Muhammad Bello in Abuja

Nigeria's Minister of Petroleum Diezani Allison-Madueke speaks at a media briefing on a new gas price regime in the capital of Abuja May 27, 2010.Nigeria's state power company will pay energy companies, such as Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil more for their gas to encourage investment and boost supply capacity, the oil minister said on Thursday.REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde (NIGERIA - Tags: POLITICS ENERGY)The House of Representatives yesterday mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to investigate the alleged squandering of N10 billion over a two-year period on the arbitrary charter and maintenance of a Challenger 850 aircraft for unofficial use by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke.

The House also mandated its Committee on Natural Gas to scrutinise the non-remittance of funds accruing from the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company (NLNG) to the Federation Account from 2004 to date.

Both committees were given three weeks to conduct their probes and submit their reports to the House.

The House?s decision on the private jet charter and unremitted funds by NLNG was based on a motion brought by Hon. Samuel Babatunde Adejare (APC, Lagos).

Acting on what it termed reliable evidence, the House said it learnt that Alison-Madueke had allegedly sunk at least N3.120 billion into the maintenance of a private jet dedicated to the service of herself and her family.

A breakdown of the money, according to Adejare, showed that the sum of 500,000 Euros (N130 million) was spent every month on the maintenance of the airplane, which amounts to N3.120 billion for the two years in question.

He noted that in recent weeks, Nigerians had ?experienced acute fuel shortage due to dwindling revenue, which have reduced the quality of governance and deprived the people of dividends of democracy?.

He said the lower chamber of the National Assembly was not unaware that part of the money for the maintenance is spent on payments of allowances to the plane?s crew, hangar parking and rent based on a lease agreement.

Continuing, Adejare added: ?This colossal waste is currently estimated at N10 billion which includes the payment of allowances to the crew for the trips, hanger parking and rent based on the lease agreement.

?If government is bankrolling this waste in the face of ever dwindling public resources, it amounts to a misplacement of priorities, impudence and breach of public trust.?

Submitting that the minister’s action contravenes the ?Fiscal Responsibility Act and all other laws on fiscal discipline?, Adejare further cited Section 82 (2) (b) of the 1999 Constitution ?which empowers the National Assembly to expose corruption, inefficiency or waste in the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it?.

Defending the use of a private jet by the minister, a ministry source told THISDAY yesterday that traditionally all petroleum ministers have always flown with planes belonging to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).

However, he said that Alison-Madueke had been forced to charter private aircraft because one of the planes operated by NNPC had aged considerably, while the other, a newer aircraft, was involved in a crash recently and had not been fixed.

Besides, he said the minister restricts her use of private jets to local trips while all her international trips are by commercial flights.

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives was also convinced that the funds accruing to the NLNG Bonny have not been remitted to the Federation Account from 2004 to date, thus seriously affecting ?all critical sectors of the Nigerian economy?.

Also contributing to the debate, Hon. Aminu Suleiman (APC Kano) said Section 162 (1) of the 1999 Constitution makes it mandatory for all revenue collected by the Government of the Federation to be remitted into the Federation Account.

He elaborated that Section 162 (10) of the constitution defines revenue as ?any income or return accruing to or derived by the government of the federation”.

The source of this, according to Suleiman, includes any receipt, howsoever described arising from the operation of any law, any return, howsoever described, arising from or in respect of any property held by the Government of the Federation; and any receipt by way of interest on loans and dividends in respect of shares or interest held by the Government of the Federation in any company or statutory body.

He said: ?But NLNG Bonny, in flagrant disobedience and breach of Section 162 (1) of the 1999 Constitution, has not remitted funds accruing to it to the Federation Account form 2004 to date.?

This development, he added, ?has adversely affected the Federation Account to the detriment of federal, states and local governments.?

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