Nigerian lawmakers on Tuesday shifted their attention to a $3.5 billion budget recovery fund allegedly spent by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
Two senators of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had a heated argument during senate plenary over the issue.
Kabir Marafa (Zamfara-APC) and Ali Ndume (Yobe-APC) disagreed on which committee should investigate the matter.
The issue was brought to the notice of the senate by Biodun Olujmi (Ekiti-PDP).
“I bring an issue in today’s ThisDay newspaper and it’s about $3.5 billion budget recovery fund being used by the NNPC,” she said.
“It is earmarked as subsidy recovery fund by the NNPC. Mr President since 1999, there has always been a budget for subsidy but this has been jettisoned by the current government which leaves this administration in a dire situation.
“What is happening is that there is a fund named subsidy recovery fund which is managed by only two individuals of the NNPC, that is the Managing Director and the Executive Director, Finance.
“This fund is too huge for two people to manage. Right now, Mr President, the $3.5 billion is managed by just two and this is too huge to be managed without appropriation, without any recourse to any known law of the land.
“During your remarks after the passage of the budget, you mentioned that there should be a budget for subsidy that it should be brought before the National Assembly. By the report, it is almost certain that the $3.5 billion is slush funds managed by two individuals and that is not correct.
“I urge the senate to cause the downstream committee to invite the NNPC to explain why it should be so and what has happened to the funds that have been used so far and the new term recovery instead of subsidy approval.”
The Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his ruling mandated the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, and Chairman Senate Committee on Downstream, Mr Marafa, to “summon those in the NNPC who are responsible and come back to us in four days on a report that we can all debate.”
This resolution, however, did not go down well with Mr Ndume who alleged that Mr Marafa’s committee might have been compromised.
“I don’t want to be hard on the committee,” he said.
“I think the committee has the responsibility of oversight, when this happens they are supposed to know. Senator Marafa being chairman of the committee should be out of this. The Senate Leader and other members should look at this thing objectively. When you have a large amount of money stacked somewhere, it calls for caution. I’m suggesting that the leader, as distinguished Senator Bukar Abba said – not me – that the committee might have been compromised.”
The lawmakers thereafter unanimously agreed to set up an ad-hoc committee to look into the matter.
After the resolution, Mr Marafa, coming under order 53, protested the allegation levelled against him.
He said, “I have no problem if we are even asked the committee of downstream to step aside totally or if it is the wish of the committee of selection that is responsible for appointing the various committees, that the committee of downstream be dissolved today. I have no problem with that. I equally have no offence with the submission of Senator Ali Ndume.
“But I have serious exception when he said that the committee compromised. Let it be on record that this senate split the committee into two of public accounts to look into this issue of subsidy while the downstream sector was given the responsibility of looking into the volumes on this same matter.
“For somebody to come out and say, with due respect, that I am managing subsidy programme, that is incorrect. Let all these committees, including the ones held by some people before now, be subjected to scrutiny. I have no problem with that.
“But for this senate to now leave another ad hoc committee to look into the issue of subsidy, it’s like some people are looking for campaign money and I don’t think that’s the best way to get it.”
Mr Marafa was cut short by Mr Saraki who asked the senator to apologise for using offensive words.
Mr Ndume also apologised to his colleague but insisted he only retorted to the words of another senator.
“I have respect for every senator here. The suggestion was a very honest one. The offence should go to my senior, Senator Bukar Abba. I reported. When I was speaking, Senator Bukar Abba said the committee might have been compromised and I reported the same. I apologise,” he said.
Mr Lawan, however, rejected the offer of chairing the committee.
“I am using my privilege to decline to serve on that committee. I hold my integrity very dearly. I have worked for it over the years. I don’t want it damaged. Therefore I decline.
“Let me also advise us that this senate is representative of Nigeria. We are here for all Nigerians. What we do and how we conduct ourselves is a big deal. I would advise that no matter how sternly and deeply pained, let us conduct ourselves with the respect we are known for. Mr. President, Thank you for the confidence but I am not going to serve in this committee.”
In his ruling, Mr Saraki pleaded with the Senate Leader to take up the responsibility.
“You cannot excuse yourself form the role of leadership. Why I directed or decided you should be there is because the matter is a matter that is very weighty and it is better to do that under the leader of the senate. I don’t want something partisan.
“We cannot be running on something of 3.8 billion dollars ($3.5 billion) but it needs to be guided at your level of leadership to know the facts and not speculate. Then the committee under your guidance would do their work. Once we are divided like this, the agencies will continue to do as they wish.”