Currently being investigated by federal lawmakers over fuel subsidy management, and indicted for corruption by a government-sponsored audit report, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation(NNPC), is facing some its most blistering scrutiny.
But the powerful government-owned oil firm, renowned for corruption and controversies, remains the most frustrating government establishment for legislative oversight, and its unrelenting secrecy, aided by a seemingly air of invincibility, is to blame, lawmakers have said.
More than any other organization, the NNPC flouts the directives of the House of Representatives and the Senate without serious rebuke, and repeatedly ignores some of the lawmakers’ incessant summoning of its officials.
Still, none of the misdemeanors remain such a worry to both arms of the National Assembly as the corporation’s vehement refusal to surrender its annual budget for approval.
For years, its spending are unchecked and uncensored by the National Assembly, as are many other segments of the company’s operations and successive governments have vigorously defended that policy which riles lawmakers to no end.
“What kind of technical organization anywhere in the world does not submit its budget to the legislature for appropriation,” asked chairman, House committee on Finance, Abdulmumuni Jibrin, last week.
Mr. Jibrin’s remark followed a declaration by the petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, that the corporation’s finances cannot be scrutinized due to the “technical nature” of its operations, a rhetoric severally bandied by past ministers and NNPC’s officials.
Keeping the NNPC’s “operations” strictly under the wraps had been the norm for several governments spanning decades, extending to the Obasanjo Yar’Adua and Jonathan administrations.
Despite a swell of corruption allegations, that procedure has remained intact. While the lawmakers argue that that rule, known to be backed by the presidency, has clouded facts of the actual quantity of oil produced in Nigeria, and the amount sold daily, ministry officials have responded that, as the emblem of the nation’s economic mainstay, confidentiality cannot be ruled out from the group’s functions.
“There are a lot of highly technical things done by the NNPC, and since they all relate to the economy, such information cannot be expected to be easily passed around,” Mrs. Allison-Madueke told the senate joint committee investigating subsidy revenues recently.
That has remained a thorny issue the Senate and the House committees on Appropriation, Finance, Petroleum (upstream and downstream), Gas, and other sundry matters with direct oversight links with the petroleum industry, have had to reluctantly live with, year after year.
At a meeting with the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the House Finance chairman, Mr. Jibrin, put forward that concern once more. “Is there anyway the NNPC can be transparent?”, she asked the minister, who doubles as the Coordinating Minister for the Economy.
Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala brushed the question aside, and advised that only petroleum ministry officials would better provide an answer.
An audit report by the renowned consultancy, KPMG, on the NNPC, exclusively published by the Times last week, has added credence to the allegations of profound corruption in the corporation.
Amongst several other revelations, the auditors stated that between 2007 and 2009, the NNPC over-deducted funds in subsidy claims to the tune of N28.5 bn. The report, requested for by the senate, has been hidden from Nigerians and even the lawmakers.
Beyond the high-level concealment of data and financial details, the relationship between the NNPC and the National Assembly underlines a growingly influential government organization that tends to outweigh the authority that was meant to check it.
After coming under verbal attacks from the NNPC spokesperson, Levi Ajuonuma, recently, the House of Representatives merely tucked its tail and referred a response to its ethics committee.
Mr. Ajuonoma had castigated the House for its incessant public hearings, advising the lawmakers to return to school.
“Public hearing is not the first thing you do when you are just less than six or nine months in the job. That’s not what to do,” Mr. Ajuonuma had said regarding the recently completed hearing on a missing N450 billion government funds.
He continued: “So, you have to continue to educate and re-educate and educate. Those people (members) do not read and you know that the least qualification to be a lawmaker in advanced democracy is that you must be a lawyer. But here, we are learning.”
After much anger in the chamber, the House managed to refer the matter to the Ethics and Privileges Committee were the issue is most likely to be swept under the carpet.
In the mix, a member put it straight to his colleagues, urging them to limit the extent of monetary favour they seek from public officials, since the esteem of the House inevitable wanes with every illicit money members collect.
“Let us not look for too much money when we go out,” said Ken Chikere, who represents Port Harcourt, Rivers state.