NASS’ season of probes

Abuja Bureau Chief, SANYA ADEJOKUN, writes on the season of probes of federal agencies by the National Assembly amidst the sizzling claims of curious expenditures.

A lot of Nigerians may have lost count of the number of probes of strategic government owned agencies and parastatals undertaken by the National Assembly since its inception in June 1999. The investigations covered very wide grounds and subjects, with many instigated by alleged breach of public trust by Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs). Sadly, most of the recommendations in the final reports of the committees that investigated the breach of public trust remain largely on the shelves with any indication of their implementation in the future. Thus, those serious issues that the probes were designed to address have festered. It is against this background that some individuals and groups such as the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organisation, demanded that the National Assembly publish all reports on corruption conducted since the restoration of civil rule in the country 20 years ago.

By the provision of Section 88 of the 1999 Constitution, the National Assembly has the mandate “to direct or cause to be directed investigation on any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws. Therefore, the legislature has consistently leaned on the section to carry out part of its oversight functions, beaming searchlight on the activities and operations of the MDAs.

Indeed, the COVID-19 lockdown season has provided immense opportunity for both chambers of the National Assembly to scrutinise the books of the MDAs of the Federal Government. The exercise has continued to elicit public interest and discourse. This is due to the varying issues and revelations unveiled by the scrutiny. Some instances will suffice. The House of Representatives questioned Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Pension Commission (PENCOM), Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) and some others over alleged N300bn misappropriated funds.The House Committee on Public Accounts, which has been asking questions based on audit queries issued by the office of the Auditor General of the Federation (oAuGF) also invited Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs Folasade Yemi; Minister of Information and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Patanmi and Accountant General of the Federation (AGF), Mr Ahmed Idris over the funds.Chairman, House Committee on Public Accounts, Honourable Wole Oke, said that some MDAs withheld cash amounting to N182.077 billion in 2014 alone from the Federation Account. Others include audit query on the N14.062 billion issued against the Federal Inland Revenue Service; N12.639 billion audit issued against the Head of the Service Pension Office, as well as the Nigeria Atomic Energy Commission, Ministry of Communications, FIRS, Nigerian Board for Incubator Centre, National Gallery of Arts, among others.

The Committee equally summoned Federal Ministry of Defence, Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB), National Sports Commission (NSC), among others over N425.127 million loans unaccounted for. It also summoned the Accountant General of the Federation over 83 queries in its 2014 annual audit report, relating to the “closing balance of the Pension Account in CBN – N13,943,576,960.25 and the opening balance of N26,726,085,500.60, as well as the N54,536,413,672.93 borrowed fund for PHCN staff as reviewed in the statement of affairs and consolidated transcript of account for pension arrears in 2014 and the bank statement, cash book and statement of affairs of IPPIS in CBN which were not produced for audit.  It queried Minister of Labour& Employment, Senator Chris Ngige over N7.880 billion unaccounted fund as contained in the audit query issued by the Auditor General of the Federation in 2014.

Just last week, the Senate queried the N5bn refunded to the Consolidated Revenue Savings of the Federal government by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) after collecting N88bn as fee for revenue it generated for the Federal government in 2019. The DPR had explained that the N5 billion was the surplus, after its expenditure from the four per cent collection cost it earned from the revenue of N2.4tr it collected for the federal government in 2018.It was unable to explain how it expended over N80bn of the N88bn from which it remitted the N5bn, despite being partially being funded by the Federal Government which bore the wage bill of N38bn for the 1,455 staffers of the department. The Green Chamber has also investigated Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)over allegations of frivolously spending N9 billion of its generated revenue. The NCAA’s generated N18 billion, spent N6 billion on staff emoluments but remitted N3 billion to the federation accounts as operating surplus.

Similarly, the House opened investigative hearing into over $100 million premium allegedly paid by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and Joint Ventures (JVs) for non-existing assets overseas as well as the implementation of insurance policies of otherMDAs.

The House similarly commenced investigation into the N180.9 million insurance premium allegedly paid for the failed Satellite 1 project which was launched in 2011 as well as Satellite 1-R for which Nigeria obtained $500 million Chinese loan. During the period, a national furore raged over allegations that members of the House of Representatives uncovered $33bn commercial contracts which Nigeria was committed into through the Federal Ministry of Transportation without clear cut financing arrangements. But it appeared that the investigative efforts recorded some gains when the management of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) reported that it had recovered whopping sums of $89 million and N2.404 billion outstanding debt owed by some corporate organisations.

The Managing Director of the NPA, HadizaBala Usman, told the House Committee on Public Accounts had earlier hinted that the Authority was in the process of forgiving debts that was above 10 years. The Committee has called for the unveiling of the owner and Board of Directors of Mangrove Tech allegedly owned by the cousin of a former Nigerian President, over the abandoned N7.5 billion contract awarded by the NPA since 2012 for shore reclamation and erosion protection with 14 months completion date.The oAGuF had queried a N4.248 billion (56.61%) and N128 million insurance premium paid leaving the balance of N344.265 million.

