By Our Reporters
ABUJA—Chairman of the House ad-hoc committee on the utilization of subsidy, Rep. Farouk Lawan at a press conference, yesterday, admitted serious pressure from government, marketers and other quarters on his committee for a favourable consideration during its investigation. Lawan at the briefing further asserted that there would be no need for fuel importation in a regime of transparency in the petroleum sector.
This came as apprehension mounted in the presidency and the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP yesterday over the contents of the House of Representatives report on investigation of the utilization of the subsidy in the prices of petroleum products.
The apprehension based on the indictment of some major contributors to the party’s campaign coffers of 2011 heightened as the PDP summoned a meeting with the members of the House for April 30.
The party, however, dismissed the alleged anxiety saying that it welcomed the probe even as it admitted that only 12.75% of those indicted by the House report were contributors to the party’s campaign purse.
The apprehension nonetheless, criticism of the administration from opposition groups, lawyers, organised labour and civil society overflowed yesterday with calls on the administration to ensure full implementation of the report.
Tukur summons PDP House caucus meeting
The perceived apprehension in the PDP came as the national chairman of the ruling party, Alhaji Bamanga Tukur yesterday requested a meeting with the PDP House caucus on April 30. More than N1 trillion was recommended by the House committee to be refunded to government treasury on account of the alleged fraud by government agencies and marketers involved in the subsidy scam.
Briefing House correspondents after yesterday’s sitting, the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Rep. Zakari Mohammed said, the recommendations of the Ad-hoc committee would be fully implemented to the letter.
Flanked by Lawan, Mohammed said, “we do not prosecute but we will ensure that the executive arm of government implements its recommendations to the letter. We will use all our legislative powers to ensure that after adoption, the report sees the light of the day.”
Asked how the legislative arm can achieve this, Mohammed said, “we are ingenuous, the executive arm will come to us also for certain things and we can use this report as a pre-condition and tell them that let this be done or we won’t do certain things that you are requesting us to do.”
Speaking at the briefing, Lawan admitted that the committee came under tremendous pressure from Government and oil marketers in the course of preparing the fuel subsidy report.
Lawan said the pressure was enormous but we considered Nigeria first “because if we free the resources in the sector of its ills it would go a long way to benefit all Nigerians rather than a few of us.”
He said: “what we did was to look at 2009 till 2011 when the fuel subsidy started skyrocketing into billions because as at 2008 the fuel subsidy was just a little above N200billion and the companies involved then were only 20.
“So we dug from 2009 where there was a proliferation of companies as we needed to limit ourselves because of time to ensure we do a very good work. There were so many pressures from government officials and marketers who wanted to reach us through some of our colleagues. If we have compromised we wouldn’t have had the courage to ask them the questions we asked them.”
He, however, dismissed the initial media reports that the committee doctored the report before it was laid before the House. “The report has revealed a lot of things, and we extended the scope of our investigation”, Lawan said, stressing that “we are asking Mr President to reorganise the Federal Ministry of Petroleum Resources”, considering the spate of corruption revealed during the probe.
The committee also asked the Presidency to dissolve the Board of NNPC and PPPRA in the bid to sanitize the sector.
He maintained that there is “no need for importation of petroleum products for local consumption, if NNPC can effectively manage the local production stressing that government was losing too much money granting licence for importation of petroleum products.”
The legislator who doubles as chairman, explained that the escalation of money spent on fuel subsidy manifested when the committee resolved to extend the scope of the investigation to 2009. He added that the committee discovered proliferation of companies that participated in the subsidy rose during the period under review.
No anxiety in PDP — Metuh
Dismissing perceptions of anxiety in the ranks of the PDP, the national publicity secretary of the party, Chief Olisa Metuh told Vanguard yesterday that the party on the contrary fully endorsed the House investigations as, according to him, it would lead to the entrenchment of a regime of transparency as envisaged by the party.
“The party is happy with the National Assembly and charged PDP members to assist the President in his fight against corruption. Last week, the Party issued a statement condemning corruption. PDP supports all the probes going on and at the end of the day, they will assist the President in establishing an open and transparent system,” he said.
Tasked on the culpability of major contributors to the party coffers by the report, he said: “The people who you are talking of were only 12.75% of those indicted by the report and I hope that the public will not say that the remaining 87.25% are being indicted for not contributing to our campaign.”
Metuh’s defence nonetheless, serious attack came the way of the ruling party and government from opposition parties and civil society groups over the contents of the report.
