Fuel subsidy probe and matters arising
By Uche Offiah
Friday May 04, 2012

In the last week of April 2012, Nigerian press was awash with the report of Hon. Farouk Lawan Ad-hoc committee of fuel subsidy regime, reactions from Nigerians and also from the marketers and individuals fingered or out rightly indicted or recommended for prosecution.

Mr. President has also been called severally by many to deal decisively with the alleged fraudulent companies and individuals who directly or indirectly aided and abated the scrupulous milking of Nigerian economy through the importation of refined fuel (PMS) and kerosene and the subsequent payment of subsidy thereof.

In this analysis, I will briefly x-ray the emerging bombs on the road for the implementation or the Ad-hoc committee recommendations. In the first instance, a recommendation like a motion from the House of Senate is a mere advice to the Executive branch of government. It is also true that an advice can be taken or shoved aside depending on the judgment of who the advice is given after due consideration.

Again some of the recommendations are still subject to further re-consideration in the light of the emerging reactions from those affected negatively and major stakeholders. Besides, gone are the days when commission of enquiry indictment remains sacrosanct and binding on the indicted. Under democratic regime which is governed by the rule of law; an indictment could be challenged in the courts, with the Supreme Court as the final bus stop.

Below are some of the reactions. In a swift reaction reported in the media, the chairman of Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) Senator Ahmadu Ali, accused the Ad-hoc committee of the House of misrepresentation of facts. Senator Ali was recommended for prosecution following his role in the management of the subsidy. The chairman, however deposed that he was not an executive chairman of PPPRA and that the committee ought to know the limits of a non-executive chairman and the processes in such an establishment.

The reason for the recommendation could be made public at the appropriate time and place for that recommendation may not stand if only based on his position as a non executive chairman who attends a board meeting once in a quarter. If it was based on his personal capacity and actions as a member of the board so be it. His reaction simply stated was that the Chief Executive of PPPRA should be held responsible and not the non executive chairman. Senator Ali’s contention here is very instructive in the future relations between political appointees, board members and the Chief Executives of government agencies.

In its own sharp disagreement with the committee’s recommendation, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) challenged the committee to produce an evidence that it received the sum of N844.9 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under the subsidy scheme, to provide more products to support its allocation. NNPC Group General Manager (Public Affairs), Dr. Levi Ajuonuma on, behalf of NNPC challenged both the committee and CBN to provide evidence that such payment was made to NNPC.

He insisted that they must show authorization for the payment, the breakdown of the amount, purpose for payments, beneficiary accounts in which payments were made and the utilization. There is no gain saying the challenge from NNPC is very weighty and if this challenge is not tackled headlong and openly to the public, the entire committee work and recommendations will remain questionable to most Nigerians.

The indictment of 17 oil companies that did not appear before the committee seems to be high handed and a disregard to the principle of fair hearing. The 17 oil companies alleged their invitation to appear was verbal and that they did not hesitate to appear before the Senate committee that sent them invitation letters. The indictment of the House should be a very serious matter and indictment should follow due process. It is good to learn that the House while considering the report has given the 17 companies a second chance for fair hearing.

Expectedly too, there have been various interest groups, some prominent Nigerians, Conference of Political Parties (CNPP), some youth organizations. Many were in support of the House recommendations. They urged the federal government to immediately order a thorough investigation on the findings and recommendations of the House and to punish according to the law of the land, all culprits in the subsidy payment scandal.

On the other hand, there were protests from certain sections of the country against the report of the House. These groups believed that the recommendations were politically induced to rubbish their own brother or sister while at the same time being one-sided.

In its own reaction, the South-South youths protest alleged attack on Mrs. Alison-Madueke. The spokesman of the youths, Prince Presly Iyalagha maintained that the youths from the South-South would no longer fold their arms and watch with pain political appointees from their region being humiliated over nothing by some others from other sections of the country. According to the youth’s leader, the intent of the unfounded allegations against the Hon. Minister of Petroleum was to give an impression that people from the South-South region cannot manage public office. Some of the inscriptions on the placards wondered why activities in NNPC be traced to 2009 yet the committee failed to mention the name of the Minister of Petroleum then.

In a similar development, a group with the name “Concerned Citizens of Kogi State” in a full page advertorial on “The Nation Newspaper” on Saturday April 28, 2012 under the title; “The politics of fuel subsidy report and PDP BOT Chairmanship” claimed that Senator Ali’s sin as the Chairman of PPPRA was the policy initiative that liberalized participation of more companies other than the 49 operating before 2009 to enhance efficiency and to reduce the hardship encountered by the consumers.

The Nigeria Labour Congress commended the House Ad-hoc Committee but said it was not enough for private and public institutions like NNPC and PPPRA to be asked to refund fund considering some of the findings of the probe that showed indication of criminality. On their part, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASAN) have vowed to leave no stone unturned in order to get to the root of the subsidy probe report.

The group in a statement noted that the facts and figures must be verified. They called on all relevant agencies to take the issue seriously and to demand full disclosure of whether amount alleged to have been paid to NNPC by CBN was ever paid, to whom and for what purpose.

Offiah writes from Lagos.

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