June 7, 2011

Controversial probes of Sixth Senate


The immediate past Senate, the sixth since the introduction of the Senate in the second republic received about 500 bills and numerous motions during it life span. Approximately 89 of the bills were passed while a number of others are still in the legislative process.

It also passed 118 motions, notable among which was the Doctrine of Necessity which the President of that Senate, Senator David mark and many other Nigerians have prided as the most outstanding legislative proposal of the sixth Senate.

In its twilight, the sixth Senate also went into the record books for passing the 12_year old Freedom Information Bill, and altered sections of the 1999 Constitution, the first so ever by any National Assembly.

Further more, it has been taking plaudits from Nigerians for amending the electoral act which formed the bedrock for the relative success of the 2011 elections. The sixth Senate would also be credited with its well intended intervention into the banking crisis and the resultant enactment of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria, to assume responsibilities of managing the toxic assets of the banks.

It also within this period passed the sovereign wealth fund bill and the hydro electric power commission and the tobacco control bills.

But it could have done more.

Nigerians are still left in awe over the failure to enact the Petroleum Industry Bill. The bill has been attested to by the Senators themselves as the solution to the problems of the oil sector. Promises were made over and over again that the bill, meant to liberate the Nigeria oil industry will be passed before the expiry of the sixth Senate. But what Nigerians were made to believe was the admission by the sixth Senate that the PIB could not have been passed before it wound up.

Other bills such as existing Vacancies bill, Nigeria Coast Guard bill, National Transport Commission bill, Mortgage Regulatory Bill and Labour Act have been left unfinished by the sixth Senate.

In writing the annals of the sixth Senate, mention will also be made of the numerous probes and investigation of government ministries, departments and agencies embarked upon by the Senate within the last four years.

Was the fallout from the probes commensurate with the monies and time spent? The Senate kicked started its spate of probes with the FCT followed by the transport sector probe, the food crisis probe, aviation probe and incessant drop calls by GSM providers probe.

The probe of the transport sector for example began ot the instance of Senator Ayogu Eze who through a motion called for an investigation into the transport sector following what he described as the deplorable conditions of road infrastructures which has resulted in numerous deaths, despite the over N1 trillion pumped into the transport sector by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The investigative probe was headed by Senator Heinekin Lokpobiri. In the course of the probe powerful figures in the Peoples Democratic Party PDP, including Chief Tony Anenih who was a Minister of Works during the Obasanjo era were summoned by the Committee.

He was alleged to have collected over N300 billion for road projects, but the continued bad states of the roads did not portray the huge investments by government. The probe became a show of some sort as Chief Anenih and Adeseye Ogunlewe who were ministers during the period under investigation took charge of proceedings.

Chief Anenih for instance was not amused by the summon thereby causing Senator Lokpobiri to offer profuse apologies to him several occasions. The probe however indicted him of non judicious expedition of the money, but the report was left fallow by government, while the Committee went on sitting for many months.

The investigation was recorded in some quarters as a punitive action initiated by the Mark Senate directed against Chief Anenih on account of the alleged role of the latter in mobilizing support against Mark during the Senate leadership contest of 2007. That the motion was moved by Senator Eze, one of the strategists in the Mark inner circle and that the probe panel was masterminded by another Mark acolyte, Lokpobiri further fired the suspicion.

However, following the reconciliation of Mark and Anenih as manifested by Anenih’s prominent role during Mark’s formal declaration for re_election in Otukpo early this year, the report of that committee has continued to gather dust.

The FCT probe which was the first of the kind was another show in futility as results from the probe was never implemented. It was presumably in response to outcries from Nigerians concerning the perceived high handedness of the then immediate past Minister of FCT, Nasir El_Rufia. So Senator Abubakar Sodangi who was the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Federal Capital Territory was given the responsibility of investigating the FCT administration between 1999 and 2007.

There were accusations     from Nigerians that El-Rufai in his quest to clean up the FCT, rendered many people homeless through demolitions of houses, evictions and land revocations. Not less than 75,000 houses were allegedly demolished by El_Rufai, with claims of several deaths resulting from the shock.

But when the minister appeared before the Committee, he denied the allegations and backed his action with the law saying all the houses demolished violated the FCT building plans.

The Committee was regarded as having failed El-Rufai once regarded as a villain left the public hearing with his head held high. Senator Sodangi however turned in report seeking to ban the ex Minster from public office. It was first rejected on technical grounds, and later accepted by the Senate.

However, most of the recommendations were not implemented. The expectations of compensation by those who lost their houses and lands during the period was also dashed.

The Aviation sector probe followed the internal investigations by the Senate Committee on Aviation of the misuse of the N19.5 billion safe Tower Project. The Senate mandated it Committee on Aviation headed by Senator Anyim Ude to probe the utilisation of the N19.5 billion safe tower project for major airports in the country.

The Committee unearthed some startling revelations that two former ministers and some officials of the ministry of Aviation overreached themselves by inflating contracts for the projects. One of the Ministers was also alleged to have awarded a contract for perimeter fencing for an airport at N506 million.

Though the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC took over the investigation at some point by whisking away Professor Babalola Borishade and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode over allegations of fraud, nothing was heard of the probe after that.

Another controversial probe undertaken by the sixth Senate was that of food crisis in the country.

The probe was conducted by an ad-hoc committee led by Senator Idris Umar. Like the transportation committee, suspicion of mischief was raised by the fact that an ad-hoc committee was constituted to do the job. The feeling was that the late Senator Tawar Wada who was chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture at that time could not be “trusted” to do the “job”.

The probe it was learnt arose from the determination of some Senators to deal with the then Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Abba Ruma.

The Committee invited many stakeholders from the agriculture sector to unravel the mystery surrounding drop in food production in the country. Awards of contracts for the construction of silos across the country were also investigated. It was startling that some of the contractors did not even know the project sites after collecting mobilisation.

Stories of heavy equipment been stolen by thieves from site or being blown away by wind were told the Committee. The Committee also heard how grains stored for the market in times of shortages were distributed to prominent Nigerians including emirs and chiefs.

The Senate also mandated the panel to probe the N300 billion spent under the Obasanjo administration on fertiliser procurement and distribution. Yet with all the startling revelations in the course of the probe and after months of sittings, and traveling across Nigeria, the sixth Senate was not able to debate the report of the Committee.

Even though eventful, the expensive probes of the sixth Senate were largely seen as means of political witch-hunting and where they were not left in suspense, the reports and recommendations of the completed probes were largely ignored.