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The farce of Senate transport sector probe

By Abdulwahab Abubakar

IN civilised democracies of the West, the parliament is a serious-minded arm of government whose role, in the chain of governance, is very critical to the overall success of government.  Indeed, all over the world, irrespective of the levels of democratic development or awareness, the parliament, where it exists, is expected to exercise oversight checks on the other arms of government, particularly the executive.

In Nigeria, the federal parliament (National Assembly) has been trying to do that.  But since 1999 when the current Fourth Republic came into being, the oversight checks by the legislature on the executive, even though constitutionally prescribed, have been deployed as instruments of intimidation and blackmail by politically mischievous  legislators against the offices and officers of the executive arm for the advancement of personal interests.

And, this is quite sad!

Painfully, this tendency has continued to erode the potency of legislative oversight and trivialize the hitherto serious constitutional power of the National Assembly to investigate corruption as enshrined in Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution. The legislature at the Federal level, especially its ad-hoc and standing committees, no longer has the commanding authority to instill whenever there is an open declaration to expose corruption or correct lapses in the conduct of public officers.

It is against the backdrop that the investigation by the Senate into the expenditure of fund utilization in the transport sector under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration is to be analysed.  This analysis is informed by a media report (lead story of Vanguard of Monday, October 12, 2009) which indicated that the 12-member Ad-Hoc Committee, headed by Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, has indicted and recommended to the Senate, the prosecution of some former ministers, former ministers of state, a serving minister, permanent secretaries, Accountants-General of the Federation, Director General and other officials of the Budget Monitoring and Intelligence Unit (now Bureau of Public Procurement).

Snippets of the Committee report were first published by the same newspaper on Wednesday October 7, 2009.  But the purported report and the indictment contained therein had, on the basis of the newspaper publication, become a subject of investigation by the Senate, following a point of order (Orders 14 and 15 of the Senate Standing Orders, 2007 as amended), raised by Senator Nimi Barigha-Amange, calling on the Senate to investigate the leakage of the report and part of its purported content, protesting that even, as a Senator, he was yet to see or get a copy of the report.

The Senate had since directed its Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions to investigate how the report leaked and if what the newspaper published was true.  Since the report was yet to be submitted to the Senate, and since senators had not seen it, the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, was asked to focus its investigation on the 12  members of the Lokpobiri Ad-Hoc  Committee, the Committee Clerk and possibly the newspaper reporter.

Already, the development has further raised a number of questions on the integrity of the investigation into the transport sector by the Lokpobiri-led Ad-Hoc Committee. From the onset, the exercise was perceived, within and outside the Senate, as politically-motivated to settle some political and personal scores.  It is strongly believed that the objective of the probe, ab-initio, was to embarrass some persons in and outside  government for not acting politically correct or for stepping on the toes of some top shots of the Senate at some points in the past.

And, indeed, from the beginning, the investigation was enmeshed in an image problem; it was rightly considered frivolous because the motion upon which it was ordered originated as a newspaper speculation arising from the allegation by former Abia State Governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, that a whopping N300 billion was spent on road rehabilitation under the Obasanjo administration without anything to show for it.

The allegation had been pooh-poohed by the Accountant-General’s office even before the Committee held its public hearing.  The office established clearly that, in truth, less than N125 billion was released in the period that Kalu referred to.  But it was the motion by Senator Ayogu Eze, co-sponsored by no fewer than 60 other senators early last year, with allusion to the allegation by Kalu, that gave rise to the probe in question.

Amid the perception of political bias by the Senate leadership, under Senator David Mark, whose endorsement for the position of Senate President, ahead of the June 5, 2007 inauguration of the Senate was not supported by some leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the endorsement of the probe was easily interpreted as a weapon to hit back at some of them (those recommended for prosecution) who happened to have been in the saddle at one point or the other in the Ministries of Works and Transport.

But not many people are deceived by the Committee’s gambit of blanket indictment of such a large number of ministers, permanent secretaries, accountants-general and other officials, including the Director-General of the Budget Monitoring and Price Intelligence Unit (Otherwise known as Due Process).

And the officers, some elder statesmen and other renowned professionals who have served Nigeria diligently are being recommended for prosecution by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).

What exactly are the offences? First and foremost, it is good that the Committee did not say in respect of many of these people that they embezzled public funds. The former Ministers of Works are being accused of “awarding contracts without budgetary provision in the Appropriation Acts, Designs and Bills of Quantities”, while the former Ministers of Finance and Accountants-General are to go to ICPC because they “authorized payments and released funds for payment of contracts not appropriated by law and or released funds above provisions in the Appropriation Acts”.

The Director-General of Due Process and even Madam Due Process herself, Mrs. Oby Ezekwezili, who started the process, are to appear before ICPC to explain why they “issued certificates of award and payment for contracts not appropriated by the law”.

It sounds ridiculous if not outrightly nonsensical to say that due process was violated and at the same time charge those in charge of due process for issuing certificates for contracts and payments. In any case, were the contracts not awarded by the Federal Executive Council (FEC)? And if so, shouldn’t the entire FEC under Obasanjo be dragged to ICPC?

A range of other questions come to mind: When was Due Process introduced by former President Obasanjo? Were the provisions made retroactive such that every former public officer since the Obasanjo administration must be called to answer? It would seem that the Lokpobiri led Ad-Hoc Committee is driven by the blind determination to pull down those who have earned their name by hardwork and dedication.

Take a look at the Nigerians whom Senator Lokpobiri wants to drag to ICPC – Adamu Ciroma, Tony Anenih, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Oby Ezekwezili, Cornelius Adebayo, Nenadi Usman, etc. It is a travesty of the worst order for any group of political leaders, senators or whoever they are, to want to rubbish the names of these men and women who have served the nation to the best of their abilities and who deserve from the rest of us nothing less than appreciation.

Mr. Abubakar, a public affairs commentator, writes from Kaduna.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.