21 March 2014

Nigeria: Drama in House of Reps - Plan to Stop Petroleum Minister's Probe Fails

Petroleum minister Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke was the focus of the House of Representatives yesterday as the lower chamber initiated a probe into an allegation that she spent a cumulative sum of N10 billion in two years to maintain a private aircraft.

The move by the green chamber came on the heels of the alarm raised by a group, Concerned Aviation Professionals (CAP), penultimate week, over an unnamed minister who, through a wet lease agreement, spent the said sum on the aircraft.

But there was a mild effort to stop the move to probe the minister. Soon after Adejare's submission, a member from Edo State, Hon. Friday Itulah (PDP), made an attempt to counter the motion.

Itulah was, however, stopped by the speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who relied on the relevant orders of the House to put the motion to voice vote to determine whether an investigation into the matter should be allowed or not.

LEADERSHIP Friday gathered that the private jet in question, a Challenger 850, is used exclusively by the minister's immediate family even as the nation's cash cow, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), is alleged to have bankrolled the venture for two years.

The controversial N10 billion lease deal on the private aircraft is coming to the fore less than 40 days after the sack of Princess Stella Oduah as aviation minister following her controversial purchase of two bulletproof BMW cars at a cost of N255 million.

Minister Alison-Madueke has kept mum over the move to probe her. Efforts to get reactions from the Ministry of Petroleum Resources to the allegations were unsuccessful. Neither calls nor text messages sent to the ministry's spokesman, Mr Kingsley Agha, were answered.

The House of Representatives, acting on a motion moved by Hon. Babatunde Adejare (APC, Lagos), mandated its committee on Public Accounts to commence a probe into the matter and report back in three weeks.

Leading a debate on the motion, Adejare said he had reliable information that the minister allegedly sank the sum of N3.120 billion into the maintenance of a private jet that is reserved for the use of her "personal needs and that of her immediate family" and not for official functions.

He explained that the sum of 500,000 Euros (N130 million) is spent every month on the maintenance, meaning that, over the last two years, a total of N10 billion has been expended on payments of allowances to the plane's crew, hangar parking and rent based on a lease agreement.

He noted that, in recent times, Nigerians have experienced acute fuel shortage due to "dwindling national revenue which has reduced the quality of governance and deprived the people of dividends of democracy".

The lawmaker went ahead to say it is worthy of concern "that an official of government could be bankrolling this waste in the face of ever dwindling public resources which amounts to a misplacement of priority, impudence and breach of public trust". He noted that her action contravenes the Fiscal Responsibility Act "and all other laws on fiscal discipline".

Aviation stakeholders had petitioned President Jonathan on the matter, just as copies of their letter were sent to the Senate president and the speaker of the House of Representatives.

The group, which said it was in possession of details of the private jet, is led by Abdul Malik Masaya and John Obande Anihinru, chairman and secretary respectively.

Part of the petition reads: "We have details and impeccable records which confirm that the 'Super Minister' has been frittering away scarce Nigerian resources in maintaining the Challenger 850 aircraft at one of the private hangars in Nigerian airports in the last two years.

"The incontrovertible evidence we have is that the minister has been committing 500,000 euros (N130 million), monthly, to maintaining the aircraft in the last two years. Thus, in two years, the minister has committed the sum of N3.120 billion to keeping the jet, which is for personal and family use alone."

In a related development, the House had, while adopting the resolution of a motion moved by Hon. Aminu Suleiman (APC, Kano), mandated its Committee on Natural Gas to conduct an investigation to ascertain if NLNG Bonny has been remitting funds to the federation account from 2004 till date. This "constitutes an economic crime," the lawmaker said.

Section 162(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended makes it mandatory for all " revenue" collected by agencies of government to be remitted to the federation account. But the agency's failure to remit has seriously affected "all critical sectors of the Nigerian economy".

In a bid to discourage people from trading in naira, leading to scarcity of new notes, the House has also asked the Nigeria Police and the State Security Service (SSS) to arrest hawkers of new notes in the country.

Similarly, the lawmakers also urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ensure fulfilment of one of its duties which include the periodic replacement of old and mutilated naira notes with new ones.

They also called on CBN to investigate its staff against the alleged "bribe for new naira notes," and mete out punishment where necessary.

The resolution came after adoption of a motion sponsored by Hon. Nosakhare Osahon on the urgent need to halt trading in naira notes.

He noted that section 21 (4) of the CBN Act 2007 makes it a punishable offence for anyone found to be hawking, selling or otherwise trading in naira notes, coins or any note issued by the CBN.

"This act is encouraged by the persistent scarcity of new and lower naira notes, particularly the N5, N10, N20 and N50 across the country, thus creating an avenue for illegal currency hawkers to make brisk business.

"There is an unconfirmed report that these currency hawkers bribe some devious officials of the CBN to obtain the new notes which genuine bank customers are unable to get," he said.

"At the hub of illegal currency trading around Dei-Dei junction in Abuja, hawkers receive N200 commission for every N1, 000 sold and for every N2,000 they get no less than N400."

The legislators also urged the National Orientation Agency (NOA) to sensitise Nigerians against abuse of the nation's currency.

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