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FUEL SUBSIDY SCAM, REPS MAKE U-TURN

By NBF News
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The House of Representatives yesterday began the debate of the report of its Ad hoc Committee on fuel subsidy probe. The panel submitted its report in Abuja last Wednesday. Scores of companies were indicted for their roles in the scam.

The firms, including government agencies, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) were asked to refund over N1trillion to the Federation Account. But the NNPC insisted it did not pocket any subsidy money.

The report had generated a lot of controversy with accusations and counter-accusations.

Flagging off the debate chaired by Deputy Speaker, Hon. Emeka Ihediora yesterday, the House made a u-turn when it ordered the indicted 17 oil companies to appear before it. The latter claimed they did not receive any letter of invitation to state their roles in the subsidy saga to the Hon. Farouk Lawan-led committee.

The firms were asked by the panel to refund N41.96billion to the Federal Government even as the House ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) to beging investigation and possible trial of Dr. Ahmadu Ali, who was National Chairman, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

The companies last week announced that they were going to take legal action against the House over their indictment and the panel's directive to refund the said amount.

Debating on the committee's report, which was laid before the House on April 18, the lawmakers explained that the invitation of the companies was not a repudiation from its recommendations, but in the spirit of fairness. Hon Toby Okechukwu said it would be in line with justice, which he said, was the purpose of setting up the committee to give the firms an opportunity to state their own side of the story.

He noted that since the companies were not given direct invitation during the probe to appear before the committee, it was right to extend an invitation to them. His position was endorsed by Hon Ossai Ossai, Lawan and Deputy Speaker Ihedioha.

Debating the recommendations, the lawmakers voted overwhelmingly for the prosecution of Dr Ali over his alleged role in the subsidy saga. Ali was also Chairman of PPPRA during the period investigated by the committee.

The committee had recommended that he and other members of the board be reprimanded for their decisions, which 'opened the floodgate for the bazaar '. However, the lawmakers rejected that recommendation, arguing that he deserved to be prosecuted.

There was a drama before the recommendation was endorsed. The Deputy Speaker, who chaired the debate, had tried to convince his colleagues to stick to the earlier recommendation to reprimand Ali, but the plan failed as the lawmakers especially those from the opposition parties, insisted on his prosecution.

Another controversial decision taken by the House on the report was the endorsement of a recommendation that the Ministry of Petroleum Resources be split into two to ensure effective supervision. They urged President Goodluck Jonathan to split the ministry if he was serious about reforming the sector.

The lawmakers objected to the continued headship of the NNPC board, saying that it negates effective supervision. Some lawmakers, however, opposed the recommendation on the ground that only the amendment of NNPC Act can alter the current arrangement.

The stage for the debate was earlier laid by the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, who charged the lawmakers to ignore insinuations by some people and discuss the report in a manner that would favour Nigerians.

He said in a two-page speech which elicited ovation, 'Today, we are here to consider the product of that sacrifice. Before you is the report of the Ad-hoc Committee on the monitoring of fuel subsidy regime which was set up to verify and determine actual subsidy requirements.

'And I must commend the Chairman of the Committee, Hon Farouk Lawan and the rest of his committee members, for their courage, dedication and professionalism. They were given a crucial assignment and they handled it with the integrity and patriotism it deserved.'

Tambuwal said: 'But we must never forget who we are and where we are, because Nigerians are watching us very closely and history will judge what we do here today. I therefore urge each and everyone of you to look at this report dispassionately.

'Let me reiterate the fact that we are discharging a Constitutional assignment here and it is therefore, incumbent upon us to do our duty without fear or favour. Let me also remind you that we are fighting against entrenched interests whose infectious greed has decimated our people. Therefore, be mindful that they will fight back, and they do fight dirty'.

He faulted the position of EFCC on the prosecution of those indicted in the report, describing the stand of the anti-graft agency as untenable.

He said: 'I have heard all kinds of insinuations, including the one about anti-graft agencies waiting for a 'harmonised version' of this report before taking any action. Let me quickly say here that this is at best an excuse that cannot stand after all the same agencies accept and investigate petitions from individuals, how much more resolutions of this House, there will be no such document so, they should just go ahead and do their job and where they find any person or body culpable, they should proceed in accordance with the law'.

The debate is expected to continue today.