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NASS, NNPC and limit of public probe

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By Alexander Ifeanyichukwu
In the last few months beginning from November last year, the principal officers of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and its subsidiaries have frequented the National Assembly more than any group not even the education ministry which supervises the more than 10 months strike of Polytechnic teachers or the embattled security hierarchy of the land who have been unable to curtail the rampaging Boko Haram insurgence.

So frequent has been the invitation to NNPC officials and office of the honourable minister of petroleum resources that you could wonder if these public officers have enough time left to attend to the jobs for which they are employed, in the first place.

Today it is the Senate Committee on Public Finance, tomorrow  it would be the turn of House of Representative Committee on Accountability, and the list is quite extensive. Any wonder that these officials are hardly able to honour those appointments.

A clear case of attempting to distract the men and women who work in a critical sector of the Nigerian economy, the leadership of the National Assembly should intervene and call their various committees to order.

Nigerians will remember that this deviation started towards the close of last year when the allegation of missing funds from the NNPC were made by an obviously rudderless ex-CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who could not get the institution he managed to be on top of the financial management of the country only for him to peddle before Nigerians uncorroborated figures as missing funds.

We must remember clearly that Sanusi's double speak, his inconsistency and muddled up figures, smeared by partisan intonations completely rendered his testimony unreliable and of no effect for any reasonable mind.

Following quickly after that rubbished Sanusi move, in a typical pattern that has become known with political jobbers when they mount a smear campaign against an individual or organisation, the alleged squandering of $10 billion on a chartered aircraft by the honourable minister of petroleum resources.

That too like the first spurious claims, lacked in merit and defeats every rational thinking that the NNPC would spend that huge sum to charter a private jet for the minister when the cost of a typical Bombardier 850 costs far less than that.

For the NASS to lose sleep over these claims only suggests that the body of legislators in this country still have a long way to go and this task of electing men and women of depth and patriotic zeal must commence in earnest.

To verify a spurious claim that the minister made a habit of riding on three private jets with members of her immediate family at a cost of $10 billion could be easily verified through the various aviation agencies without distracting the NNPC, ministry of petroleum resources and their subsidiaries.

Instead, what we see on a daily basis is barrage of invitation to officials of the corporation, its subsidiaries and the supervising ministry to defend allegations that are clearly false and which could be easily verified by existing agencies in the land.

As one observer quipped recently, NNPC staff resumes work at the NASS and close from there raising the question as to what time same officials who work in a critical sector of the Nigerian economy would have for the actual work for which they are employed.

For NASS, this has become carrying too far its constitutional oversight function. Causing the critical work of the corporation and those of its subsidiaries to be undone, is a crime against the nation because at the end of the day, these officials gets paid.

For a sincere observer, it is no longer clear the motive, objective and direction of these staccato of invitations from the different committees of the NASS.

Frequenting the committees of the National Assembly has not brought solutions to the challenges of this nation rather, solution lies in the National Assembly itself making appropriate legislations that will create an environment for safe conduct in both public and private institutions.

For instance, the ultimate solution to the myriads of problems that we have had to contend with in the petroleum and gas sector is embedded in the Petroleum Industry Bill which unfortunately the NASS has literally refused to pass into law.

By now, it is clear that the existing petroleum and gas laws of the land are extant and only a new and proactive law which recognises the need of the starving millions of Nigerians is necessary.

The PIB needs to be passed into law as soon as possible, expecting something to happen differently while we slavishly stick to an old and extant law can only mean that the NASS is playing the ostrich.

One last question though, it would seem there is a deliberate misunderstanding of the intentions of the current honourable minister of petroleum resources by her antagonists.

It is amazing that a minister who has supported reforms in the oil and gas sector in the way and manner she has, risking her life to instigate and push for policy reform through the PIB and is determined that the future of the industry put smiles on the faces of Nigerians does not seem to be the right candidate for the debilitating smear attack and attempt at character assassination mounted by the opposition led by the All Progressive Congress.

The more than 400 members of NASS who were elected by over 120 million Nigerians to represent their interest at the National Assembly should face those work that truly matters and that is making laws that will enhance the wellbeing of Nigerians like passage of the PIB, making policies that will make small and medium scale businesses attractive, amend existing laws on land acquisitions across the country, amend the Nigeria Railway Act to allow for greater private sector participation in rail transport, seeking for lasting solution to the power situation in the country.

Indeed, these issues have direct bearing on the average Nigerian who is ever desirous to earn good living through sheer hard work.

This moment in Nigeria's history is quite critical and the leadership of the NASS should realise that we have dwelt far too long on this phantom sleaze and subsequent probe of the NNPC and the minister of petroleum resources.

Alexander Ifeanyichukwu is a public issues analyst and writes from Enugu