As the Executive Director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, champions adherence to democratic ethos. He shares this principle with Prof. Sola Adeyanju, a Senior Fellow at the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPSS). In their boat is a lecturer with the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Dr. Ibrahim Jimoh.
They have followed the National Assembly for years. The many probes instituted last year by the House of Representatives did not escape their radar.
Prof. Adeyanju told The Nation that each time such probes were instituted by the lawmakers, there were expectations from Nigerians. He, however, added that when such probes become endless or their outcomes were not implemented, they became more negative to society.
Dr. Jimoh and Rafsanjani’s positions are similar. Those probes, Jimoh said, are never concluded because of those involved. Rafsanjani told The Nation that vested interests were one of the reasons the outcomes of the probes were never implemented.
A litany of probes without results
Section 89 of the 1999 Constitution as amended gives the National Assembly the right to ask questions about the affairs of things in the country and to invite anybody to appear before it. Acting on this mandate, the House of Representatives last year probed many government agencies, but nothing tangible has come out of them. At the House sitting on December 1, last year, Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila told standing and ad-hoc committees of the House to turn in reports of investigative motions referred to them on or before January 31, this year or be discharged of such responsibilities. He told them that in accordance with the House rules, such reports were supposed to have been submitted in six months. Many of these committees have been working on the investigations and probes referred to them for over one year while other have exceeded the period of between four and eight weeks given to them by the House to carry out their assignments.
A few of the committees have turned in their reports, which are yet to be considered by the House. One of such committees is the House Committee on the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) led by Rep. Olubunmi Tunji-Ojo. Nigerians sat on the edge while the probe lasted, especially considering the controversy, accusations and counter-accusations generated by the probe, including allegations by the then Interim Management Committee (IMC) that Tunji-Ojo influenced some of the payments made by them.
In its report laid before the House at its sitting of Thursday, July 23, 2020, the committee recommended that the IMC be sanctioned for violating the constitution and other extant laws, especially the law establishing the commission. The report was supposed to have been considered on the same day it was submitted and the recommendations adopted. But six months after, the report was yet to be considered by the House. Deputy Speaker Ahmed Idris Wase, who presided over the plenary on that day, said it was important that members get copies of the report and study the recommendations to take informed positions. The committee suggested that the IMC be handed over to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for proper investigation, prosecution and possible recovery of funds. In the 18-point recommendations, the committee added that the violations of the extant laws establishing the commission should be investigated and sanction applied to those found culpable.
Interestingly, the report of the ad-hoc committee that investigated the sack of the management of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) by Minister of Labour and Employment Dr. Chris Ngige, which was adopted by the House on the same day, is yet to be implemented. It failed to do that on the pretext that copies were not made available to members.
Also, the ad-hoc committee that investigated an alleged sleaze and misappropriation of about N100 billion at the North East Development Commission headed by Rep. James Faleke has also submitted its report to the House absolving the management of any wrongdoing. But the House is yet to consider the report.
The House has so far ordered over 100 different investigations since it was inaugurated in 2019 while only a few of them have been concluded and reports submitted to the House. But these reports are either lying fallow in the House or have no effect whatsoever as the agencies concerned refuse to implement the recommendations. For example, the investigation into Ngige’s sack of the NSITF management failed to yield any positive report. In the report, the ad-hoc committee had recommended the immediate reinstatement of the sacked management on the excuse that their sack did not follow due process. But months after, the new management appointed by the minister is still in charge of the Fund while the House resolution has been thrown to the dust bin. This raises the question of the relevance of these probes and investigations if the outcomes are not implemented and the House still appropriate funds for those who fragrantly refuse to implement their recommendations.
Before the sack of the NSITF management, the House had adopted a resolution to investigate the same NSITF management for spending about N2.3 billion on staff training without approval by the board. The motion was adopted December 17, 2019, about four months before the management was sacked for the same purpose. The committee that was saddled with the responsibility of carrying out the investigation either never sat for once or did their assignment in private. But as at the close of legislative work on Monday, December 21, 2020, when the House held a special sitting to consider and pass the 2021 budget, nothing has been heard of the committee’s work. The question then is why the House failed to carry out the probe over one year after it was ordered.
