By James Sunday
LEGISREPORTS NG – The 8th Assembly, particularly the Senate has initiated series of probes since its inauguration. More recent in the series of these probes is the probe of the power sector.
The contemplation of the framer of Nigerian 1999 constitution as amended in Section 88 (2) envisaged a scenario whereby the National Assembly could carry out oversight functions over government Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs).
The oversight are to ensure that the MDAs do not short-change the Nigerian people in the process of service delivery.
The process as enshrined in our grand norm is also meant to check the abuse of due process by government departments and agencies in contract awards and executions and to ensure strict compliance with extant laws of the country especially in the application of public funds.
Some legislative experts have described the National Assembly investigations as mostly smoke screen while others see the probes as mediums to intimidate, coax as well as to force money from government agencies that are not cooperative.
Some high powered probes have been instituted by the 7th Senate and rightly so or is it?, ranging from the inquest into alleged abuse of import waivers by the Jonathan administration. The ad hoc committee, headed by Senator Adamu Aliero, is expected to probe import waivers from 2011 to 2014.
Probe of Alleged Abuse of Import Waivers
This probe came by, following a Motion by senator Rafiu Ibrahim,(kwara south) while leading the debate on his motion, said the flagrant abuse of the waiver scheme had severely eroded Federal Government’s rice production policy by allowing importation of huge quantities of the commodity in excess of their approved quota.
According to him, a recent Senate interaction with the CBN management revealed how importers overshot its quota.
He said the importers consequently owed the Federal Government import duties running into billions of naira.
He further argued that instead of importers paying as huge as 70 per cent duties and levies to the Federal Government, they were granted waivers, thereby denying Nigerians legitimate revenues.
He said, “ The importers ordinarily should be paying in addition to the duty on the commodity, a fine of 70 per cent of duties and levies to the Federal Government, the government has failed to implement this directive and denied our people legitimate revenues into the Federal Government coffers.
“The Senate also observed that some of the defaulting companies had, notwithstanding their defaults, been awarded fresh waivers to import more within the last few days of the previous administration.
“The Customs Service, which ought to be enforcing compliance with duty and other revenues at the borders, has failed to carry out its mandate and enforce compliance from the defaulters.”
The Inquest into Alleged Diversion of 1 Trillion Naira by EFCC Chairman
The Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petition is also carrying out investigations into allegations of fraudulent diversion of over N1 trillion by the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Lamorde.
The petitioner, George Uboh, at whose instance the probe was initiated said that over 95 per cent of overseas seizures by the agency were also diverted, including the loot recovered from a former Governor of Bayelsa State, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; and former Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun.
The EFCC boss was not present to state his own side as the commission had written to the committee to ask to be allowed more time to gather relevant documents and given another date to appear before the committee to answer to the petition.
The NNPC Probe
The senate is also on the verge of probing the state of Nigerian refineries as the management of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) had been summoned to explain the state of the nation’s refineries as well as all structures under its supervision.
Following debates on a Motion, Olusola Adeyeye (Osun-central) argued that the senate should go beyond urging the government to act, and instead hold its ministries, agencies and departments to account.
He prayed that the senate “summon the NNPC as soon as possible to give account of the state of the refineries and other structures under its control”.
Bukola Saraki, senate president, put the prayer to a voice vote, after which the senate agreed to summon the NNPC “as soon as the relevant committee was set up”.
The power sector probe is also raising questionable eyebrows. A total of N2.74 trillion has been spent on the power sector since 1999, Godknows Igali, permanent secretary at the ministry of power, revealed on Tuesday.
Despite this revelation, the sector is still said to be one of the most problematic, as unstable electricity supply has been the order.
The committee questioned some of the investments made in the sector during the period and requested the ministry to furnish it with the detail.
It directed that the audited account of the ministry showing all investments and expenditures as well as details of supplementary budgets should be submitted.
The senate ad-hoc committee on power, which was inaugurated in August, was mandated to carry out an inquest into the sector from 1999 to 2015.
Beyond The Probes
The 8th Assembly is about 4 months old. These probes have again beamed search light on the hallowed chambers.
While some of the probes like the EFCC probe is enmeshed in controversies, others have been considered as just a mere process of keeping busy since the lawmakers are not fully on ground to attend to core lawmaking.
Committees are yet to be set up and some of the probes are been handled by special committees.
However, a lot of questions have been asked as to wether the lawmakers have the express power to carry out investigations or to direct appropriate bodies to carry out these investigations.
Are these proper functions of a legislative house? Oluwadare Aguda Consultant in Nigerian Law, Former Chairman, Ondo State Law Commission suggested that the principle of separation of powers is the most fundamental element in the jigsaw of a modern system of democratic government.
He maintained that under the Nigerian Constitution, the Legislature is not given the power to carry out what the Legislators now call “Oversight Functions” which often involves both the performance of judicial and executive functions.
The legal expert also held that with respect to any kind of investigations which the Legislature may consider necessary, the Constitution gives the National Assembly only the power “to direct or cause to be directed”, that such inquiry should be carried out. The provision is contained in section 88 of the Constitution for the National Assembly and section 128 for State Houses of Assembly.
Section 88 of the Constitution provides as follows:
“(1) Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into –
(a)any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and
(b)the conduct of 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
i. laws enacted by the National Assembly;
ii.disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by the National Assembly.
(2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to –
(a)make laws with respect to any matter within its legislative competence and correct any defect in existing laws; and
(b) expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.”
It Mr Aguda’s contention that from the above that the powers granted to the National Assembly under the Constitution are “to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into .. ..” the various matters enumerated in subsection (1) of section 88 and that they “are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling” the Legislature (a) to make laws with respect to certain specified matters and (b) to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste. The power is required to be exercised “by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation”.
Now the fundermental question is: are the lawmakers deliberately misapplying provisions of the constitution deliberately?
Most experts also wonder why lawmakers waste heavy fund on investigations that mostly does not yield any returns for the citizenry.
Spokesman of the senate, Senator Dino Melaye could not be reached to comment on the issue of legality of probes by the lawmakers.
Post from Legis Reports Ng