Mixed reactions trail investigations
THE Senate has begun probe of the power sector under the administrations of three former presidents, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the late Alhaji Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
Essentially, the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly is seeking explanation for releases and expenditures made from May 29, 1999 to date.
Sources told The Guardian that the Ministry of Power and government agencies in the power sector were given till last Thursday (September 3) to submit 30 copies of reports detailing everything about finance, including expenses, remittances from the Federation Account, and accompanying receipts.
A flurry of activities was noticed in the agencies last week as the chief executive officers and top management staff of the government departments were putting finishing touches to the required documents.
A correspondence from the Senate Adhoc Committee on Power, signed by the Clerk of the Committee, Cletus Ojobo, had given September 3 as the deadline for submission of the documents.
Done with that stage, the Senate has now summoned the Ministry of Power, the agencies and the electricity distribution companies (Discos) to the National Assembly this week to defend their submissions and get cross-examined by the panel. It was gathered that many of the agencies and Discos would appear before the Senate tomorrow.
In reaction, some stakeholders have expressed reservations about the planned probe, saying the lawmakers are playing to the gallery. They described the move as an effort to garner popularity for a Senate that is allegedly struggling to court respect and support of the Presidency.
A stakeholder particularly expressed concern that the senators are merely focusing on finances instead of raising critical technical policies and issues like gas supply and vandalism that have continually plagued the sector.
A former Federal Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria, Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko, questions the rationale behind the probe by the Senate.
He considers the effort as a ‘jamboree,’ stressing that the Senate still lacks the necessary technical competence to track down those he described as ‘saboteurs’ of the power sector.§ Alluding to a previous effort by the National Assembly to probe the National Integrated Power Project (NIPP) initiated by the then President Obasanjo, which allegedly came to naught, Onwubiko stressed that only a forensic audit by certified independent assessors would produce any meaningful result.
His words: “Seriously, most rational Nigerians who have the gift of discernment and some wisdom have seen through the futility of these cocktails of pre-arranged probes, especially in the electricity power and pension sector.
In the last session of the Senate, and indeed since 1999 that civil rule returned, there hasn’t been any quality outcome from the incessant probes in the National Assembly, and especially in the Senate. “Shortly after the exit of President Obasanjo, there were outcries that the power sector should be investigated to uncover how over $12 billion reportedly spent to upgrade power infrastructure was simply stolen and pocketed by the politicians manning the Power Ministry.
But the National Assembly didn’t achieve anything.” Onwubiko described the efforts by the current Senate at probing the power sector as “just another joke,” noting how such might end up as another political circus shows “which may inevitably empower the probe committee members.”
But the Lead Director at the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Eze Onyekpere, described the probe as a welcome development, noting that the Nigerian constitution empowers the Senate to conduct investigations into the use of public funds. “There are justifications for the investigation.
The first is that power sector projects were executed with public funds appropriated by the National Assembly and they have not delivered megawatts of electricity as anticipated.
The second, which is a follow up from the first, is that billions of naira from public funds were invested in the power sector after the initial wave of investments by the Obasanjo administration.
The third is that there are lessons to be learnt after implementing programmes and projects in every human activity and the Nigerian power sector will not be an exception.
Thus, the investigation could be seen as some form of evaluation where systems and processes that led to the investments are reviewed with a focus on improvements in subsequent projects.
Nigeria should be in a position to learn from fit and good practices worthy of replication, while avoiding the mistakes and misdemeanour of the past. “The fourth reason for this investigation is that the first attempt to investigate the power sector ended up in a cul-de-sac where the investigators were later charged to court for corruption. The report never saw the light of the day. It was killed by high wire politics.
A new opportunity in a new environment of change where the monsters that have manipulated the system for long will no longer be allowed to play opens up for us to arrive at the truth, to give guarantees of non repetition; to demand apologies from operators of the system if they committed public wrongs; to get compensation for the treasury and to arrive at conclusions as to what transpired in the sector,” he told The Guardian.
Onyekpere charged the senators to verify whether monies were spent in accordance with appropriation; whether monies were spent simply because they had been appropriated (which is in violation of the Financial Regulations); the larger question of value for money is whether there were extra budgetary spendings.