Before then, the House had empanelled an ad-hoc committee that investigated remittances to the NSITF by government agencies. The committee headed by Sada Soli has since submitted its report to the House, but as at the close of legislative business on December 21, 2020, the report was yet to be considered. Also, The Nation is aware of an investigation ordered by the House into the power sector headed by House Leader Alhassan Ado Doguwa. Even though the committee had eight weeks to submit its report, it was yet to make any headway several months after. Similarly, Deputy House Leader Peter Akpatason also heads an ad-hoc committee investigating crude oil theft in the country, as well as its impact on the environment and nation’s economy. It is yet to conclude its report even though it is already out of the time allocated to it. Apart from the inaugural meeting, it is not known whether the Akpatason committee has ever met again.
On March 5, 2020, the House ordered a comprehensive probe into financial leakages arising from tax evasion, malpractices, misuse and diversion of foreign exchange allocations by companies and other entities amounting to over 30 billion dollars annually. This followed a motion sponsored by the Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, James Faleke on the need to investigate the disbursement of foreign exchange by the Central Bank of Nigeria and other agencies with a view to determining the exact amount that may have been lost by the government in the process. He said the leakages arose from various malpractices in foreign exchange allocation to companies from sources, such as CBN, autonomous, interbank, domiciliary and over the counter purchases for the importation of physical goods, payments of foreign service vendors, dividend repatriation, foreign loans and interest payment including foreign currency-denominated contracts payment by companies in engineering, procurement, construction, installation and marine transportations. He also alleged fictitious transfer of forex allocation for the payments of dividends to foreign shareholders of Nigeria companies above the dividend approved by the company’s board of directors and audited accounts thereby leading to evasion of statutory 30% company income Tax thereof.
The House Committees on Finance, as well as Banking and Currency that were mandated to carry out the investigation and make a formal report of findings and provide necessary recommendations, are yet to submit any report to the House.
Even though the committees sat a couple of times in public, some of the agencies that were supposed to appear before the committee either failed to turn up, send low cadre officers who were rejected by the committees or fail to provide the necessary documents requested by the committee. Nine months after, the committees are yet to conclude its assignment and have since surpassed the six months period allowed by the House rules.
The House also resolved to carry out a comprehensive investigation into the operational and financial activities of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company to find out why the company has failed to contribute positively to power generation in the country. It also resolved to investigate all contracts awarded by the company since 2004 and payments made for such contracts to determine whether money made available for such contracts have been adequately accounted for.
Like in other cases, the resolution appeared to have hit the brick wall as no report has been made available to the House for adoption, several months after in spite of widespread allegations and controversies surrounding the award of contracts by the NDPHC for various projects.
Another important investigation, which has failed to see the light of day in the green chamber, is the decision to investigate flagrant violations of Nigeria’s labour laws by International Oil Companies operating in the country. The decision was taken by the House on November 28, 2019, with a directive to the Minister of Labour and Employment and other relevant ministers to immediately address the challenges of exploitation and abuse of workers in the nation’s oil and gas sector.
Baro Port and others
The abandonment of the Baro Port and failure to commence operations at the port nineteen months after it was inaugurated was also to be investigated. The multi-billion Baro Port was aimed at boosting economic development in the North and the decongesting the roads of containers. Several months after, there is no sign that the committee ever met once. The investigation was to ensure that all bottlenecks stalling the commencement of operations at the port are removed. The port is yet to commence operation while there has been no report to the House suggestive of why the port has not commenced operation.
On February 26, 2020, the House resolved to investigate what it described as the booming sex slavery going on in the country, while asking the National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP) to begin to shame the traffickers in their homes, including the widespread publication of the names and pictures of convicted traffickers.
The House also resolved to ask the personnel of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) at the ports and borders of Nigeria to allow trained NAPTIP officials to operate at entry points. The agency and the NIS never listened to the House while the investigation never saw the light of day.
