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As previous reports gather dust, NASS initiates fresh probes of MDAs

Despite the executive’s utter disregard to the recommendations of the National Assembly’s probe panels, the parliament has initiated moves to carry out several other investigations,…

Despite the executive’s utter disregard to the recommendations of the National Assembly’s probe panels, the parliament has initiated moves to carry out several other investigations, with experts expressing doubt that anything significant would come out of them. 

Since the inauguration of the 9th National Assembly in June 2019, the two chambers have instituted many probes into the activities of federal government agencies, but a look at the fate of their findings and recommendations does not hold much hope for the indicted being brought to book. 

This is because the National Assembly lacks the constitutional power to prosecute individuals who default in the discharge of their mandates. The parliament, after investigations, only sends out resolutions and recommendations on issues that had been considered to the executive through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for implementation. 

Experts said the constitutional provisions that make the implementation of the resolutions and recommendations made by the parliament non-binding on the government has only made it convenient for ministries, departments and agencies  (MDAs) to either disregard them or at best partly accept some while ignoring the ones calling for punitive actions against those found guilty. 

Some of the fresh probes initiated in the two chambers of the National Assembly this year are abandoned N400bn health centre project initiated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo; rivalry, duplication of functions in MDAs; status of stolen Nigerian artifacts; N1.2trn unremitted government funds in commercial banks; alleged mismanagement of N165bn appropriated for Nigeria Correctional Service; moribund automobile assembly plants; commercial banks’ excessive charges on customers’ deposits, among others. 

Previous probes’ reports gathering dust

The report of the House of Representatives panel, which inquired into alleged financial malfeasance in the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), is still gathering dust, 20 months after. 

The committee, chaired by Tunji-Ojo (APC-Ondo) had, in July 2020, investigated N82.5billion irregular expenditure in the NDDC by its Interim Management Committee (IMC). 

The panel had recommended that the commission be reported to the anti-corruption agencies for further investigation, prosecution and recovery of funds misappropriated.

The committee also recommended that the IMC of the NDDC should be sanctioned for violating the constitution and other extant laws, while the executive director, project should be removed from office because his appointment violated the laws establishing the commission.

It said the total sum made to the acting managing director, executive directors and other directors of the NDDC to attend overseas graduation be refunded, and failure to do so immediately, the anti-graft agencies should commence investigation, prosecution and recovery.

Similarly, the Senate panel, which conducted similar investigations into the spending of the interventionist agency, recommended that all monies spent without approval, including N4.92 billion extra-budgetary expenditure, should be returned to the government purse. 

The Senate committee said the absence of the Board of Directors in the NDDC created a major lacuna of oversight, and therefore, recommended immediate constitution of the board. 

The only thing the federal government had done was the sack of the Interim Management Committee, while those found culpable of mismanaging public funds are yet to be prosecuted, let alone returning embezzled funds. 

Importation of fake syringes 

The Senate, through its committees on health, industry, trade, and investment, in March 2021 carried out an investigative hearing on the importation of fake syringes and needles into the country. 

The probe panel, after interfacing with heads of relevant government agencies, observed that oral statements and memorandum collated from stakeholders indicated that the majority of imported syringes and needles were substandard, unsterilised, used and rewashed syringes from the Asian continent.

This, it said, was endangering the lives, health and safety of Nigerians.

Senator Ibrahim Oloriegbe (APC, Kwara), who chaired the probe panel, said that despite several policies of the federal government, especially the introduction of 75 per cent import duties on imported syringes and needles to deter importation, the Nigeria Customs Service had not been able to enforce the policy effectively. This, he said, was leading to mass importation of cheap, substandard and unsterilised syringes and needles.

He said the importation of syringes and needles was killing local manufacturers, making them lay off staff and preventing them from contributing effectively to the economy.

The panel, in its recommendations, which were adopted by the Senate, urged the Ministry of Health to develop a policy on procurement and utilisation of syringes and needles by government hospitals and offices from July 2021. 

It further said that within six weeks, all federal government-owned hospitals should begin to use locally manufactured syringes and needles to strengthen local manufacturing.

However, one year after the probe, the government has not implemented the recommendations. 

Asked about the fate of his panel report, Senator Oloriegbe told Daily Trust on Sunday that despite his follow-up on the Senate resolutions, nothing had been done. 