The lawmakers also frowned at the sum of N539.453 million and N19.500 million paid for purchase of three Toyota Hilux with no documentary evidence of purchase; N13.500 million paid for annual running cost; N11.250 million compensation paid without any record of beneficiaries; N12.5 million paid for community relations as well as the sum of N128 million insurance paid for work and damages without any evidence of insurance policy.

They queried the presentation of NPA over the outstanding sum of N500 million allegedly owed the company despite failing to complete the project; threatened to adopt the recommendation of the oAuGF to sanction the NPA Managing Director for the infraction as well as the contractor for failing to complete the project.

Some of the queries issued by the oAuGF included: N54.354 million unpaid insurance claims owed by Alliance & General Insurance Plc; 3 Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep unaccounted for by the NPA which were given to the former NPA Board Chairman, late Chief Tony Anenih, and Alhaji Sanusi Ado Bayero; a former NPA Managing Director, Mr. Habib Abdullahi. Others are: N500 million over-paid to contractors, and various Corporate Social Responsibility projects on construction of classroom blocks worth N25.8 million each in Enugu and Gombe states and health centres in Niger State. To this end, the Committee resolved to summon Managing Director of Kakatar Nigeria Limited over the N7.5 billion abandoned project, as well as the alleged N500 million owed by the NPA.

 

The Committee also summoned all the Managing Director/CEOs of Insurance companies engaged by NPA; just as it resolved to grant clemency to the late Chief Tony Anenih over the unaccountedfor Toyota Land Cruiser which he took away after leaving office.

The House, last week, unveiled plans to investigate over N9.4 trillion, including the external loan obtained in 2014 fiscal year. HonourableOke disclosed this during an investigative hearing into the audit queries issued by the office of the oAuGF against Accountant General’s financial statement and Debt Management Office (DMO). The oAuGF requested for information relating to the N1.5 trillion external loan, N5 trillion and N28.722 billion, as well as N2.8 trillion Treasury Bill issued by DMO, and N261 million internal loan, respectively.

The House has commenced investigation into over N15 billion allegedly misappropriated by Federal Ministry of Power for the implementation of the Kashimbilla hydropower project among others.This is as it summoned the Managing Director/CEO of Aso Savings over the N2 billion housing loan audit query issued by the office of the Auditor General of the Federation (oAuGF) in 2015.

On a particular Thursday, the House commenced investigation into alleged misappropriation of over N30 billion pension fund being administered by the Pension Transitional Arrangement Department (PTAD) between 2014 and 2016 respectively. The breakdown of the various sums was contained in the audit queries issued by the office of the Auditor General of the Federation (oAuGF) against PTAD ranging from N16.2 billion expended between first quarter of 2014 and September 2015; N2 million personal advance granted in cash to a staff for rental of a hall contrary to the circular issued on the 27th October 2008 and other extant financial regulations.

And just a few weeks after the nation was treated to mind-boggling revelations of alleged misappropriation of N1.5billion by the Interim Management Committee of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), another alleged N6.2 billion scandal approved for palliatives by the Federal Government hit the commission. The chairman of the Palliatives Distribution Committee of the Commission, Chief SobomaboJackrich, in separate petitions, asking both the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, and House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, to investigate the alleged financial recklessness at the NDDC. In a 12 – paragraph petition, Jackrich demanded investigation into alleged misappropriation and diversion of N6.2billion NDDC Palliatives money, as he was allegedly side-lined in the procurement and distribution of palliatives to residents of the nine states covered by the Commission.The above was a sequel to an earlier probe of over ₦81.5bn financial infractions at the NDDC.

The Senate also alleged that N41billion belonging to the Nigerian Telecommunications Limited (NITEL) was hanging in the custody of the United Bank for Africa (UBA) has resurrected at the Senate.A legal firm, J.U Ayogu and Co. had alleged that about N42billion was deposited with UBA after the liquidation of NITEL and its acquisition by MTEL.

And the recently established North East Development Commission (NEDC) is under the radar of the national assembly over alleged missing of N100billion. The House Committee on Public Accounts has demanded for full disclosure of the Nigerian Embassy in Israel over the withdrawal of the sum of $1,046,258.99 to pay utility bills in 2014.It is also asking questions on alleged illegal withdrawal of $858,704 and $187,554 internally generated revenue by the Nigerian Embassy in Israel in respect of the visa and administration.

The permanent secretary has been requested to explain the irregularities in revenue collection and account for the sum of $858,704.50 collected. The House similarly unveiled plans to verify the identity of benefiaries of the N44 billion released for the Graduates Enterprise Empowerment Programme (GEEP) under the National Social Investment Programmes (NSIPs) being implemented since 2016.

 

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