9 June 2008

Nigeria: Senate's Probes And Democracy


As part of its constitutional responsibilities, the upper chambers of the National Assembly has embarked on series of probes aimed at bringing to the fore misapplication of public funds that was the hallmark of the Obasanjo administration. In this piece ANDREW OOTA highlights the areas the probes will focus on and how the committee intends to reach its conclusions.

Since its inauguration June 5th 2007, through a proclamation by President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, the National Assembly has channeled its energy on probing the activities of the immediate past administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo which ran through eight years beginning from May 29th 1999 to May 29th 2007.

It is worthy of mentioning that one of the probes that would, try to unravel the mystery behind the backwardness and poor state of affairs in the country would be that of the transport Sector, particularly the land transportation between 1999 and 2007.

The House of Representatives took the lead by turning its search light in the power sector where Billions of Naira were believed to have been wasted on the power sector without any positive results.

Immediate past administration of Obasanjo had approved Billions of money for the power sector, in most cases without following the due process of the law and the monies went down the drain without having value for money.

It was based on this development and public outcry that the Power Committee of the lower chamber, through a resolution of the House commenced the probe of the power sector.

However, as it was predicted by analysts, the House panel chickened out, it could not summon the courage to order for the arrest of the former president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo whose name was mentioned in the power probe by virtually all who appeared before the panel , during its sitting at the National Assembly.

The Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory took a cue from the House and immediately commenced the investigation of the concession, demolition, sales, allocation and revocation of all land titles as well as government properties in the Federal Capital Territory.

The Senator Abubakar Danso Sodangi has taken evidences from both former and present ministers of the Federal Capital Territory, stakeholders as well as the public where the committee members themselves became a burden and, further complicated the matter the more.

Again, the Senate, through another resolution raised an ad-hoc panel to take a look at yet another controversial sector that has been in terrible situation over the decades, but most interestingly, a sector that was manned by the most powerful and untouchables in the last administration of Former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Although the committee is presently taking memoranda and collecting all the vital information that would help in the probe, it is very obvious that the probe would turn out to be the mother of all probes.

It was Tuesday 29th April 2008 when the chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Senator Ayogu Eze, and 54 other Senators, including the Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu and the Leader of the Senate, Senator Teslim Folarin brought in a motion titled, 'Collapse of the transport sector in the Face of monumental Waste of public funds'.

After exhaustive arguments and contributions on the controversial motion, the Senate in session decided to amend some of the recommendations which include a "probe without delay the gross mismanagement of funds appropriated for the transport sector in the last 12 years, in partial response to rising demands by our constituents and concerned Nigerians and in fulfillment of our oath of office to defend and promote the integrity of our dear fatherland"

The sponsors of the motion were also of the opinion that the Senate should ascertain why the transport sector has failed to fly in spite of the huge resources channeled into it within the past 12 years.

The 55 Senators also wanted the Senate empanel a multi-disciplinary ad-hoc committee with members drawn from the country's six geo-political zones, to conduct a full scale inquiry, including public hearing, into what took place in the administration of the country's transport policy in the aforementioned period.

Similarly, the federal lawmakers were also of the opinion that the ad-hoc committee be mandated to conduct its assignment diligently without witch-hunting any persons and report back to the Senate within two months.

The crux of the matter was that a former Governor in Nigeria had accused a former Minister of Works of squandering over N300Billion on Nigerian roads in one year with nothing to show for the money where upon the affected minister himself had admitted that the amount was approved but that the actual draw-down was about N20Bilion.

It would be recalled that the former Governor of Abia State Dr. Uzor Orji Kalu had accused the former Works Minister Chief Tony Annenih of squandering the sum of N300Billion on roads with nothing to show for it.

Although the former minister and one time chairman of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Chief Tony Anenih had also offered explanation in the media trying to exonerate himself of the allegations when he said only the sum of N20Billion was released out of the N300Billion.

