BY OKEY NDIRIBE
The year 2012 was a turbulent one for the House of Representatives. Members had reconvened early in the year with an emergency plenary session held on Sunday, January 8 to consider a burning national issue; the withdrawal of subsidy from petrol which was announced on new year day by the Petroleum Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPRA)- a subsidiary of Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
The lawmakers had at that plenary session passed a resolution asking President Goodluck Jonathan to reverse the decision which had resulted in the price of fuel jumping from N65 to N141per litre.
Prior to the plenary session of the House, tension had mounted to an all time high due to the nation-wide opposition against the policy of total deregulation of the downstream sector of the petroleum industry. The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), the Trade Union Congress (TUC) and civil society groups had not only rejected the Federal Government’s decision, but actually mobilised Nigerian workers and the civil society for an indefinite national strike.
The House had agreed with labour and civil society groups that the Augean stables in the nation’s petroleum industry had to be cleansed first before the masses could be justifiably asked to tighten their belts for the umpteenth time.
The lawmakers had in pursuit of the sanitisation agenda for the sector, set up an ad-hoc committee to investigate fuel subsidy payments to marketers for the past three years. The Committee was headed by Hon. Farouk Lawan (PDP, Kano).
The committee in its report called for a probe into the disappearance of a whopping $6.8 billion allegedly lost since 2009 through the graft-ridden fuel subsidy scheme.
However, some Nigerians had expressed fear that the report may not change much, given that it implicated some in the elite class that dominate politics and business in Nigeria.
At the start of debate on the report, Speaker Aminu Tambuwal had warned his colleagues to “be mindful that those indicted will fight back and they normally do fight dirty,”.
It was prophetic to the point as no sooner than the report was presented that established institutions and persons in the polity commenced a campaign of calumny against the report.
Chairman of the Committee was soon caught in a web of allegations and counter-allegations over a demand of $3 million from oil magnate Femi Otedola for the purpose of removing Zenon Oil and Gas from the list of those indicted in the report.
Lawan was accused of receiving $620,000 as part payment for the bribe. Otedola alleged in the media that he gave the money to Lawan and the committee secretary for the purpose of delisting his company’s name from the list of those indicted by the ad-hoc committee. Lawan’s denials were put in doubt after audio recording of the transactions between him and Otedola wee released to the media.
The House in a swift response after a plenary session suspended Lawan as Chairman of the ad-hoc committee and also suspended him from his regular positin as Chairman of the House Committee on Education while the allegation was referred to the Ethics Committee and Privileges Committee of the House.
The lawmakers also re-list Mr. Otedola’s Zenon Oil and Gas and Synopsis Enterprise on the list of indicted companies that had earlier been delisted by Lawan.
The subsidy probe was to turn into an issue that has continued to dog relations between the House and the executive arms of government for most of the year.
It was as such no surprise that as the House proceeded on a two month recess last July that the members picked on another issue, the poor implementation of the budget to lay down dire warnings for the president.
In a non-binding resolution, the House drew attention to the poor implementation of the 2012 budget and pledged to launch impeachment proceedings should the poor attitude of the president continue on resumption in September.
One agency of the administration that was particularly at odds with the House in the outgoing year was the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
The SEC Director-General Ms Arunma Oteh had elicited the hostility of the lawmakers when she accused the Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Markets Herman Hembe of demanding for a N44 million bribe from the commission during its investigation of circumstances surrounding the near collapse of the capital market. Hembe was subsequently suspended from leading the Committee.
Nevertheless, the Adhoc Committee which was set up to continue with the assignment with Hon. Ibrahim El-Sudi as Chairman later submitted a damning report recommending that Oteh be removed as DG of SEC because she wasn’t originally qualified to hold the position in the first place. The Committee’s recommendation was adopted by the whole House when it was presented last September.
The presidency was to cavalierly dismiss the House resolution when it recalled Oteh from suspension just about the time the House adopted its resolution on the SEC boss.
The House has sustained its pressure on the presidency on the Oteh issue as it in the 2013 budget introduced a clause barring SEC from spending any income accruing to it until it is appropriated by the National Assembly. The House has also taken every opportunity to embarrass officials of SEC under Oteh turning them away from sectoral meetings.
Another major activity which occupied the attention of the lawmakers throughout the out-going year was their effort to further amend the 1999 Constitution that has been identified as flawed in many areas. The work of the House in this regard culminated in the holding of Peoples’ Public Sessions in all but a few of the 360 federal constituencies across the country.
The frosty relationship between the House and the Presidency notwithstanding, the lawmakers surprisingly passed the 2013 budget on the last day of the plenary session before they began their end of the year recess. The passage of the debate was despite serious objections from some Turks in the House who sought to get a pound of flesh from the presidency.
They were, however, disarmed by the persistent interventions of Senator Joy Emodi, the Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters who in the face of all the bad blood remained a channel of communication between the two arms.