There is a popular belief among members of the public that the Senate and the House of Representatives initiate probes only when they are broke, and in order to extort money from government agencies and other affected people or institutions. And, as always predicted, probes by the National Assembly have consistently turned out to be either a case of witch-hunting those who have refused to play ball or a mere grandstanding deliberately designed to reroute our concentration from the actual issues at stake. In all cases, the exercise ended up useless as deceived Nigerians ended up gaining nothing at the end. In other words, probes by the National Assembly are increasingly becoming the most effective weapon recurrently engaged by some of our corrupt leaders. It has become as an instrument of bad governance in Nigeria’s brand of democracy. In the last 13 years, our lawmakers have come up with different kinds of probes or public hearings on critical issues that are better left for anti-corruption agencies to handle, either for political reasons or for their own selfish and personal aggrandisement.
Since 1999 both the Senate and the House had to separately investigate several cases: the Nigeria Telecommunications Limited, the billions of dollars fraud in the power sector, the housing scam in the Federal Capital Territory Administration, the Petroleum Technology Development Fund, the Bureau of Public Enterprises, the recent N1.3 trillion petroleum subsidy and the ongoing pension fund administration/the capital market probes. It has remained the same old story. When the Niger Delta militants blow up an oil well, the murderous Boko Haram bombs mosques or churches, when a large-scale fraud involving public servants is discovered, or when the owl chooses to hoot at night near the Aso Rock Villa or National Assembly, all that the National Assembly does is set up a probe panel. Yet at the end of the exercise, no findings are released and nobody is punished for any wrongdoing.
Now the Farouk Lawan-led committee on fuel subsidy is clearly turning to a political weapon created by the thieving cabal in the oil sector to douse tension or calm frayed nerves temporarily, because of the huge and suffocating tension the issue had generated in our country. It seems, like most of the several investigations carried out by the National Assembly that are either inconclusive or gathering dust in the shelves, the Lawan-led committee is either being held hostage by some vested interests or he has been duly destabilised by all means necessary by some evil forces. Even an idiot would think that way, going by the antecedents of the legislative arm.
About three weeks ago, Farouk told this newspaper that the long-awaited report of the subsidy investigation would be “ready in two weeks”. While confirming that the pressure from the public was enormous, he however advised Nigerians not to stampede the committee into making a hasty and incomprehensive report.
Farouk, who had also raised the alarm that some powerful forces made attempts to oil his hands, added that the probing exercise requires that they provide answers to a lot of raised questions, and, in dealing with a sensitive matter like that, it was important that it is done effectively and efficiently. He had promised to present a credible report that would hopefully answer all the questions raised and satisfy Nigerians. Thus, he revealed that there were lots of shady practices in the way some of these (fuel) transactions were made.
In the probe that was aired live on several television stations, about 140 companies were invited by the investigative panel; a majority made presentations and relevant documents were obtained from all the invited companies including those that did not appear. The very experienced lawmaker also said the breakthrough of the committee was aided with the involvement of the intelligence unit of Lloyds of London.
“We have addressed some of the issues. We have a rough idea of daily consumption of PMS as well as that of kerosene. We have a rough idea of what should be the subsidy for 2012. We also have an idea of what ordinarily should have been paid as subsidy in 2011, but there are other issues like we are trying to track from the importers whether to see what they claimed to have been imported were actually correct or not”, Farouk had stated.
Beyond unintelligent rhetoric, the Kano-born politician had always wanted many of his admirers including this writer, to see him as a very serious, clean, upright and incorruptible person. But events in the last few weeks have shown that Farouk has suddenly caught cold; to put it mildly, he has suddenly decided to be deaf and dumb, and can longer speak on the findings of his investigation on fuel subsidy. Like every other report concluded in the National Assembly, the fuel subsidy probe may have been stifled and it might never see the light of day.
If Farouk and his colleagues are not worried, most Nigerians are troubled that, in his probe, there is no concrete result so far to justify the huge time and public funds invested in the exercise. Nigerians’ trouble sinks deeper, taking into consideration that even probes into the mismanagement of key sectors of the economy by the House in the last few years have similarly ended up in the centre of nowhere. Although some Nigerians have short memory, many right-thinking people recall that the House committee led by Ndudi Elumelu had instituted a probe into the massive investment made in the power sector under the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. In the course of the probe, astounding revelations were made, but after all the razzmatazz that followed the probe, nothing till date has been heard about it.
In the same way the National Assembly investigated the BPE where amazing revelations were made on how public enterprises were sold cheaply to some Nigerians and foreign investors. For example, the Aluminium Smelting Company of Nigeria established at a cost of $3.2 billion, was sold for $130 million; the Delta Steel Company, which was set up in 2005 at a cost of $1.5 billion was given away for $30 million. Then there is the current vexed issue – the multi-billion dollar fraud discovered in the recent oil subsidy probe conducted by the House. In all these, it has been mere gesture without movement.
If the National Assembly wants the international community and other members of the public to take the institution very seriously as a responsible democratic institution that ought to believe very much in the economic wellbeing of Nigeria, it should, without further delay, make credible move to redeem its battered image by making the findings of all these probes, especially the fuel subsidy, publicly so that all those indicted should face the anti-corruption agencies. Many Nigerians, especially the younger generations, are worried that their nation may well be compromising its future as corrupt practices are being dug out but the culprits are left unpunished.