The House Committee on Works was meant to investigate why the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road, a distance of almost 400 kilometres was awarded to a single company even though their tender was the highest. The road, which was awarded a completion period of 36 months, expiring in May 2021 is less than 40 per cent completed even though more than half of the contract sum has been paid. During its oversight function on the road, the committee expressed displeasure at the pace of work. Even though the committee threatened fire and brimstone during the visit, there has been nothing concrete to prove that it is ready to back its words with action.
Also, the House Committee on Finance threatened sanction for revenue agencies who have failed to remit the right amount of money to the consolidated revenue fund of the federation. But all that ended in mere threat as the agencies have continued to undermine the House, while the House has also failed to invoke the provisions of the law to arrest those who failed to appear before its committees to answer questions.
Why probes do not have impacts and how to change the situation
Findings by The Nation revealed that previous Assemblies have also conducted a series of investigative hearings, many of which ended up either not being concluded or reports never implemented. A former member of the House, Mohammed Soba, told The Nation that the National Assembly lacked the power to enforce the outcome of its investigations because the outcomes were considered as mere suggestions by the executive. This, he believes, is largely responsible for while most probes have ended up not having any effect.
What the National Assembly does in most cases, Soba added, is administrative probes which lack the enforcement power even though they are empowered by the constitution to ask vital and critical questions.
In a letter to the Speaker of the House in the wake of the investigation of the NDDC and the controversies that heralded it, Leader of the PDP caucus in the House Rep. Kingsley Chinda said: “As one of the longest-serving legislators, you are aware that the House of Representatives has faced several challenges since 1999; chief among them is getting the public to repose confidence in the House of Representatives and believe in the integrity of its members and leadership. Recent developments, especially following hard on the heels of the investigative hearings empanelled by your leadership, suggest that the House of Representatives has descended into a new and unprecedented low. However, as conscientious members, we fear and justifiably so, that the House of Representatives will continue to plumb the depth of the new low if you don’t find the courage and firmness to halt the slide, and quickly too.”
For Prof. Adeyanju, “when a probe becomes endless or its report is not implemented, it becomes more negative to society. One, justice must have been denied whoever needs it and it can also encourage others to perpetuate an illegality. This boils down to the promotion of a culture of impunity, and that’s why some people can say we shall do it and nothing will happen”.
But how can this be avoided? Adeyanju said: “We must be certain from the beginning of instituting a probe that the report shall be implemented. Else, it’s better not to even probe at all. If we cannot learn from the past, we are bound to repeat it in the present and be oblivious of it in the future. Let no one institute public probe to waste public money, time and emotions. It is tantamount to criminality.”
Dr. Jimoh said the implication of ineffective probes for democracy was reducing it to absolute aristocracy “where the rules of the games are circumvented for the benefit of the ruling elites”. “Those probes are never concluded because of those involved. These are party men and their cronies, big contractors close to those in government etc. The sad thing is that a precedent is being set”.
A former Secretary-General of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Anthony Z. Sani, said probes without effects were found not only in the legislature but in most aspects of our national life. “For examples, the reports of auditors general at both federal and state levels are never implemented just as there have been summits and conferences which reports have not been implemented. That made me to once suggest that a summit on why probes, conferences and summit have not delivered be convened.” He added: “All these demonstrate the wisdom of those who posit that good governance derived from national ideals and values which most Nigerians share have collapsed. And because lack of implementation has dire implications on governance and attitudes, let there be a line from which reports of not only probes but also reports by auditors general and of summit and conference must be implemented as a deterrent to others. That may be the starting point for making probes serve their purposes”.
Rafsanjani told The Nation that sometimes “the committees are not getting the necessary information and cooperation from responsible agencies, while in some situations, the committee members don’t attend meetings.
Other reasons are allegations of settlement or compromising at leadership level”. He believes that this has “a huge implication for wasting public taxpayers money and lack of accountability in carrying out legislative activities, such behaviour is giving bad reputation for democracy and legislative activities due to poor attention to carry out legislative work. This is also creating a wrong impression that probes are mobilised for extortion and the opportunity to cover up.
The legislature is empowered to expose corruption and wrongdoing and demands for accountability in governance, therefore not taking legislative activities seriously tantamount to undermining accountability and responsible governance in democratic”.
Source: The Nation