A Probe To Nowhere by Sola Adeneye

June 20, 2012 – As a political office holder, apart from the period I was Chairman of Ifedayo Local Government in Osun State, I have served entirely as a parliamentarian at the Federal level; but, unlike in my incarnations as a teacher and businessman, here, I’m not entirely in control of decisions or outcomes. Even personal propriety would seem vastly insufficient to hide one’s helplessness. You want to justify the huge salary you’re peculiarly paid as a Nigerian parliamentarian by applying yourself diligently to the work at hand, but parliamentary rules, procedures and processes and most times, huge doses of political chicanery can get your butt glued to your seat, mouth firmly sealed for an incredibly long period of time.

I have sat here reading through the 205-page Report of House of Representatives’ Ad-Hoc Committee on the management of the fuel subsidy. I have gone through a gamut of emotions – from anger to helplessness – but this is nothing new. It’s always how I feel when I read through or sit through these things. I’ve grown sick from a constant feeling of déjà vu, as I imagine another parliamentary tome flying into the executive dustbin! Yet, even though I’m a teacher, a businessman and a politician, I think of myself more crucially as a citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And that is precisely why I’m sick and worried.

As a citizen, I sit here and wonder how much more emotional battery Nigerians can take when they have to sit through public hearings of this sort and hear in gory detail, day after day, how their patrimony is being stolen and squandered by people they’ve given opportunities to serve and lead them! When I look back to the whole period of civil rule and see the strewn carcasses of unimplemented parliamentary probe reports, my heart bleeds deep red! It not only emphasises the nature and extent of waste perpetrated in this country, it brings home the fact most strongly that there is a vicious hold on the nation by the cult of corruption.

When I was asked recently at a media chat whether the government was going to implement the report of the subsidy probe, I was quick to say I don’t think so, because we have a situation where the dominant party dictates public action or inaction. I mean, any conscious Nigerian knows that the ruling party has made corruption the instrument of state policy and the most vital ingredient that oils the wheels of governance to the detriment of the ordinary people. Even the ultra-conservative World Bank has cried out on our behalf! The effect on governance cannot be over-emphasised. If policy-makers and service providers are in cahoots, loading imaginary costs upon imaginary costs, unconscionable greed upon unconscionable greed on a simple service or public product, because of corruption and the very many leeches on the trough, the value of that product or service will not be there for the people, because its cost would be far more than the enjoyment of the service or product. In essence, they would have been better off not getting the product and service at all than paying that much to leeches and termites whose survival depends on sucking the people’s blood and poisoning them at the same time!

On 22 January, this year, the Vanguard newspaper published an interview with my colleague, Senator Babafemi Ojudu. He was fielding questions from the interviewer, Bashir Adefaka, on his membership of the Senate Ad-hoc Committee on the probe of the Bureau of Public Enterprises, BPE, and what became of their report. The reporter threw Ojudu’s words back in his face for saying in the course of the hearing that there would be no sacred cows. Indeed, the committee did a thorough job which indicted former President Olusegun Obasanjo and a whole lot of others. At the time of his interview, they’d submitted the report, but the journalist was making him squirm in the face of the larger Senate supposedly playing hide and seek with it. He asked Ojudu if, in the face of such a development, he wouldn’t develop cold feet if called upon to do such a job in the future. Mr Ojudu said he would not decline if called upon. “You do not stop struggling because you failed at one attempt,” he declared. Senator Ojudu, whose background as an activist-journalist is well known, said, “We all should continue to ask questions and we must continue to demand answers. In spite of what happened, I think the document that emerged is strong enough to serve in the process of asking strong questions and calling for actions.” What he said next is instructive: “Unfortunately, in Nigeria, we have a very weak opposition, an opposition that is not attentive enough to latch on to these little gains to demand vigorously for a more transparent Nigeria.”

