Hon. Farouk Lawan
•NNPC denies taking N844.9bn from CBN •C’ttee tackles Dankwambo over criticism
From Festus Akanbi in Lagos and Onwuka Nzeshi in Abuja
Efforts to scuttle the report of the House of Representatives Ad-Hoc Committee on the Monitoring of the Subsidy Regime have picked up steam as some indicted oil marketing firms and importers have been lobbying members of the National Assembly and presidency to halt its consideration and adoption by the lower chamber on Tuesday.
But the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, one of the government agencies indicted in the report, has taken umbrage with the document, stating emphatically that the corporation did not take N844.9 billion from the Central Bank of Nigeria, as indicated in the report.
Meanwhile, as the committee grapples with the fallout of the its report, it has found itself on a collision course with a former Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo, who is now Gombe State governor, over his attack on aspects of the report that covered his tenure.
The oil marketers, some of whom have sponsored advertisements in some national dailies denying complicity in the fuel import and subsidy scam, were said to have approached some lawmakers at the weekend "to plead their innocence" and solicit their assistance.
There were also indications that some members of the House were not comfortable with the process of releasing the report, especially its alleged leak to the media and some interest groups prior to its submission last Wednesday.
Rule 72(a) of the Standing Orders of the House of Representatives states, “If any member of the House who being a member of the committee of the House publishes to any person not being a member of such committee any evidence taken by the committee before it has been reported to the House, shall be guilty of contempt of the House and if investigated and found culpable by the Ethics and Privileges Committee, the House may by a resolution reprimand such a member or suspend him from the services of the House.”
Last week, as soon as the report was formally presented to the House at plenary, Hon. Aliyu Madaki, representing Dala Federal Constituency, Kano State had raised a point of order on a matter of privilege and requested that the House should dissolve into an executive (closed door) session.
During the executive session, some members were said to have expressed their anger over some aspects of the report which had been leaked, with a source revealing that the ad-hoc committee chairman, Hon. Farouk Lawan, was taken to task over the alleged leakage of the report.
But Lawan, the source added, managed to wriggle out of the allegation of releasing the report to the media without due authorisation.
THISDAY learnt that the aggrieved oil marketers have capitalised on the seeming lapse and anger by some legislators over the leaked report to push forward their own agenda.
It was gathered that some lawmakers have started to push the argument that Lawan had breached the process of releasing the report and are accusing him of seeking cheap popularity by granting interviews on the report when he had not formally unveiled it in the chamber.
“The oil marketers have begun to infiltrate the House and they are not prepared to leave anything to chance. They know that this report would be considered next week and they want to make sure they reach out to a sizeable number of lawmakers to protect their interests during the exercise.
“They are even threatening to go to court over the report and that could lead to another dilemma and possibly delay the implementation of the report,” a lawmaker said.
Some lawmakers have also faulted the report and accused its authors of inconsistency.
They claimed that in one breath the ad-hoc committee said subsidy breeds corruption while in another breath it recommended the payment of over N800 billion to marketers in the 2012 fiscal year.
NNPC, yesterday, also picked holes in the probe report on subsidy payment which had indicted it of wrongdoing and financial malfeasance in the petroleum products subsidy scheme.
In an exclusive interview with THISDAY, Group General Manager Public Affairs Division of NNPC, Dr. Levi Ajuonuma, stated that contrary to the allegation contained in the said probe report which accused NNPC of withdrawing from two different sources simultaneously to recover its subsidy claims, the corporation at no time made such double withdrawals.
“Such a claim is totally unfounded and absurd. We challenge both the CBN and the ad-hoc committee to provide evidence that such payments as alleged were made to NNPC.
“They must show authorisation for the payments as well as a breakdown of the amount, purpose for the payments, beneficiary accounts in which such payments were made and the utilisation of such payments,” he said.
The NNPC spokesman explained that rather than collecting such payments from CBN as alleged, the NNPC applied such subsidy approvals as credit due to the corporation towards the cost of its domestic crude allocation.
“For the purposes of clarity, subsidy payments to NNPC are not based on cash remittances. The mechanics of subsidy recovery by NNPC is not fund-based but by way of deduction from crude cost due.
“As a matter of fact, from the commencement of the subsidy regime, there was never a time when CBN paid any money to NNPC in respect of subsidy claims,” he added.
