26 April 2012

Nigeria: Subsidy Fraud - 'Jonathan Will Spare No One'

Photo: Vanguard
The national petroleum corporation has asked for allegations of misdeeds levelled against it in the subsidy report to be proven.

President Jonathan will not spare any official indicted in the subsidy scam exposed by the House of Representatives, his parliamentary adviser Joy Emordi has said.

The House yesterday concluded debate on the report of its subsidy inquiry committee, recommending trial of top officials indicted for complicity in the mismanagement of more than N1 trillion in 2009-2011.

"He (Jonathan) is not going to spare anybody who is found wanting. I bet you nobody is going to interfere," Emordi said at a news conference in Abuja, in response to allegations that the president would not allow the prosecution of highly-placed indicted officials.

"There are no moves being made to cover anybody because the president has zero tolerance for corruption," she added.

The House inquiry uncovered large-scale fraud in the subsidy regime, and blamed mainly the board of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation headed by Petroleum Minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, as well as the defunct board of the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency led by Ahmadu Ali, a former chairman of the ruling PDP.

At the end of its debate on the probe committee report yesterday, the House ordered that copies be provided for President Jonathan and the anti-corruption agencies for further action.

Emordi said the president was prepared to partner with the National Assembly to eradicate the rot in the oil sector.

"The executive and the legislature are on the same page on the issue and would collaborate towards ensuring that any rot in the sector is fully addressed," she said.

"The president is poised to sanitise the oil sector and give it new breath of life through enhanced probity and transparent governance and zero corruption."

She said the president's choice of men of proven integrity to handle the various probes into operations of the petroleum sector showed his determination to enthrone probity and accountability.

"The president's desire to enthrone probity was clearly manifested by his choice of men of integrity to be involved and he did not mind crossing the partisan barrier to get his opponent in the presidential election (Nuhu Ribadu) to lead the investigation," Emordi added.

Dankwambo let off the hook

The House yesterday exonerated former accountant general of the federation Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo from any wrong doing in the payments of subsidy claims to oil marketers.

Dankwambo, who is now governor of Gombe State, was initially blamed by the Faruk Lawal-led panel for irregular payments of N128 billion in 24 hours in January 2009. It recommended further investigations of the matter by anti-corruption agencies.

When the House resumed debate on the remaining recommendations of the panel yesterday, Rep. Abike Dabiri-Erewa (ACN, Lagos) argued that the committee's report was "too mild" on Dankwambo, and asked for stiff penalties. But deputy speaker Emeka Ihedioha, who presided over the session, brushed her comments aside.

Dankwambo had written to the House, protesting his indictment on the grounds that his office paid monies to PPPRA and not to marketers, and that he was never invited by the probe committee to defend himself.

After Dabiri-Erewa spoke yesterday, Rep. Ibrahim Tukur Elsudi (PDP, Taraba) drew the attention of his colleagues to the "universal and constitutional rule" of fair hearing. He said because of issues on fair hearing, the Court of Appeal quashed a National Assembly indictment of former FCT Minister Nasir el-Rufai some years ago.

Subsidy inquiry committee chairman Faruk Lawal then displayed three letters written to Speaker Aminu Tamubwal by the PPPRA, Central Bank governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Dankwambo, all saying that the PPPRA was responsible for the controversial payments.

Lawal therefore proposed an amendment to the recommendation to shift the blame from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation to the PPPRA. This was adopted, thereby letting Dankwambo off the hook.

Calls on Diezani to resign rejected

During yesterday's session, moves by some legislators to add a prayer calling for the resignation of Mrs Alison-Madueke over the subsidy scam were blocked by the deputy speaker.

At the beginning of the sitting, Rep. Robinson Uwak (PDP, Akwa Ibom) raised a point of order and told his colleagues that he has been inundated with calls from his constituency "over the House's failure to indict Mrs Madueke in the light of the revelations from the probe."

Ihedioha then beckoned at Uwak, who went up to him and the two had a conversation that was not audible to anyone else in the chambers.

However, after returning to his seat, Uwak again insisted that his prayer should be adopted, but he was ignored by the deputy speaker.

Later on, Rep. Aboho Benjamin (PDP, Benue) raised another point of order calling for the resignation of Mrs Alison-Madueke, but he too was overruled by Ihedioha.

The House approved the remaining 27 recommendations, some of them with amendments. One recommendation was added to the list, asking that copies of the report be transmitted to President Jonathan, the Senate, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), Code of Conduct Bureau and Code of Conduct Tribunal for "their information and necessary action."

The House began discussing the 62 recommendations of the inquiry committee on Tuesday, with the session being shown on live television.

Seventeen oil marketers earlier indicted for fraud were now given a second chance to appear before the committee in two weeks after they protested that they were not given fair hearing.

Indicted officers must be jailed - Sanusi

CBN governor Sanusi yesterday called for a criminal investigation into the multi-billion naira fuel subsidy fraud, saying those responsible should not only pay back stolen funds but also go to jail.

"No one can ignore these findings. We should have proper investigations," Sanusi told the Financial Times in London.

"People who are established to have been involved in a fraud should not just pay back the money, they should go to jail. If we don't do that we cannot ask people to pay more for fuel . . . There is a strong moral and political argument on the need to hold people to account," he said.

Sanusi added that he knew of one company that had acquired assets in the US with the proceeds of oil subsidy fraud.

Asked whether the political system could tolerate a criminal investigation likely to end up accusing high-level officials, he said: "We can't continue like this. What we did in banking has got to happen in other sectors. We have got to do it in oil, we have got to do it in power. We have to do it across government. If you don't do it then you stand a big risk that the political system will not survive."

Sanusi said the rationale for lifting the petrol subsidy remained. "If we are going to remove fuel subsidies completely we must have a moral basis for doing so as well," he said.

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