There was drama on the floor of the Senate as the red chamber attempted to institute a probe into the alleged operation of $3.8bn fuel subsidy by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC).
The corporation was said to have utilised the said sum under the guise of cost recovery, the probe however engineered drama leading to the clash among three key supporters of president Muhammadu Buhari on the Senate floor.
The three lawmakers who clashed include Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC Yobe North) former Senate Leader, Ali Ndume ( APC Borno South) and the Chairman Senate Committee on Petroleum(Downstream), Senator Kabiru Marafa ( APC Zamfara Central).
Trouble was ignited following a point of order raised by the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP Ekiti South), who protested the operation of the account by the NNPC.
She stated that despite attempts to compel the leadership of NNPC to submit a proper budget to the National Assembly on subsidy payment, it has instead, opted for an illegal fund not approved by the parliament.
According to her, only two top officials in NNPC were directly in charge of the management of the said subsidy claims which she said was without any oversight,
She said that the Group Managing Director (GMD) and the Executive Director in charge of Finance were the two persons privy to the management of the fund.
She said: “I need to bring this issue to the attention of the Senate. The NNPC is operating an illegal fund on subsidy. As a Senate, we are the true representatives of the people. We cannot sit back and allow this to happen.
“I am bringing this to the attention of the Senate so that we can look at the issue. Let the various committees, especially the Senate Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), look into this issue. Let them investigate and tell us what the position on the ground is.”
She was supported by Senator Ali Ndume, who asked the Senate leadership not to include the Senator Kabir Marafa-led Petroleum (Downstream) Committee in the proposed probe of NNPC.
The Borno Senator alleged that the Downstream Committee might have been “compromised in the line of duty.”
He also argued that since the standing Committee was charged with the responsibility of overseeing the affairs of NNPC, it ought to have raised the alarm on the alleged illegal subsidy fund.
He said: “Issues like this should be looked at seriously. When these things happen, the committee should know. I suggest that the Leader and other people who are not members of the committee should look at this. The committee may have compromised. We should set up an adhoc committee.”
Senator Marafa, who was angered by the allegations against his committee immediately took the floor.
He also attacked Ndume, saying that those advocating that an adhoc committee be set up in place of his standing committee, are out to generate campaign funds ahead of their elections in 2019.
He insisted that Ndume must withdraw the statement and tender an apology. Marafa also defended NNPC and claimed that the allegations were false.
He said: “I feel insulted. If the Selection Committee agrees today to dissolve our committee, I will not have any problem with that. They have the right to do that. But for anyone to just accuse of us that we have been compromised, I think it is an insult.
“I know that those advocating that an adhoc committee be set up to investigate the issue, are out to generate campaign funds for their election next year. They are free to do so. I will not stop them. But no one should malign us and accuse us of compromise.”
Attempts by Senate President Bukola Saraki to calm Senator Marafa were rebuffed as the Zamfara Senator insisted that Ndume must tender an apology first and also withdraw his claims.
Ndume eventually apogised and withdrew his statement. Marafa also withdrew his statement and apologised to his colleagues.
While ruling on the issue, the Senate President mandated the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, to oversee the probe. He urged him to lead members of Petroleum (Downstream) Committee to meet with the management of NNPC over the matter.
According to Saraki, he did not want to politicise the issue, adding that it was too sensitive to be treated with levity.
He gave Senator Lawan four days to report to the Senate on the matter adding that an adhoc Committee would then be set up to probe the allegations.
Saraki said : “When we passed a budget, I said the executive needed to bring a subsidy budget. In light of the enormity of this, we will direct the Leader and chairman of Downstream to summon those in charge. They need to get back to us in four days. I don’t want this issue to be partisan. I want us to speak on the basis of fact. I don’t want us to take up this issue and people will begin to see it as a partisan issue.”
But shortly after the Senate President ruled on the matter, Senate Leader Ahmed Lawan suddenly started protesting.
He said that he was declining his nomination to head the team that will probe NNPCas according to him, the development might rubbish his name.
He said it took him several years to build his reputation and will therefore not like to be maligned by anyone.
Saraki and Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, prevailed on him to rescind his decision. Saraki specifically reminded him that he could not decline the nomination since he was the Leader of the Senate.
His words: ” By virtue of your position as Leader of the Senate, this responsibility falls on you. I do not want this issue to be politicised and as Leader of the Senate, I need you to handle this on behalf of the Senate.”