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National Assembly’s endless probes without tangible results

On Monday, November 13, the House of Representatives Committee on Finance, in continuation of its hearing on the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework and the Fiscal Strategy Paper, issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the Industrial Training Fund (ITF), to explain the whereabouts of N3 billion traced to the agency as contained in the Auditor General for the Federation’s report for 2022.

The Committee also warned the agency that if it failed to reconcile its account, it would have to refund the N3 billion to the Federal Government coffers.

The discovery of the missing funds from the ITF coffers would be seen by many Nigerians as a dip in the ocean going by the stupendous amount of public funds that have gone missing over the years and with no trace.

The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has been, more or less, the lone voice calling on successive governments to either probe such missing money or to make the perpetrators account fie them.

In September this year, SERAP tasked urged President Bola Tinubu to set up a presidential panel of enquiry to promptly probe allegations that over $15 billion of oil revenues, and N200 billion budgeted to repair the refineries are missing and unaccounted for between 2020 and 2021, which were documented by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).

The group also urged the President to name and shame anyone suspected to be responsible for the missing funds to ensure the full recovery of any proceeds of crime and implement all the recommendations by NEITI in its 2021 report.

But as usual, nothing will be heard as everything will be swept under the carpet and business will go on as usual.

One of the major oversight functions of the National Assembly is to instigate the probing of activities of ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government, especially in the area of their revenues and expenditure.

Since the return of democracy in 1999, both chambers of the Assembly have been carrying out several probes by way of by way of motions and bills, often raising serious alarm over alleged corruption and mismanagement of public funds, promising to leave no stone unturned in unearthing the perpetrators of such fraudulent activities and looting of public funds.

They lawmakers would set up standing and ad hoc committees with a view to getting to the root of the matter but in the end, almost all of the probes have ended up as wild goose chase and movement without motion.

Most Nigerians are also divided on the outcome of these endless probes and how much have been either recovered or returned to the coffers of the government, or if at all, the legislators have been able to blockage of leakages and, or indict and prosecute corrupt officials.

Whenever there is an allegation of fraudulent activity in any agency, the National Assembly is quick to set up panels to either carry out the probes and present their reports or differ the assignment till the Assembly winds down or the issues are overtaken by events.

Nigerians are also concerned about how much the series of unending probes which often gulp billions of taxpayers’ funds to conduct, have achieved in saving the country’s dwindling economy or if they have been able to block the leakages and prosecute the of corrupt officials.

What Nigerians get to hear over time are the startling revelations of mind-blowing corruption and looting of public funds, the setting up of investigative panels and hearings which, more often than not, end up in the cooler.

Observations over time have shown that many of these investigative hearings which often come with much drama and startling revelations of end up in the “cooler” after the initial media hype.

Many of the hearings are most often never concluded by the committees within the stipulated period and sometimes, those that manage to conclude their probes come up with what many would best describe as “wishy-washy” reports and recommendations that would end up not holding any government official to account.

Over the years, both chambers of the National Assembly have conducted series of probes over missing funds that do not see the light of day.

One of the most celebrated probe of such funds was conducted by the 8th Assembly when the House of Representatives set up a committee to probe the withdrawal of N33 billion by PenCom from a Central Bank of Nigeria account which followed non-remittance of funds to Pension Fund Custodians and administrators.

A lot of staggering revelations were made during the sittings of the committee with the usual promise of getting to the root of the matter and publishing those found culpable. But at the end of the day, the probe, like others before it, died with the expiration of the Assembly.

The same 8th Assembly also embarked on another wild goose chase when the Senate mandated its Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport to investigate reported revenue leakages in the import and export value chain valued at N30 trillion.

The committee did its job and submitted an interim report in late 2017. In the report, the committee said it had it had recovered over N140 billion traces to several banks and companies but the final report did not materialise nor any action taken on it till the Assembly rounded up in 2019.

Another major probe by the 8th Assembly which also did not do justice to the integrity of Nigerian lawmakers and ended up as another inconclusive effort was by another senate ad hoc committee which investigated the local content elements and cost variations of a $16 billion ‘shady’ Egina Offshore Oil Project.

The project which started in 2013 was undertaken by Total Upstream Nigeria Limited, and was said to be almost 90 per cent completed as of January 2018. The panel had recommended that the accounts of the project be audited to ensure that Nigeria was not trapped in “perpetual debt” without any benefits from the project. But till the Assembly rounded out, nothing tangible was heard of the probe again while another huge money belonging to the Nigerian people went down the drain.

In case the 9th National Assembly which was inaugurated on June 11, 2019, with the leadership making the usual promising of recovering stolen funds and fighting corruption to a standstill.

As usual, the two chambers set up various committees and investigative panels to handle various cases bordering on public institutions and funds.

To show its seriousness, the House of Representatives set out with great gusto and began the probing of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency for allegedly failing to remit revenue totalling N1.343 trillion to the Federal Government’s coffers.

This was seen as one of the most audacious and biggest investigations in terms of monetary value in the history of the country.

Apart from that particular investigation, the National Assembly embarked on several other probes with a view to recovering amounts running into trillions of dollars allegedly siphoned and laundered from the country.

On July 25, 2019, the House resolved to investigate the contracts awarded and payments made to contractors by the Federal Government to revive the power sector which ran into trillions of naira.

According to a motion unanimously adopted by the lawmakers, the probe was to cover the $16 billion spent on power by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s between 1999 and 2007.

On October 25, 2019, the House queried the abandonment of the contract awarded for the installation of closed-circuit television cameras in the FCT, for which $460 million loan obtained was obtained from the China-EXIM Bank.

On September 25, 2019, the House resolved to investigate the debt portfolio of the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria and the bad debtors on its list, whose debts totalled about N5.4 trillion.

