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House of Reps or house of probes?
VICTOR OLUWASEGUN and TONY AKOWE examine the loads of investigations embarked on by the House of Representatives and wonder if they have the capacity and the funds to see them through.
AS at February 13, 2020, not less than 278 motions have been adopted by the 9th House of Representatives. Many of these motions seek to investigate one issue or the other while others seek infrastructural intervention in one area or the other.
While some of the investigations ordered by the adoption of such motions have begun, a large number of them are yet to start in the midst of complaints by Spokesman of the House that there was no money to finance the activities of the House. This has raised questions whether the House will be able to carry out these investigations logically.
Ironically, the National Assembly is empowered by the Constitution to carry out oversight functions on Ministries, Departments and Agencies, as well as investigate them.
This power is contained in Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution. So, when they set out to investigate an issue or an agency of government, they are only acting within their mandate.
In accordance with the laws of the land, the two chambers of the National Assembly can direct investigation into the affairs of ‘any person, authority, ministry or government department charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly.’
The National Assembly is empowered to carry out these investigations either for the purpose of making laws within its legislative competence; amending laws; as well as exposing “corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated for it.”
“Pending before the House is an alleged plot to divert the $308 million Abacha loot, using one of the construction giants in the country. The decision of the House followed a motion sponsored by Ifeanyi Chudi Momah informing the House that the government was planning to divert the money to three critical projects for which provisions have already been made by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Authority.
However, the House has since resolved not to set up any adhoc committee, but that all relevant committees will handle such investigations.
In a week, there may be over 10 investigative motions on the floor and being referred to relevant committees of the House.
Investigative motions come up regularly and the question is: with these numbers of motions, is the House not biting more than it can chew? Can the Green Chamber cope? Does it have the capacity or capability to do a good job?
Good probes need good funding. This will allow the lawmakers to take the necessary processes to conclusion. But in the light of the recent revelation by Benjamin Kalu, Chairman House of Representatives Committee on Media and Publicity that the House is facing serious cash crunch, it may not be out of place to assume that the Green Chamber is going beyond its capacity in terms of the volume of investigations.
“The problem of funding is hampering the implementation of its programmes and slowing down its activities, including several investigations pending before it. The money is not enough. So, if any committee says we are struggling, it is because there is no money, and not because the leadership does not want to give.
“Besides, the budget of the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly has not increased in the last 10 years, despite increases in the cost of living across board. Your observation about the financial problems of the committees, if any, is in order. The impression out there is not true. The House of Representatives is struggling with funds because activities of the House are bigger than the budget.”
In the 8th Assembly when Yakubu Dogara held sway as the Speaker, the problems of committees having issues with funds for investigations were rife and quite a lot of chairmen expressed their minds about it. Monies for public hearings were sourced by chairmen and deputies, and getting these funds back always takes the grace of God.
Also, during the 7th House presided over by Aminu Tambuwal, now Governor of Sokoto State, the House sought to improve the committee system in the House by reviewing upwards its standard of efficiency. The basic reason for this desire, which ran through the 8th House, which was also adopted by the Gbajabiamila-led 9th House, was to cause better federal revenue disclosures and better oversight.
There had been concerns about federal revenue leakages, with Ministries, Department and Agencies not fully accounting for funds received.
For effectiveness, the House is now matching the skills and relevant experiences of members in the composition of membership and leadership of committees.
Nowadays, the former style of using Adhoc committees to do the work of standing committees (which members have complained about in the 8th House), no longer hold sway. There are also over a 100 standing and special committees in the House most of which get referrals weekly.
Currently, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts headed by Oluwole Oke is investigating the “Deliberate and Reckless Refusal by non-Treasury and Partially Funded Agencies” to render their audited accounts from 2014 to 2018.
Similarly, an adhoc committee, headed by the House Deputy Leader, Peter Akpatason is set to begin an investigative hearing into oil theft as well as impact on the environment and national economy.
According to House resolutions, there are scores of other investigations that the House has embarked upon, with others waiting in the wings. Aside the Akpatason Adhoc Committee investigation, there is one being handled by the House Committee on Public Accounts probing non-submission of audited accounts to the Office of the Auditor-General and another by the Finance Committee probing under remittances by MDAs to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
In another probe, the Green Chamber mandated its Committees on Police Affairs, Justice, Human Rights to investigate the recent action by the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) operatives that led to the death of Tiyamiyu Kazeem, a footballer with Remo Stars in Shagamu, Ogun State, and ensure that justice is not only done, but seen to be done. The resolution was sequel to the passage of a motion by Adewunmi Onanuga with the title: “Need to Re-Assess and Re-Evaluate the Tactical Squads of the Nigeria Police Force. The committees are to report back within six weeks for further legislative action, while the Committee on Legislative Compliance is to ensure compliance.
While some of the probes are already ongoing, some others are yet to commence. Some of the investigations ordered by the House so far, but are yet to commence include the probe of passport racketeering allegedly being perpetrated by officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
The motion was sponsored by Chinedu Ogah and it sought to investigate the alleged extortion, passport racketeering and corrupt practices by officials of the Nigeria Immigration Service. The House also expressed worries that if the practice is not checked, it might undermine national security and expose the country to international ridicule as foreigners may take advantage of it to acquire Nigerian passports. It, therefore, mandated its Committee on Interior to investigate the agency to ascertain the level of culpability of its officials and recommend appropriate sanction.