Similarly, in what appeared to be an indictment on the former works minister, the former president, Chief Olusegun Obsanjo, in whose administration the former minister served had also ex pressed dissatisfaction over the state of the roads in the South-East, after the monies were appropriated for the repairs.

After a heated argument, the recommendations of the movers of the motion were amended to exclude the former military leaders from the probe by limiting the period under investigations from 1999 to 2007.

Suffice to say that, while it was clear that the probe would pull in the likes of Chief Tony Anenih and the Adeseye Ogunlewe who at one point or the other held sway as ministers of Works within the period under review, some loyalists of the former minister and chairman BOT of the PDP tried to scuttle the effort of majority of the Senators to probe and carry on the investigations and, this was evident in the submissions of Senator Odion Ogbesia from Edo Central.

Senator Ugbesia had called on the Senate to be careful about the figures contained in the body of the motion, although his observations were not taken seriously by the Senators who took their turns to condemn the deplorable state of the Nigerian roads.

To make threat good, the federal lawmakers raised a twelve-man ad-hoc panel cutting across the six-geo political zones that would stir the ship of the investigation.

Chairman of the twelve wise men that would be probing the transport sector in the next few weeks is Senator Heineken Lokpobiri(south-south), Aloysius Etuk (south-south),Ayodele Arise (South-West),Felix Bajomo (South-West),Ayogu Eze (South-East),Sylvester Anyanwu(South-East),Patricia Akwashiki (North-Central),Otaru Ohize (North-Central),Bala Mohammed (North-East),Manzo Anthony (North-East),Mohammed Jibril (North-West)and Umar Argungu (North-West).

However, sources close to the former works minister Chief Tony Anenih confirmed to LEADERSHIP that the essence of the probe is targeted at Chief Anenih.

Nevertheless, the point to be made is that the probe would also avail the former PDP chairman of BOT to also set the records straight by getting the entire relevant document together so as to assist his case.

It was also gathered that giving the strength of the allegations, it would be a tall task to lay hands on the documents where the former Works Minister admitted that he received, while in office as minister, the sum of N200Billion plus as contained in the motion of the Senate moved by Senator Ayogu Eze.

Feelers and reports from the Ministry of Finance and Office of the Accountant General for the Federation had indicated that at the time the former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu made the allegations that over N300Billion was squandered on road infrastructure in Nigeria, the Former chairman of the BOT of the PDP said he only received the sum of N20 billion while the ministry's statistics revealed that he (Anenih) collected N126 billion.

Although analysts have argued that one of the greatest problems of Chief Annenih is the fact he rarely speaks to the world through the mass media on issues, the probe of the transport sector would certainly afford the former minister an opportunity to state his side of the story.

Suffice to say that the public hearing on the state of the Nigerian roads in the last eight years and the colossal amount of money spent on the sector with nothing to show is one probe that would obviously present some of the Nigerian gladiators on the spot light including the likes of Chief Anenih.

While it is hoped that considering the pitiable state of the Nigeria roads, the Senate ad-hoc panel would not bow to pressure as is the case in the House of Representatives where former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to appear before the panel; the former works minister would obviously be asked to give a detailed account of his stewardship.

Some of the issues he would have to shed light on would include how much was released to the ministry when he was minister. Was it over N300Billion or about N126Billion because of the conflicting figures.

The former minister would certainly have to tell the committee how many road contracts were awarded, how much was paid out, how many contracts were completed, how may were abandoned, who were the contractors, how much mobilization they got, were the companies registered as well as whether the monies for the contracts were approved by the National Assembly.

It is therefore obvious that the Senator Lokpobiri-led committee would not give the former minister a clean bill of health, given that the movers of the motion had already pre-empted the report by declaring there was a "gross mismanagement of funds appropriated for the transport sector since 1999" with nothing to show for it.

This indictment would be possible also because of the appreciation of the mover of the motion that indeed, the statistics from the Road Safety Commission that at least about 13 lives are lose on Nigerian roads daily and 17,000 yearly as result of bad roads.

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