Ajuonuma expressed concern that despite the fact that all the necessary documents and information were submitted to the probe committee, it could still make this kind of unfounded allegation against the corporation.
“For instance, NNPC presented to PPPPRA approvals for 2011 totalling N981 billion, out of which only N844.9 billion has been credited to NNPC. But surprisingly, the committee claimed that PPPRA approved only N504 billion and that the balance was an excess payment to NNPC. What logic,” he said.
In reviewing the report in general, NNPC insisted that the committee appe-ared not to be sure of its actions as its intention was really not to clarify the subsidy payments but it was more interested in maligning and damaging the reputation of the corporation as well as other key players in the industry.
Ajuonuma also picked holes in the committee’s query of NNPC deductions of subsidy payment as a first line charge.
“The basis for the deduction of both cash calls for Joint Venture operations and NNPC’s subsidy payments as a first line charge on the income of the federation is statutory and founded on the Appropriation Act which was passed by the National Assembly.
“Under the said Appropriation Act, certain budgetary items, including subsidy payments to the NNPC, are listed as first line charges on the income of the federation,” he noted.
Continuing, he stated, “The committee accepted the cash call as a first line charge yet alleged that the subsidy aspect was illegal.”
“It is clear that the tone of the committee’s report is not only damaging to the corporation but to the entire nation. At this stage, it is pertinent to ask the question, whose interest was this committee serving?” he quizzed.
An oil industry source further informed THISDAY that the NNPC and its sister organisations such as the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency were very aggrieved with the report.
“I am not a lawmaker, but I must tell you that what Farouk Lawan did was a clear violation of the rules. How can a committee chairman go to town with a report that has not been endorsed by the entire House and sound as if the document represents the collective resolution of the entire parliament?
“At best, what that report contains was a reflection of the opinion of the committee which though duly constituted by the House, must subject its findings and recommendations to further scrutiny at plenary.
“The report must be debated and viewed from different prisms before anybody can say it reflects the opinion of the entire House. For now, it is premature and hasty to celebrate that report,” the oil industry source said.
However, it was gathered at the weekend that the House was unhappy with the comments made by Dankwambo over the report.
A legislator in the lower chamber said the House would respond to his allegation that the House was playing politics with the report when it debates the document at the plenary session on Tuesday.
The report had questioned payments to some oil marketers by the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation between 2005 and 2010 when Dankwambo was in office.
The committee observed in its report that “the particular accountant-general who served during the period 2009 was found to have made payments of equal instalments of N999 million for a record 128 times within 24 hours on the 12th and 13th of January 2009, totalling N127.872 billion.
“The confirmed payments from the CBN records were made to beneficiaries yet to be disclosed by the OAGF or identified by the committee. We, however, discovered that only 36 marketers were participants under the Petroleum Support Fund scheme during this period.
“Even, if it were 128 marketers, it was inconceivable that all would have imported the same quantity of products to warrant equal payments.”
Reacting to the report last week, Dankwambo, who denied any wrongdoing, had said it was impossible to make those types of alleged disbursements under the electronic payment system he operated as AGF.
“I’ve done my best to ensure that I demonstrated accountability and transparency in the way I operated,” the governor said, adding, “but you should not forget that Dankwambo today is also a politician.
“So, there can be so many factors that will be added to ridicule Gombe State’s name.”
The legislator said that the House committee has taken exception to what it called “an attempt by the governor to tar us with the brush of infamy.”
A member of the committee, who craved anonymity, said the plenary session on Tuesday would show whether the panel played politics or not with its account of Dankwambo’s role in the fuel subsidy saga.
He said: “Many attempts were made to ensure that the result of the probe panel did not see the light of day. But we rebuffed all the pressure. Now, the next strategy is to try to ridicule and question the integrity of the entire exercise.
“We take serious exception to it, and we expect the Gombe State governor to have been very sure of his facts before rushing to the media. He has taken the battle to us now, and we have no option than to defend the integrity of the entire probe and the report released.”
The lawmaker said since the plenary session would be broadcast live, “there will be no room for monkey tricks. The facts are clear, the documents are all there to back up our conclusions.
“We are not in doubt that the entire House will uphold our recommendations, and the executive arm of government will have no option than to implement the recommendations,” he added.
Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Zakary Mohammed, neither picked his calls nor respond to text message when THISDAY tried to get his view on the looming threat to the subsidy report.