On November 27, 2019, the House started an audacious investigation into the collapse of the Delta Steel Company and the subsequent loss of $1.89 billion meant for the coffers of the federal government. That probe did not go beyond the committee level.

On November 21, 2019, the House once again, launched a probe into the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency over a series of contracts entered into on behalf of the country with a foreign private company, HLS International Limited, for the supply of certain security and surveillance equipment and systems.

The contracts sums, according to the committee findings, were said to be worth $214,830,000, including $195,300,000 for the actual contract and an additional $19,530,000 that NIMASA agreed to pay to HLSI for what it referred to as ‘Management Training Consideration.’

On November 21, 2019, the House also began a probe into the Turn Around Maintenance of the refineries in Port Harcourt, Warri and Kaduna, which had set the nation back to the tune of $396.33 million within four years.

In the same month, the National Assembly launched another investigation into the failure of the Central Bank of Nigeria to refund $7 billion withdrawn from the foreign reserves in 2006, which was paid to banks and assets managers.

The joint Senate and House Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission also instituted a panel to look into the indebtedness of the Federal Government and 17 local and international oil companies to the NDDC to the tune of N72 billion and $73 million, with the Federal Government alone owing the agency N1.2 trillion.

In December 2019, the House resolved to investigate the Federal Government’s MDAs over fraudulent insurance policies after then Minority Whip, Gideon Gwani, had raised the alarm over some of the insurance ventures outside the country, which he said “tremendously promote money laundering and illicit financial flow to the tune of several billions of naira in the insurance sector.”

“Several billions of naira are suspected to be paid as premium annually on either non-existent assets or on unverifiable data, with unadjusted premium in breach of Section 61 of the Insurance Act, 2003, by some Federal Government institutions and some security agencies in collaboration with insurance companies that do not pay claims,” Gwani had said while arguing his motion.

In the same month, the House also resolved to probe the Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund over alleged illegal expenditure amounting to over N2.3 billion spent on staff training without approval.

During plenary on December 11, 2019, another member, Benjamin Bem, raised a motion which was adopted with the House setting up another committee to commenc an investigation into the “decadence of infrastructure at the Apapa and Tin Can Island ports and the roads leading to the ports in Lagos, causing Nigeria to lose N600 billion revenue monthly.”

In 2020 alone, the National Assembly embarked on various probes aimed at recovering public funds stolen by several agencies of government but as usual, many of the probes ended up as still-birth.

Prominent among the investigation was that of the NDDC, after its Interim Management Committee was alleged to have spent N81.5 billion on Christmas gifts and allowances for staff without approval.

The newly established North East Development Commission (NEDC) was also in the news when a whopping sum of N100 billion was reported to have disappeared from its coffers, while another N613 billion was allegedly not accounted for by the Nigerian Correctional Service, when it was known as the Nigerian Prison Service.

The House also embarked on the probe of an alleged annual revenue leakage due to racketeering of $30 billion foreign exchange by multinational oil companies, banks and highly placed individuals.

The lawmakers also began investigating how the sums of $467 million and N43.5 billion were spent by the Nigerian Communications Satellites Limited on NigComSat satellites which have failed to see the light of day and the funds not accounted for.

In March, 2020, the Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila,
inaugurated an ad hoc committee to investigate the number and condition of capital projects abandoned by the Federal Government across Nigeria, valued at N230 billion, and another committee to investigate the environmental hazards posed by a project of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited valued at $10 billion.

In the same month, the House also commenced a probe into the disbursement of the N104.5 billion released by the CBN for the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme while on March, the House also set up a committee to investigate the payment of $30,000 daily (N4bn) annually as demurrage on a floating dock acquired by NIMASA for N50 billion.

Another probe embarked upon by the House was to determine how funds donated by international organisations to finance projects in the agriculture sector, such as the FADAMA, amounting to over $1 billion, were filtered away by the affected agencies.

The 10th Assembly has also followed in the same pattern of launching probes over missing funds. In its five months of existence, the current National Assembly has launched over 50 probes aimed at digging into alleged fraudulent activities of MDAs, mismanagement of funds and other infractions by government parastatals, by setting standing or ad hoc committees to carry out the exercise within a time frame.

But Nigerians are sceptical about the outcomes of these probes as they may not yield the desired results.

Some of the manor probes currently being undertaken by the 10th National Assembly include the payment of N9.3 trillion as oil subsidies and under-recovery paid by the administration of former President Muhammadu Buhari from January 2021 to May 29, 2023.

Another prominent probe embarked upon by the senate was the alleged fraud and corruption in Integrated Payroll and Personnel Information System (IPPIS) in Nigerian universities which the its committee on Tertiary Institutions and TETFund said ran into millions of naira.

The senate also resolved to investigate the N6.5 billion shoreline protection contract awarded in Ondo State by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) in 2006 which was aimed at constructing a shoreline protective wall designed with geo-tube technology in Ayetoro, a seashore community in Ilaje LGA which is threatened by ocean surge.

In a motion raised by Senator Jimoh Ibrahim, the construction firm saddled with the job had allegedly abandoned the project despite collecting 25 percent mobilisation fee.

Another probe initiated by the current National Assembly is the concession of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA) and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) by former President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration, said to be in excess of $4 billion.

Other probes embarked upon by this current legislators include a N483 billion loan disbursement by the Development Bank of Nigeria (DBN) in the six geopolitical zones, alleged non-remittance of N2 trillion in taxes to the federal government by NNPCL, a reported theft of crude oil amounting to $4 billion, N14 trillion revenue loss from tax incentive and waiver ‘abuses’ by public institutions, leading to a loss of the said amount in revenue and $9 billion revenue due the federal government lost to gas flaring.

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