Mr. Ojudu is my partyman and we are both members of this opposition he criticises. While I won’t be raising any defence here for the opposition, I would like to point out one thing. The publication of the Vanguard was in late January this year as indicated, but actually the Senate had, on Tuesday 20 December 2011, accepted and adopted the whole 45 recommendations by the Committee (I can only assume that the interview was granted before the adoption, but was published well after without the necessary caveat or correction). The Senate President, David Mark, at the session actually frowned at the reports and insinuations in the media regarding what the latter thought was unwillingness on the part of the larger Senate to adopt the report, because of pressure from the powerful people indicted. He said: “Nobody forced us to undertake this investigation, we did it on our own and nobody should make efforts to stampede us. We have our own timetable and there was no time the report was withdrawn because of any external pressure or because there was conflict in the Senate.” Yet, after this adoption, the Senate President instructively noted: “Having adopted the committee’s report, it is not in our place or duty to execute or implement the recommendations. It is left for the executive to implement them.”

The Committee’s report included a recommendation that the Director-General, Ms Bolanle Onagoruwa, be removed “for gross incompetence and for the illegal and fraudulent sale of the federal government’s residual shares in Eleme Petrochemicals Company Limited”. It indicted former President Obasanjo as well as former heads of the Bureau, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, Dr. Julius Bala and Mrs. Irene Nkechi Chigbue, the latter three for seeking approval directly from the President instead of the National Council on Privatisation as stipulated in the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act, 1999. The Committee recommended that the unlawful and criminal sale of the Abuja International Hotels Limited, the Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Abuja, the Aluminum Smelter Company of Nigeria and the Delta Steel Company be rescinded and that they be re-advertised for sale to new investors under lawful procedures.

There were also recommendations that the Federal Government implement the July 2011 Inter-Ministerial Technical Audit Report on Ajaokuta Steel Complex and that the BPE should stop the use of privatisation proceeds to settle staff terminal benefits, consultancy fees, transaction expenses and execution of capital projects. The Committee stated that it should rather approach the National Assembly for appropriation as provided under Section 80 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended). It recommended that the BPE close all privatisation proceeds account in commercial banks and henceforth put all the proceeds in the Privatisation Proceeds Account with the Central Bank of Nigeria in compliance with Section 19(1) of the Public Enterprises (Privatisation and Commercialisation) Act 1999. The Committee further recommended that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, be immediately brought in to investigate the economic crimes being perpetrated against the nation at the premises of VON Automobile Nigeria Limited in Lagos by Barbedos Ventures Limited, BVL, while the taxes and import duties accruable to the Federal Government on all goods smuggled into the warehouse of VON Automobile Nigeria Limited be computed and recovered by the Nigeria Customs Service and the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

Now, without prejudice to the right of persons and institutions indicted to defend themselves in a lawful manner, it is worth noting that not one of these recommendations by the Senate has been implemented by the executive. In fact, not a squeak has been heard from their front, five months after taking delivery of the report. Everyone indicted, both in and out of office, are going about their lawful and unlawful businesses as though nothing happened.

Mr. Ojudu talks about not giving up after one failed attempt; but I wish it were so. There are tens of parliamentary recommendations that have passed through executive shredders. However, it is one thing for them to ignore the recommendations and another thing to smear it all in putrid political palm oil with the aim of killing the spirit of the ordinary Nigerian. For instance, one of the most enervating parliamentary probes since the return of civil rule is the Godwin Ndudi Elumelu-led House of Representatives’ Power and Steel Committee probe of the power sector. I’m highlighting it here, because it epitomises the perfidy underlying attempts by the National Assembly to call people to account for their actions in public service, especially where these concern policy goals and public money. The lies, the thefts, the multiple betrayals of public trust are just breathtakingly jaw-dropping that in the end, Nigerians were left in a frazzled heap, not knowing what to believe or where to turn. They spent so much money probing the cause of national darkness and in the end it was all wrapped up in stifling obscurantism.  Hollywood could not have scripted a worse tragedy for a nation still grappling with basic electricity supply in the midst of unspeakable wealth and talented human and natural resources.

It began sometime in 2007 with the then Speaker of the House of Representatives, ‘Dimeji Bankole telling the nation that the $16 billion poured into the power sector, pursuant to President Olusegun Obasanjo’s promise to improve electricity supply, hasn’t produced the expected result. In January 2008, the House passed a resolution mandating its Power and Steel Committee to probe the power sector with a view to ascertaining, amongst other things, what happened to the money spent so far. In March 2008, the Committee began the public hearing, followed by a long tour of related projects and facilities nationwide, with a view to verifying the claims being made by the contractors handling the power projects. The Committee submitted its report to the leadership of the House in May 2008.

•Pro. Adeyeye is a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.