CPC, NLC, others kick
The Congress for Progressive Change, CPC speaking through its national publicity secretary, Engr. Rotimi Fashakin said the report represented the insensitivity and lack of conscience of the country’s present set of rulers as he accused the PDP of breaking the bank to ensure the election of President Goodluck Jonathan.
The NLC in its reaction to the report claimed the report had unveiled the corruption it said was inherent in the petroleum industry claiming it felt justified with its decision to oppose the removal of subsidy in petroleum products at the beginning of the year. The NLC in its reaction articulated by its Acting National Secretary, Comrade Owei Lakemfa equally demanded that the Ministers of Finance and Petroleum in the period during which the abuses occurred should be brought to account.
The NLC deposed thus: “For the NLC, the Report is a mere tip of the iceberg; there is the need for further investigations. For instance, the recommendation that the Executive Secretaries of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, from 2009 to date be probed, does not go far enough. There is the need to probe the oil industry from the inception of civil rule after the rapacious military regimes had departed. Some of the findings of the House Report show clear indication of criminality; therefore it is not enough for private and public organisations like the NNPC, PPPRA to be asked to make refunds. The Government has a duty to bring the officers of such organizations and their supervisors to justice.
“We also hold that the Ministers in the Finance and Petroleum Ministries and their lieutenants under whose watch the NNPC made unconstitutional deductions from the country’s oil income before dumping the balance in the Federation account, should be investigated for culpability. The massive looting of the subsidy funds and the corruption in the oil industry are sufficient grounds for the N97 per litre cost of PMS (petrol) to be drastically reduced. The NLC holds that if the government plucks up courage to do local refining, the cost of PMS need not be as high as the old price of N65 per litre.”
The NLC commends the House of Representatives and its ad hoc Committee for carrying out the probe and mustering the courage to make the Report public.
Save Nigeria Group reacts
In its own reaction to the subsidy report, the Save Nigeria Group, SNG, called for a sanctioning of the Minister of Petroleum and all other authorities involved in the approval of the payments.
In a telephone chat with Vanguard, spokesman for SNG, Mr Yinka Odumakin said:
“What we have been saying has now come to the fore. What we are dealing with is corruption and subsidy in the oil industry because if we were actually doing subsidy, we won’t have spent such huge amount of money, not to talk of the over 900 per cent that was now paid to thieves in the name of subsidy. As we speak, the figure is still mounting because we understand that another N547
billion has been deducted as carry over from last year, which will now make it N3 trillion in just one year.”
Lawyers who reacted to the report were also scathing as many of them called for the prosecution of those indicted.
Mr Bamidele Aturu on his part said:
“It has confirmed what I have been saying all along that people are just reaping from where they did not sow. Many people have been robbing us and so the House of Representatives did not say anything new. There are so many emergency billionaires in Nigeria. I have said it before that we should use this opportunity to cleanse the Petroleum industry.”
He also added that “We should also ensure that the courts do their work and speedily too because this is not a report that we should just sweep under the carpet. One of the functions of the National Assembly is to expose corruption with the aim of amending the law. The National Assembly should come out to amend all necessary laws regarding the petroleum industry. Having exposed corruption, the EFCC and ICPC should move in to do their work because Nigerians have been short changed by these oil racketeers.”
Chief Godwin Obla who is a lead prosecutor with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC said:
“There is no doubt that the probe panel did a wonderful job though some are still critical about the extent they acted, however, asking the indicted organizations to make refund should not have been the best option. The panel should have asked the leadership of the National Assembly to transmit its findings to the anti-graft agencies for them to take up the case and subject the report to further investigations that will lead to either filing of charge or prosecution of those affected.
“I don’t think that the National Assembly actually have the authority to ask for the refund, it is an issue that should be resolved by the court, anyway, I followed the probe process on television and I believe that they have done a good job.”
Chief Nkereuwem Udofia Akpan, a constitutional lawyer said: “Clearly the chickens have come home to roost. President Goodluck Jonathan must show courage and leadership in this matter. These allegations are far too weighty to be swept under the rug just like the illegal and hasty oil block deals last year. Nothing short of a complete overhaul of the NNPC will restore public confidence in the government and its readiness to fight the hydra-headed monster that corruption has become. The Minister of Petroleum resources, her henchmen in the Ministry, NNPC, PPRA, DPR and PPMC must be removed if the president fails to act then he may be fuelling the armoury of his critics.”
For Mr Festus Keyamo said: “All the firms should be prosecuted. The onus is now on the federal government to show its sincerity towards fighting corruption in the country by initiating criminal proceedings against all the firms involved in the fraud. The case should be regarded in the same category as the Halliburton bribery scandal.”