If the Federal Government fully implements the recommendations of the House Ad Hoc Committee on Subsidy Probe, the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and her immediate predecessors, Olusegun Aganga and Mansur Muhtar, might face prosecution for their roles in escalating government’s fuel subsidy spending between 2009 and 2011.
The House of Representatives said Wednesday in its final approval of the subsidy report that the ministers are culpable as much as heads of some indicted agencies in the mismanagement of the subsidy funds.
Subsidy cost soared mostly between the three years, reaching a high of N2.58 trillion in 2011 against budgeted figure of about N250billion.
The extra funds were sourced and drawn illegally without the National Assembly’s approval in the three years, lawmakers have said. Federal ministry of finance, and its departments, played key roles in releasing the monies, they added.
Mr. Muhtar held that office between January 2009 and March 2010, was suceeded by Mr. Aganga whose tenure ended in March 2011. Current minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala assumed office in October, 2011.
In approving the Farouk Lawan committee’s report on Wednesday, the House replaced the word “sanctions” with “investigation/prosecution” and directed the indictment to “all those” in the finance ministry,budget office and debt management office, involved in extra budgetary activities during the period.
Asked whether that included the ministers, House spokesperson, Zakari Mohammed, answered positively.
“All those between 2009 and 2011 will include everybody, including the ministers,” he said.
The indictments came amid shocking turnarounds by the House, which saw Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo, governor of Gombe state, and former Accountant General of the federation, accused of paying N999 million 128 times within 24 hours, exonerated. Petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke was also spared indictments.
Mr. Dankwambo made the unprecedented payments totaling N127.8 billion between January 12 and 13, 2009, the Farouk Lawan-led committee said, but the committee abstained from outright indictment rather urging further investigation on the matter.
The committee said Central Bank cheques were released to 128 purported oil marketers, raising doubts on how all the firms could have imported same volume of fuel, to earn same amount.
The revelation has become one of the most troubling of the entire report, sparking calls for stiff penalties against the governor, and others indicted in the document approved today by the House.
The House said the approved document will be served on President Goodluck Jonathan, the senate and the anti-graft agencies.
Amongst changes made however, include recommending the prosecution of the auditing firms, Akintola Williams, Deloitte and Olusola Adekanola & Partners instead of mere suspension of contract and a blacklisting.
In a twist, the house leadership acted on a letter purportedly sent in by the Mr. Dankwambo, the CBN, and the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), all claiming the payments were rather done by the PPPRA. The letter was read to the house by the adhoc committee chairman, Mr. Lawan.
Presiding deputy speaker, Emeka Ihedioha, approved an amendment replacing Mr. Dakwambo with the PPPRA in the recommendation, over-ruling suggestions from lawmakers the two be retained for the anti-corruption agencies to ascertain the culprit.
Mr. Ihedioha warded off similar attempts to state specific indictments against the petroleum minister, Mrs. Alison-Madueke, having thwarted similar effort on Tuesday amid increasing pressure from lawmakers who castigate the minister for superintending departments now regarded as some of Nigeria’s most corrupt.
Besides hailing the Farouk Lawan-led committee’s work, a rallying point for lawmakers and Nigerians has been, holding Mrs. Allison-Madueke to account for the abuses named in the report, of which nearly all happened under her watch as minister.
The two establishments most indicted in the report-the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency report to the Mrs. Alison-Madueke, while she directly heads the NNPC board.
However, getting sanctions passed by the house against the minister, proved unattainable in the two days the debates lasted, and many members accused the leadership for protecting the minister.
Ahead of the debates on Wednesday, lawmakers capitalized on Robinson Uwak’s (PDP, Akwa Ibom) calling for the resignation of Mrs. Alison-Madueke over the charges. Mr. Uwak said he had been “bombarded” by his constituents who asked why the minister was not asked to step down.
The motion drew wide support and was nearly passed before another dramatic overrule by the deputy speaker who questioned the motion’s timing.
Still, the House said Mrs. Alison-Madueke remained indicted.
“The minister’s case is a case that has been settled since yesterday (Tuesday),” the House spokesperson, Mr Mohammed said shortly after the House gave a final approval for the recommendations of the subsidy reports. Mr. Mohammed referred to the clause asking for the “overhaul” of the board and management of the NNPC.
“The minister is the board chair of the NNPC and it was a clear case of indictment. We tried to avoid names. If we kept mentioning names, it would have appeared as if we were biased,” the spokesperson said.