The House is set to investigate an alleged loss of over 30 billion dollars annually as a result of revenue leakages arising from tax evasion, malpractices, mis-use and diversion of foreign exchange allocations by companies and other entities.
The House, at one of its sittings, adopted a motion sponsored by Chairman of the House Committee on Finance, James Abiodun Faleke to investigate the disbursement of foreign exchange by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and other agencies with a view to determining the exact amount that may have been lost by the government in the process.
Faleke spoke of an urgent need to rescue the country from over 30 billion dollars annual revenue leakages, adding that leakages arose from various malpractices in foreign exchange allocation to companies from sources such as CBN, autonomous, inter-bank, domiciliary and over-the-counter purchases for 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.
The investigation is supposed to involve the House scrutinising various originating documents maintained by CBN, Banks, Forex Dealers, Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), Importers and other beneficiary companies as well as identify perpetrators and the atrocities committed based on verifiable documents obtained from the valuable records. The investigation is also to determine in a statutory and in a professional manner, the revenue amount involved in the malpractices by each organisation based on every revenue line item collectible by agency of government for the purpose of timely recovery into government accounts.
The alleged invasion of a community in Bayelsa State by men of the Joint Military Task Force is another pending investigation before the House. Sponsor of the motion seeking the investigation, Fredrick Agbedi claimed that Men of the Joint Military Force allegedly attacked the Bilabiri Community in a reprisal attack over the killing of four naval personnel by unknown gunmen.
Agbedi accused men of the Joint Military Taskforce of allegedly storming Bilabiri community in reprisal attacks following an earlier killing of four Naval Personnel on January 2, 2020 at Sterling Oil Exploration and Energy Production Company site at Agge by unknown gunmen.
Also pending before the House is an alleged plot to divert the $308 million Abacha loot, using one of the construction giants in the country. The decision of the House followed a motion sponsored by Ifeanyi Chudi Momah informing the House that the government was planning to divert the money to three critical projects for which provisions have already been made by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Authority.
The Federal Government said it intended to use the money to expedite work on three major infrastructures i.e. Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Abuja-Kano Expressway and the Second Niger Bridge may be diverted into private accounts. The House has, therefore, directed its Standing Committee on Works to ensure that those three projects are not used as conduit pipe to short-change Nigerians again and report back its findings to House in four weeks’ time.
The trafficking of girls for prostitution is another investigation ordered by the House. The House decision arose from a motion on the need to investigate the degrading sex slavery Nigerian women are subjected to sponsored by Rimamnde Shawulu Kwewum, Zakariya Nyampa, Abubakar Hassan Fulata, Kwamoti Bitrus Laori, Babajimi Benson, Dachung Musa Bagos and Sada Soli. The sponsors of the motion alleged that more Nigerian girls were being trafficked out of the country and used for sex labour across the globe, saying about 50 girls are shipped out daily by sex merchants.
The House, therefore, resolved to investigate the sex slavery and ask 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.
It frowned at the treatment being meted to Nigerian girls across the globe where they are trafficked to after being deceived that they were going abroad for greener pastures.
Another investigation ordered by the House is the management of over 1 billion dollars invested by donor agencies and the three tiers of government in the funding of agricultural projects in the country over the years. The motion calling for the investigation was sponsored by Awaji-Inombek Abiante, who told the House that over the years, the Federal Government has been partnering and acquiring loans and grants from donor agencies such as the World Bank, the African Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations (UN), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Agency (IDA), among others with a view to improving agricultural production in the country.
He said over the years, over one billion dollars of the donors’ funds have been spent on various agricultural projects in Nigeria by the three-tiers of government, adding that since 1985 the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has financed 11 agricultural projects with $509.62 million, while several millions of dollars have also been committed to the implementation of Fadama project by the World Bank since 1993.
Operators of GSM and telecommunication companies in the country are not left out of the investigation as the House wants to investigate them for alleged tax evasion.
The Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has been in the forefront of accusing GSM operators of not paying the required taxes. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, who sponsored the motion told the House that some of the companies failed to remit taxes accruable to the National Information Technology Development Fund by GSM Service Providers and all Telecommunications companies, as well as cyber companies and internet providers, (and all others mentioned above) since 2008 till date.
Abonta said while GSM companies such as GLO and Airtel only paid the tax for four years, 9Mobile has not paid the tax which is an act of parliament since the act became effective.
Even though the House is waiting to consider the report of an Adhoc Committee into remittances of funds accruable to the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) by government agencies, it is also set to investigate the agency over what appeared to be an incidence of fraud in the agency as staff who were supposed to have benefited from a training sponsored by the fund claim they never participated in such training.
The House is to investigate why the fund management should spend about N2.3 billion on staff training without the approval of the Board or the supervising Ministry. The House is also to investigate claims by the Management of the agency that it has spent billions of naira in settling debts to contractors without providing the board or the supervising ministry details of such payment.
The motion to investigate the agency was sponsored by Francis Ejiroghene Waive. Waive drew the attention of the House to a media report alleging a fraud of N2.3 billion against the management of NSITF, which he said was carried out without the authorisation of the Board of the Fund or approval of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment as the transaction exceeded the spending threshold of the Management.
Laudable as these investigations are, the question is, going by the earlier assertion of lack of funds, how well and smoothly will these investigations be carried out on an alleged empty purse?
House of Reps or house of probes?