There was uproar on Wednesday at the House of Representatives following the alleged shielding of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, from prosecution and the amendment of the recommendation of the Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime to exonerate the former Accountant-General, Ibrahim Dankwambo.
It all started after the deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha overruled a motion demanding the minister’s resignation over her role in the N1.07tn fuel subsidy scam.
The House had resumed consideration of the fuel subsidy probe report on Wednesday, when a member from Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Robinson Uwak, raised a point of order on privilege, drawing the attention of the House to public opinion suggesting that lawmakers were ‘shielding’ Alison-Madueke from prosecution.
Uwak said: “The people of my constituency and Nigerians out there have been bombarding me with calls since yesterday (Tuesday).
“They have accused the House of shielding the minister. I hereby call for the resignation of the Minister of Petroleum Resources.”
The lawmaker’s demand was hinged on a key recommendation of the report, which directed that “the management and board of the NNPC should be completely overhauled” for their role in the scam.
Alison-Madueke is the chairman of the Board of the NNPC.
Uwak’s argument was that the minister should resign rather than being the one to preside over the overhaul of the NNPC.
But Ihedioha intervened by asking the Deputy Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, to respond to the motion.
Ogor told the House that Uwak was jumping the gun, adding that at the appropriate time, the House would address the issue of the minister.
“We are guided by House rules and decisions will be taken at the appropriate time. We should accord respect to due process,” he said.
He had hardly completed his statement when lawmakers shouted him down.
They insisted that Uwak’s motion should be heard, but the deputy speaker abruptly overruled them.
Ihedioha’s ruling infuriated the majority of the 245 members who attended the session, prompting shouts of “no”, “no”, “noooo!” He, however, ignored the uproar.
But, the spokesman for the House, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, denied that Ihedioha was shielding the minister.
According to him, the House felt that the recommendation to overhaul the NNPC and its board had already taken care of the minister.
“There has been a clear case of indictment; so calling names or saying that the minister should resign is not necessary.
It has been taken care of by our recommendation,” he told journalists.
The report, which recommended the investigation and prosecution of the affected officials, listed specific “infractions” committed by them.
These included the payment of N285.098bn by the NNPC to itself in “excess of the PPPRA’s recommended figure for 2011” and the deduction of N310.4bn for kerosene subsidy from crude oil proceeds.
The House cleared Gombe State Governor, Ibrahim Dankwambo, over the controversial payment of N999m a total of 128 times to “unknown entities” in 2009 as subsidy claims by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
Dankwambo was the AGF when the payments were made within 24 hours between January 12 and 13, 2009.
The total amount was put at N127.8bn.
The report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Monitoring of the Subsidy Regime headed by Mr. Farouk Lawan had recommended that anti-graft agencies should investigate the payments.
But, on Wednesday, the House amended the recommendation to indicate that the PPPRA and not the AG’s office should account for the payments.
This followed fresh submissions by Lawan, who said that the PPPRA had owned up to making the payments.
He informed members that the Central Bank of Nigeria, the AGF’s office and the PPPRA, in three separate letters to the Speaker of the House, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, all admitted that the PPPRA made the payments.
Lawan also cited publications by the PPPRA, where it listed the beneficiaries of the N127.8bn.
He explained that the panel made its earlier recommendation because while the investigation was on, the AG’s office was not forthcoming with information on the transactions.
He, however, maintained that the panel considered the “payments to be irregular,” and suggested that the searchlight be turned on the PPPRA by anti-graft agencies.
The House adopted the amendment, an indication that Dankwambo had been exonerated.
Lawmakers endorsed the recommendation to pass a bill to ‘criminalise’ extra-budgetary expenditure by the executive arm of government.
In particular, the House adopted the recommendation directing anti-graft agencies to investigate and prosecute all officials of the Ministry of Finance, Office of the Director-General Budget, and the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation involved in extra-budgetary spending between 2009 and 2011.
The House adopted the recommendation on the audit firms of Akintola Williams, Deloitte, and Olusola Adekanola & Partners, pronouncing harsher penalties on the firms.
In addition to being blacklisted for three years by the Federal Ministry of Finance, the House recommended their prosecution for “professional negligence and connivance” in failing to properly audit the fuel subsidy transactions.
The House opposed the Federal Government’s decision to appoint the Managing Director of Access Bank, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, as the head of a panel to verify subsidy claims after the sacking the audit firms. It recommended the engagement of an independent audit firm to do the job.
The Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, who proposed the amendment, described the said banker as “a managing director, who is a close associate of Mr. President and a member of the economic management team.”
He argued that such a person could not be trusted to do a through verification of subsidy claims on behalf of Nigerians.
The lawmakers also adopted the recommendation that the 71 firms that got subsidy claims in 2011 without evidence of supplying fuel should refund N230.2bn.
However, the House merged their case with the 17 firms that were given a grace of two weeks on Tuesday to appear before the probe panel.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Rules and Business, Mr. Albert Sam-Sokwa, explained that two of the 71 firms were also among the 17 marketers.
The 17 marketers had been slated to refund N41.9bn to government coffers for refusing to appear before the panel to defend their subsidy claims.
Following their complaint of not being given fair hearing by the committee, the House on Tuesday gave the ad hoc committee two weeks to listen to their case.
The House endorsed 61 out of the 62 recommendations of the panel, with a few amendments and introduced a new recommendation.
The additional recommendation, which also summarised the position of the House on the probe, reads, “That the resolutions of the House on the report of the fuel subsidy regime should be served on Mr. President, the Senate and all anti-corruption agencies for information and necessary actions.”