President Buhari is the Minister of Petroleum.
The Senate committee had discovered several dimensions of how NNPC officials perpetuate frauds. The latest is the disappearance of PMS from storage facilities leased by the corporation. On this, Marafa noted: “This committee has established the disappearance of 100 million litres of PMS from such storage arrangement, without any accountability and/or return for the value of the stolen product. Records in its possession indicated that the NNPC, during the period under investigation, imported more than 40 per cent of the fuel required for local consumption, apart from gross underutilisation of the 445,000 barrels it collected for local-refining on daily basis. We expected NNPC to have taken action against the two companies that carried out the theft.” The value of the PMS that “disappeared” from the storages leased by the NNPC is put at a conservative N14 billion.
Marafa is obviously on top of his game, and should be taken serious when he said: “The committee work will shock Nigerians. For instance, the committee wants the NNPC to explain what it has been doing with the 445,000 barrels of crude oil allocated to the NNPC for local refining? Those that have questions to answer on this issue, include past and present Chief Executive Officers of NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria, Federal Inland Revenue Service, Nigerian Customs Service, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Nigerian Ports Authority, and all licensed inspection agencies.”
With such an output, do we still doubt the relevance of the National Assembly? If the National Assembly has been abolished, as some people were canvassing of late, how would this heinous crime have been unearthed? The Ministry of Petroleum obviously was in bed with the NNPC and so couldn’t check the agency. The discovery of the fraud is the power of oversight, which further justifies the existence of the National Assembly.
Other charges against the NNPC include spending N3.8 trillion on subsidy of independent marketers. There is also a $1.5 billion that the NNPC hasn’t accounted for which it must now account for. The audacious NNPC must also account for another N5.2 trillion, which available records show it paid itself as subsidy on the 51 per cent of petroleum products it imported between 2006 and 2016.Very interesting is the confirmation that NNPC imported fuel that was more than 40 per cent of the nation’s local consumption. So, where did the difference go?
The truth is that Nigerians typically like to eat omelette without breaking eggs. The National Assembly can surely do better, even though it has been effective, in spite of its institutional challenges - each military coup meant the sacking of the Legislature – an affirmation that the parliament is the true reflection of “democracy”. The high turn-over of members, due to some ‘state emperors’ who determine who goes back or doesn’t, hasn’t helped. It is doubtful if Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives, will come back in 2019. Just as Olusegun Obasanjo in 2003 ensured that Umar Ghali, never came back. The Bauchi State Governor is up in arms against Dogara. Melaye is another senator who might not be coming back. It is obvious that Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State is determined to get Dino, who has been a thorn in his flesh, defeated.
The senatorial districts are as guilty as some of the ‘state emperors, as they hardly send their first 11 and, even when they do, local politics makes it mandatory that a senator can only spend a term and yield the position to another tribe. A Senator Esther Usman, is definitely a better representative of Southern Kaduna, than Senator Danjuma Laah, but she was sent packing by her people. Her crime was her marriage to a Muslim. Senator Victor Ndoma was a beautiful senator, but in line with the rotational basis of positions in his zone, he had to step down. Who is the senator representing that zone? An unknown personality!
America’s Senator John McCain has won election to the Senate five times, most recently in 2016. Before going to the Senate he was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1982. So from 1982 to date, McCain has been in the Congress for 35 years. The former United States vice- president, Joe Biden, spent 36 years representing his beloved Delaware Constituency until 2009, when he became the vice-president. If we want a better National Assembly, we must be ready to accept experience and opposition. McCain, a conservative, is known to disagree with his party. In Nigeria, that is an abomination.
Though the NNPC has quietly sacked some of its staff suspected to have been involved in the monumental fraud, the picture going by documents at the disposal of the National Assembly committee will be a tsunami. That the Joint Senate Committees (Upstream, Downstream and Gas) have the buy-in and crucial support of President Buhari and the Senate leadership is critical in getting to the bottom of the rot. The Senate joint committees owe it to Nigerians not only to unearth, but to put in place policies – checks and balances – that will ensure that such never happens again. Hopefully, the unbundling of the “towers of corruption” through the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) will see to that.
•Emmanuel Ado writes from Kaduna. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org
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