Ojo M. Maduekwe argues that what normally should have been a commendable probe of the Petroleum Resource Minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, for official wastage by the House of Representatives, has been steeped in needless politics with its selective approach
The contest for the 2015 general election is intensifying and the opposition All Progressives Congress (APC) is sparing nothing to chance to unseat the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-controlled federal government. One after the other, the APC is believed to have redirected its attention by taking down the presidentâ€™s supposed women and men, since it is unable to reach him yet, until maybe during the 2015 presidential election.
Although such attacks directed at specific persons in the Jonathan cabinet have not been in vacuum; there have always been the grounds to do that.
From the former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, to the Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and now to the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, amongst their male colleagues, the oppositionâ€™s objective it appears is to paint a corrupt picture of the PDP-led government as a major focus of the election in 2015.
The current object of attack, Alison-Madueke is being accused of spending an estimated N10 billion on chartered jets as well as maintaining more than one private jet in the course of two years.
According to the House of Representatives member who brought the matter before the floor, Samuel Adejare, an APC member representing Lagos State, the minister used about 500,000 Euros (N130 million) monthly to maintain the aircraft(s), â€œsolely for her personal needs and those of her immediate family.â€
To achieve its objective, the House of Representatives which has remained APCâ€™s attack dog in challenging President Jonathanâ€™s administration, is known for moving in opposite directions with the executive. While some of its oversight functions have been commendable, others have been immersed in needless politics. Sadly, the failure of the House to fight corruption within the four corners of its chambers has aided this rather unsavoury perception.
A case in point is that of its former committee chairman on education, Hon. Farouk Lawan, who remains a member of the legislature, despite being caught on video collecting bribe.
Lawan, who is currently in an FCT High Court along with another House member, Boniface Emenalo, is alleged to have collected bribe money of $620,000 dollars from businessman and Chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, Femi Otedola, to clear Otedolaâ€™s company from any wrongdoing during the House probe of the federal governmentâ€™s subsidy payment for 2011.
Sources in the National Assembly said there remain several similar cases like that of Lawan within both chambers of the National Assembly, where lawmakers have to be lobbied. According to the source, it was a known practice among different committee members to demand for money before many bills are presented on the floor of the House for consideration.
In most cases, the source said bills that have suffered long delay were either due to refusal of the group or person sponsoring the bill to pay money to the lawmakers to aid a smooth passage of the bill or, maybe another group which did not want the bill passed had succeeded in pricing higher. The the long delay of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) is an example.
Same as Oduah, the House probe of Alison-Madueke is being considered selective. Although the crux of the investigation should not be whether all the politicians are guilty of what the lawmakers are investigating the minister for, but on whether it is right for any public official to use such huge public funds on travels. Nonetheless, the House of Representatives has failed to refute allegations that its investigation of the minister is both selective and vindictive.
At a media briefing, deputy chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Victor Ogene (Anambra/APGA), while reacting to questions on suggestions that the petroleum minister was unjustly being singled out for probe in view of the fact that most top government officials routinely charter aircraft for their travels, including the House Speaker, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, failed to tender a convincing response.
Hear him: â€œDrawing the speaker into it (chartering aircrafts), my simple reaction would be: is there any money missing from the coffers of the National Assembly? If there is none, why should anybody be worried about how the speaker moves,â€ said Ogene.
In essence, what Ogene is saying is that if Tambuwalâ€™s travel cost was as expensive as that of Allison-Madueke but since money wasnâ€™t missing from the National Assembly, he shouldnâ€™t be questioned because it is money spent in the line of duty.
The same Ogene who questioned why Nigerians should be concerned on whether the Speaker was wasting public funds through his travel expenses, went ahead to say that â€œSection 88 of the 1999 Constitution clearly gave powers to the legislature to investigate and expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in the management monies appropriated by it on any matter for which it has legislative competence.â€
Thus, while some people are calling for the ministerâ€™s sack, there are those making a case for her.
According to an Abuja-based group, Network of Progressive Activists, â€œrecords show clearly that every minister of petroleum resources â€“ from Tam David-West to Jubril Aminu, Rilwanu Lukman, Don Etiebet, Dan Etete, Odien Ajumogobia â€“ had access to chartered jets or NNPC owned aircraft. So why is Mrs. Alison-Madueke being hounded and persecuted?â€
Others who spoke with THISDAY maintained that the investigation of the minister, although something that normally would have been applauded, was selective and appeared to have been sponsored by the APC.
For these people, if indeed the investigation was not selective, Ogene and the House should be concerned on how much any public officer spends on travel, adding that Ogeneâ€™s remark was insensitive.
The PDP Youth Network said: â€œIf every public officeholder should resign on the basis of allegations that are yet to be substantiated, then almost every public officeholder in Nigeria in perhaps all the three tiers of government including the APC-controlled states would have resigned. There will be no apparatus of government in existence.â€
According to the National Secretary of the Network, Gabriel Adole Simon, APC is doing Nigerians a disservice by misinforming, misleading and abusing their mind against public officials under President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s government.
â€œThe APC and its members in the probe committee and the National Assembly have prejudged this matter. They have served Nigerians their verdict even before they heard all sides.â€
The committee investigating the minister is the Public Accounts Committee headed by Honourable Solomon Olamilekan, a member of the APC representing Alimoso Federal Constituency in the House. Like the Committee of Finance, which was once also chaired by Olamilekan, the Public Accounts Committee is rumoured by lawmakers as being very lucrative.
Shaka Momodu, while writing on the matter in his column in THISDAY, said: â€œFrom all indications, the committee has its motive: nail her at all costs and create as much public disaffection as possible and give the impression that all is for the common good. Yet, it is the same House that has also stubbornly refused to disclose to Nigerians how much each of its members takes home every month.
â€œIt is the same House that unilaterally increased its allowances; it is the same House that pads up budgets of ministries and parastatals and then goes behind to collect settlement from the ministries and parastatals.â€
Aside these abuses of office listed by Momodu, several other allegations of official corruption continue to hang over the House as a whole and its members.
Some of those who spoke to THISDAY contended that if Nigerians must indeed fight corruption, the searchlight shouldnâ€™t be targeted at some individuals like the APC is known to do, through its lawmakers in the House. Rather, it should be a comprehensive fight that would see every politician across all political divides and governments involved, the opposition inclusive.