It was the long awaited week of oversight in the House of Representatives. Plenary was suspended to enable lawmakers embark on their planned physical inspection of projects executed by Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in line with the provisions of the 2012 Appropriation Act.
Curiously, some committees of the House chose to conduct their oversight indoors while some committees that travelled declined to have media coverage of their oversight trips. Is anyone trying to hide anything? One sincerely hopes that this exercise which forced the Presidency to shelve the presentation of the 2013 Appropriation Bill does not end up as a mere jamboree.
Meanwhile, talking about last week in the House, at last, the struggle by the natives of Bakassi to reclaim their homeland appears to be yielding some positive results. The Federal Government that had been lukewarm towards the clamour for a review of the judgment of the International Court of Justice(ICJ) on the ownership of the disputed peninsula appears to have had a change of mind. This followed a series of meetings held between President Goodluck Jonathan and the leadership of the National Assembly on the issue in the last couple of days. President Jonathan, we gathered, has directed the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke to file an application at the ICJ in respect of the proposed review of the judgment given by the Court barely ten years ago.
The judgement was delivered on October 10, 2002 and going by Section 61 of the Statutes of the ICJ, parties to any dispute decided by the Court can apply for a review not latter than ten years after a judgement. By implication, Nigeria has barely one week left to apply for a review of the judgement that ceded Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. The bid by Nigeria to seek a review of this controversial judgment may have come at the eleventh hour but it is better late than never. Where are the so- called experts that said Nigeria would be wasting time, energy and resources if we pursue the review of the judgment? It is heart warming that Mr. President in his wisdom has asked experts to look at the matter and had directed the Attorney-General of the Federation to act immediately in line with the resolutions of the National Assembly. The Presidency, it was learnt, has constituted a team of legal luminaries to work with Adoke on the proposed review. Also in the team are four members of the National Assembly, two from each of the chambers.
Adoke and his team are expected to put together the position of Nigeria on the matter based on the fresh evidence that the ICJ reached its 2002 judgment in error. It is better to make attempts to correct a perceived error than to resign to fate. Even if this review does not translate to a reversal of the earlier judgment, it will be on record that Nigeria did not abandon the Bakassi natives at the most critical stage of their tribulation.
The House attempted to investigate a transaction between the Federal Government, Shell, Agip and Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in respect of an oil bloc, OPL 245. But the probe was aborted following the absence of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Mohammed Adoke at the public hearing. Adoke, who wrote to the House Ad-Hoc Committee investigating the transaction, said he was unable to attend the event due to his engagement in the last minute efforts of the government to review the 2002 judgement of the International Court of Justice(ICJ) on the ownership of Bakassi Peninsula. Besides Adoke’s absence, the investigation could also not proceed because the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Deziani Allison-Madueke, and Minister of State, Finance, Alhaji Yerima Ngama, who were in attendance had no presentations. The duo said they were unable to provide the committee with position papers on the sale of OPL 245 because of some communication gaps. According to them, the letters the House AdHoc Committee claimed to have written to them requesting for position papers did not reach their desks. The Accountant-General of the Federation Mr Jonah Otunla who was also expected to brief the committee investigating the transaction was absent at the event.
Deputy House Leader and Chairman of the Ad hoc Committee, Hon Leo Ogor, said the investigation could not proceed in the absence of the key personalities and relevant documents. This is certainly an arrested development and another drama of parliamentary probes.
Otedola / Amcon Deal
But one more drama is in the offing and it will be interesting to watch till the curtain falls. The House of Representatives has taken more than a casual interest in the N140.9 billion debt settlement deal between the Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas and Forte Oil Plc, Mr. Femi Otedola, and the Asset Management Corporation of Nigeria (AMCON). Although it was purely a private deal , the House has raised the red flag on the transaction and condemned the procedure. Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, said the transaction was suspect and unacceptable. The lower chamber of the National Assembly, he said, would investigate it when it resumes from its one-week oversight break. “We have observed with interest the payment of N140.9 billion, being the outstanding debt of a businessman, Mr. Femi Otedola, to AMCON. This payment was credited to AMCON’s Managing Director, Mustafa Chike-Obi.
“The 7th House of Representatives would, on return from its one-week oversight tour, constitute a committee to investigate the amount and the assets so transferred to AMCON.
“It is curious that AMCON, being a government establishment, which is under the purview of the National Assembly, could do that without the knowledge of the House.
“The National Assembly would be interested in getting full details of the transaction,” Mohammed said Already tongues are wagging on this proposed investigation and some are wondering what the lawmakers want to achieve.
The House has immense powers and can probe anything under the sun. But here is hoping wisdom would prevail in the exercise of this power to safeguard the integrity of the parliament.