During the 2020 legislative year, over a hundred investigative hearings were ordered through resolutions by the 9th House of Representatives. The outcomes do not seem to have yielded expected impact. JOSHUA EGBODO writes
The constitutional mandate
The National Assembly collectively, through the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) has the mandate to among other things, expose corruption, minimise waste of public resources, and to in so doing, have powers to summon, and or compel through warrants, anybody to appear and provide it with the needed information. It is, therefore, nothing out of place to often hear of investigative public hearings in the House of Representatives.
How much value?
But with multiples of such hearings, arguments have continued to mount over failure to deliver their expected outcomes. Some analysts are of the feelings that the hearings were seemingly instituted to fight non-cooperating heads of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), with committees which supervise them, though some such hearings also came through resolutions, and in most of such cases, Ad hoc panels are raised to carry out investigations. Mandates given to such committees are mostly not met.
It became so worrisome to the leadership that Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila in one of the House’s sittings as it winds down its 2020 legislative year, issued a stern warning to standing and Ad-hoc committees, to turn in all pending reports of investigative mandates referred to them on or before January 31, 2021, or be discharged of the assignments, recalling that the House rules stipulates that such reports should naturally not exceed six months from the date of referral. Some of the resolutions mandating such probes even have specific timelines, which have been far exceeded by the panels.
Key instances of 2020
Though a handful of the committees have turned in their reports, some of which are waiting to be considered by the committee of the whole, outcomes of the majority of the attention-drawn investigations are yet to be finally considered. One of such is that of the Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Headed by Hon. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo, when the committee launched investigation into some graft allegations against the interim management team of the Commission, citizens were high in expectations, more because of the controversies that sprang up while the probe lasted. At a point, the NDDC management accused Tunji-Ojo of influencing some of the payments made from the missing funds the committee was investigating. Acting MD of the Commission also fainted during one of heated sessions of the hearing.
The committee was to later lay its report before the House on July 23, 2020. It amongst other things recommended in the report that the IMC should be sanctioned for acting in breach of the 1999 Constitution as well as other fiscal policy laws, and the law establishing NDDC itself. The committee further recommended that the interim management team should be handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for proper investigation, prosecution and where applicable, recovery of stolen funds. In addition, the panel noted that the breach of extant laws by the management team should be investigated, punishment applied where necessary.
Followers of the development have however, expressed concerns over why such a report should be kept by the House, without consideration, months after it was laid.
Another serious and controversial investigation carried out by the House last year was the removal of the management of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) by Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige. Though the report was considered and adopted by the House on the same day it was laid, all recommendations therein, including that the sacked management be restored has not been complied with.
During the hearing, Ngige who had failed to appear before the panel at its earlier sitting had verbal exchanges with Faleke on the day he finally appeared, describing the later as a “Mushin boy”, while himself was a VI (Victoria Island) boy during his days in Lagos. “If you yab me, I yab you back”, he told Faleke. Good reasoning however took the stage as Faleke, rather than respond to the invectives, told the minister answer committee members’ questions.
Also worthy of mention is the investigation into alleged misappropriation of about N100 billion at the relatively new North East Development Commission (NEDC), by an Ad hoc panel headed by Chairman of the Committee on Finance, Hon. James Faleke. Though the panel kept to its timeline and turned in its report in which it absolved management of the NEDC of any wrong, the House is yet to consider the same at the committee of the whole.
Multiple probes, little impact?
In the life of the current House of Representatives, records have shown that over a hundred investigative hearings have been mandated, either to standing committees, or Ad hoc panels, however, analysts have opined that just a few of such have been taken through, and reports turned in. For those which reports have been turned in, there are concerns too, that such reports are either unattended to, or the final outcomes have no effect, since concerned MDAs never care to affect the recommendations.
For instance, several months after the Faleke-led panel that investigated the sack of the NSITF management by Ngige recommended its immediate reinstatement on grounds that due process was not followed, and adopted by the House, the minister’s self-appointed team still holds sway at the agency. There are several of such other instances, giving credence to the popularly held opinion that parliament’s resolutions are merely advisory.
Some investigations pay, but….
Some pundits has however pointed out that contrary to the belief that outcomes from the multiple investigations have little or no impacts, noting that sometimes, these probes provide the needed direction for the executive arm of the government to take in their opinion, the major issue in most cases was that reports of the investigative panels usually come out late, and recommendations therein already overtaken by events.
A case in reference was the infamous petroleum subsidy probe by an Ad Hc committee of the House, led by Farouk Lawan during the 7th Assembly when Aminu Waziri Tambuwal was Speaker, now Governor of Sokoto State. Analysts argued that it exposed the fraud in the subsidy programme, where fraudulent businessmen in connivance with government agencies were ripping the country off in hundreds of million naira.
The probe was able to prove to the then government that statistics on the quantity of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), also known as petrol being consumed by Nigerians daily were fabricated, as there were “portfolio importers” in the words of expert, who do nothing but file papers for subsidy claims on a regular basis, and thus arbitrarily shooting up the size of government obligations to importers. Also discovered was the case of round tripping, where already documented vessels either do not discharge products, or do so in part, and go back into the sea, and return with the content as new arrival.
Though the bribery scam against Lawan threatened credibility of the outcome, reacting to the expose, the government then placed a ceiling, with a drastic reduction of the quantity of petrol importation, yet, the cues suddenly disappeared, and so other probes may have had some behind the scene impact.
Suggestions by parliamentary followers therefore, was for all committees; standing or Ad hoc to stick to timelines given them, and to also do their works diligently, avoiding booby traps of any manner of gratification from MDAs, which they have the mandate to investigate.