He said, “As the chairman of the committee I ensured that I follow up. I have written a follow-up letter to the minister of trade about our recommendations that the policy would be presented and approved by the executive. It has not been done. 

“Few days ago, I notified the compliance committee to take up the matter because it has left my committee. That’s the separation of power.”

Customs scanner probe

The House of Representatives Committee on Customs and Excise investigated abandoned multi-million dollar scanners in July 2021, but eight months after receiving the report of the panel, it is gathering dust on the shelve. 

The investigation hearing focused on the lack of transparency in the transfer of technical know-how to the Nigeria Customs Service, which led to the collapse of multi-million dollar scanners at the Nigeria ports and border stations.

Manufacturers of the scanners had told the House committee during an investigative hearing that the scanners, procured at the cost of over $480million and abandoned for several years, could still be repaired and put to use.

The committee’s report, which recommended, among other things, the immediate reactivation of Customs scanners in the various ports, was submitted but not considered by the House.

Personal, political interests responsible – Rep

A House of Reps member, who chaired a committee that carried out a major probe in the House, said personal and political interests were the major obstacles to the implementation of recommendations of the legislature by the executive.

The lawmaker, who craved anonymity said, “When you make resolutions for the government to act, the only thing for the legislature is to use the instruments of budget to deal decisively with erring agencies.

“Would the House as it is constituted, with almost 80 per cent of the APC, have the courage to deal with the issues? My answer to you is no.

N/Assembly must act in national interest – CSOs

Reacting to the development, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) and Chairman, Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), Mallam Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, and  the Executive Director, Resource Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr Ibrahim Zikirullahi, in separate comments, urged the National Assembly to act in national interest.

Rafsanjani urged the National Assembly to develop new legislative proposals or amend existing statutes that ensure executive compliance with investigative intent and prevent executive encroachment on legislative authority and prerogatives

Zikirullahi on his part said: “The fact that the National Assembly conducts investigations, which outcomes are not implemented by the National Assembly, is a demonstration of the lack of commitment and political will to do what is required to fix the problems identified.

He said the trend does not augur well for democracy and the development of the relevant democratic institutions.

“It also amounts to a waste of precious time and resources for the legislature to launch probes, which are eventually swept under the carpet. For the country to take its pride of place in the comity of nations, seriousness in government business is imperative. The executive must stop treating the legislature with contempt and disdain and vice versa,” Zikirullahi said.

We’ve addressed some infractions – Senate c’ttee

The Senate Committee on Legislative Compliance said it had addressed some infractions of non-compliance to the Red Chamber’s resolutions. 

The committee is responsible for following up on resolutions of the Senate and ensuring that they are implemented. 

Speaking with one of our correspondents, the chairman of the committee, Senator Adelere Adeyemi Oriolowo (APC, Osun), disagreed that there was total disregard to Senate’s recommendations by the executive. 

He said, “Before any issue will come to my committee, there has to be an established infraction of non-compliance, then my committee will swing into action. It is part of the oversight functions of the committee in charge to assert, whether the recommendations have been complied with or not. 

“There are some infractions we have tackled. I cannot mention that there was no compliance with our resolutions at all. But if we get feedback on non-compliance from the public we will take it up. 

“So far, so good, we have not had any serious infraction. The only time we had such issue, and it was later complied with, was when we resolved that the service chiefs should be replaced due to rising insecurity.”

‘How to get resolutions implemented’ 

Senator Oloriegbe said that while the National Assembly fulfilled its constitutional obligations by probing government agencies, it lacks the power to compel the executive to implement its resolutions and recommendations. 

He, therefore, urged Nigerians to take up the matter by using a judicial writ to order the executive to act accordingly on the parliament’s resolutions. 

Oloriegbe said, “The constitution gives different arms of government separate powers.  Under sections 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), the National Assembly is empowered to investigate and expose corruption, and then, recommend appropriately to the other arm of government to implement. 

“The National Assembly carries out its statutory function of investigation; the implementation is for the executive. 

“Nigerians can go further by getting the court to issue a writ of mandamus to compel the executive to implements National Assembly resolutions. This is how it can happen.”

 

By Abdullateef Salau, Itodo Daniel Sule, Balarabe Alkassim & Abbas Jimoh

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