DRAMA OF UNENDING NATIONAL ASSEMBLY PROBES
What really is the main objective of the many probes so far embarked upon by the National Assembly? Are they aimed at bringing to the public domain how public institutions have been managed or mismanaged as the case may be and impose appropriate sanctions on any one found culpable in the management of public institutions? Or are the federal parliamentarians just out to entertain Nigerians through the many probes they embark upon from time to time?
Since the inception of the present democratic dispensation in 1999, the two chambers of the National Assembly have embarked on several probes. The probes have moved from the alleged looting of power sector funds to distortions in the Abuja land allocations. Currently, there are investigations into the transport sector and the mismanagement of the N19.5bn aviation intervention fund. But at the end of the day, nothing concrete comes out of the probes.
Recently, the Senate commenced a probe of the Bureau for Public Enterprises (BPE) from 1999 to 2007. The BPE is the government agency saddled with the responsibility of privatising many of the Federal Government-owned public corporations. Like in the past probes, a drama of sorts has been unfolding in the upper chamber of the National Assembly since the beginning of the BPE probe. Day after day, the nation is regaled with tales of how things went awry in the privatisation embarked upon by the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
At the beginning of the probe on August 8, the ad-hoc committee led by Senator Ahmed Lawan was told how public corporations were sold at rock bottom prices. For instance, the Aluminum Smelting Company of Nigeria (ALSCON) established at a cost of $3.2 billion was sold for $130 million. Similarly, the Delta Steel Company, which was set up in 2005 at the cost of $1.5 billion was given away for $30 million.
A Labour Party chieftain in Edo State, Isaiah Osifo, told Daily Sun that the probe of the activities of the BPE by the Senate was very much in order. According to him, all over the world, the review of government activities with the view to improving service delivery to the people is a continuous affair. Sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 constitution empowers the National Assembly to investigate the activities of various agencies of government.
'What the Senate is doing is in order because it is the senate of Nigeria that has the mandate to make laws that will bring about greater efficiency in service delivery,' Osifo stated. He added that whether the outcome of the probe would meet public expectation was a different kettle of fish altogether.
Since 1999, the National Assembly has embarked on a number of probes. Apart from the funfair and publicity that characterised these probes, nothing much came out of them. Prominent among these probes were that of the power sector under the Obasanjo administration and the probe of land allocation in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) under the tenure of Malam Nasir el-Rufai as minister. Incidentally, el-Rufai, a former director general of the BPE, is also at the centre of the privatisation probe.
During the sixth session of the National Assembly, the Power Committee of the House of Representative led by Ndudi Elumelu, instituted a probe into the massive investment made in the power sector of the economy under the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
In the course of the probe, startling revelations were made. After the razzmatazz that accompanied the probe, nothing else has been heard about it. Just like the power probe, nothing much came out of the enquiry into the allocation of lands by the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) under el-Rufai. Ditto for many other probes carried out by the federal legislature.
Why nothing may come out of it
Not a few Nigerians are of the opinion that most of these probes are merely carried out just for the fun of it and nothing more. Those in the know said politics and pursuit of selfish interest are the twin factors that have not allowed the many public inquiries in the National Assembly bear the required fruits.
Apparently responding to the cynicism with which many Nigerians view the endless probes by the National Assembly, Senate President, Senator David Mark, at the opening of one of the many enquiries by the parliament, reportedly stated: 'This is not a probe to indict or send anybody to jail. It is a fact-finding public hearing so that we know exactly what the problems are. And once we identify the problem, I believe we will be 50 per cent done in finding a realistic solution.'
Analysts believe that going by the Senate President's sentiments on the probes, the exercises will amount to waste of public resources if those indicted in the public enquiries are never brought to justice.
The chairman of the probe panel gave an indication that the present probe, like others before it, may just end as a mere whitewash. During one of the sittings of the panel, he announced that no former president might be invited to appear before the committee in relation to the probe.
Lawan made the clarification against the expectation that former president Obasanjo, during whose tenure most of the privatisation of government agencies were carried out, would appear before it.. Most of the past leadership of the BPE had indicted the former president for the failure of the privatisation programme during his tenure.
However, former governor of Kaduna State, Col. Abubakar Umar, thinks the probe would be incomplete without inviting the former president to answer questions, relating to the privatisation programme carried out by his administration.
'Indeed, not a few Nigerians are keen to know why all major initiatives embarked upon during the eight years Chief Obasanjo ruled the country - privatisation, power reform…have been such a spectacular failure,' Umar had stated in a press statement issued in Kaduna.
The call for the probe of the former president's involvement in the privatisation saga notwithstanding, there are strong indications that Obasanjo and his former deputy, Abubakar Atiku, might never appear before the committee. Inside sources said although members of the committee were 'still adamant on the invitation of the duo (Obasanjo and Atiku), the committee chairman is not disposed to the move.'
Those in the know told Daily Sun that Lawan had reiterated that if the former president and his deputy are invited, there would be brickbats and exchanges and such confrontation 'would not augur well for the country.'
Apparently to forestall any pressure, the committee chairman has reportedly jetted out of the country to Saudi Arabia on Lesser hajj.
Earlier, a high-wired lobby from former top presidency officials had attempted to stop the probe but didn't succeed. Osifo maintains that the challenge before the Senate in the current probe is to set aside politics and parochial interests and do the right thing. 'Politics and personal interest is not in the interest of the country. Until we live above personal interest, we cannot make progress.'
It is yet to be seen if the BPE probe would be different from past enquiries by the National Assembly.