Senate Performs Oversight Duties As House of Reps Battles Osinbajo

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Last week, though the National Assembly failed to hold any plenary sessions following the inability of its members to form a quorum, the Senate committees continued with oversight duties. While the House of Representatives investigated alleged corruption in the presidency, report Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo

For the first time in the history of the Eighth Senate, it failed to form a quorum last Tuesday for legislative business to take place. At the last count, less than 20 out of 109 Senators were in attendance and this forced the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to adjourn plenary until November 20. Order 10(3) of the Senate’s Standing Rule stipulates that for Senate to form a quorum, one-third of the total 109 members must be present during a legislative session.

Senate Minority Whip, Senator Philip Aduda (FCT), was quick to cite the Order to draw the attention of his colleagues to the lack of quorum and the need for the adjournment as soon as Saraki said the opening prayer and approved the votes and proceedings for the plenary.

According to him, since the Order states that ‘a session of the Senate can only be held when the required quorum of 37 members out of 109 is formed, the Senate should adjourn the sitting until next legislative day’.

He said, “We are less than 10. Mr. President, I want to move that since we have not formed a quorum, we may therefore adjourn but in doing so, I want to say that the Senate is empty, because various committees are carrying out oversight duties. They are all over the country, ensuring that the budget is performing. On that note, the Senate may wish to extend the period of oversight functions if the Senate so wishes by another week to Tuesday, November 20”.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, seconded the motion saying, “I rise to second the motion ably moved by Senator Aduda, but let me add that we are more than 10 but certainly not up to 38. We are somewhere between 15 and 20. Just for the record, we are not less than 10 but less than 20”

At this point, Saraki put the issue to a voice vote and got overwhelming adoption from the senators present in the chambers.

But after the motion was adopted, Saraki said: “It is important that our members, who are not here, we should communicate to them, those on oversight to finish what they have during the week in the area of oversight. Some of the findings from the oversight are important and it is crucial that the exercise is done diligently and we should ensure that it is completed by the end of this week. That is in line with order 10 (3)”.

Many senators were actually out of Abuja for oversight functions for the whole of last week. Cases in point include the Senate Committee on Health headed by Senator Lanre Tejuosho and the Senator Remi Tinubu-led Committee on Environment, who were in Lagos for oversight duties.

While the Health Committee members were at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) to see things for themselves at the hospital, the Environment Committee members were also on working visit to environment sites within the Lagos metropolis.

On its part, the Senate Committee on Federal Road Management Agency (FERMA), led by its Chairman, Senator Magnus Abe, paid an oversight visit to FERMA’s headquarters in Wuse 2 in Abuja and with two other members of the committee, senators Barnabas Gemade and Philip Adudah, met with the agency’s Managing Director, Nurudeen Rafindadi and directors during which Abe expressed concern over the underfunding of FERMA by federal government.

He said: “The reason FERMA was created was to take away the bureaucracy that visited the maintenance of roads from the Federal Ministry of Works and create an agency that will be quick and able to respond quickly to challenges of maintenance of federal roads. It is sad to note that the exact same challenges that plagued the Federal Ministry of Works are still plaguing the agency today.”

The senator, therefore, called on the Federal Ministry of Finance and CBN to quickly look into ways of ensuring that the provisions of the nation’s extant laws on the funding of FERMA are implemented without delay.

He added: “Except this is done, the number of Nigerians, who continue to die on our roads, the poor state of Nigerian roads will remain with us in the nearest future. I also call on the Attorney General of the Federation, who is the chief law enforcement officer of the government to ensure that the PPRA act is implemented and appropriately and funds due this agency are released without delay.”

FERMA MD had earlier told the committee that less than 10 per cent of 2018 Appropriation had so far been released to the agency. He expressed confidence that 2019 would be a better year for FERMA in terms of funding, saying, “Right now, the 2019 budget is being prepared and in our discussion with the Ministry of Budget and Planning, we have an indication that we can look at up to 50 per cent of capital projects among other things we intend to embark upon.”

At the House of Representatives, it was a week of allegations and counter-allegations between the House and the office of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo

It was an intriguing week in the green chamber because there was what could be called ‘renewed hostility’ between the executive and the legislature with allegations and counter-allegations of financial recklessness.

Osinbajo had a bitter pill to swallow when his name was dragged through the mud over alleged illegal approval of a mismanaged N5.8 billion North-east Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) intervention fund.

The House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness chaired by Ali Isa, in its report last Tuesday, maintained that in contravention of constitutional provisions, Osinbajo approved the release of the sum of N5, 865, 671, 939.26 in June 2017, from the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account and that the money was openly mismanaged.

Though the Vice President made frantic efforts to exonerate himself of any wrongdoing that has not been an easy task. The House committee insisted that as the Chairman, Governing Board of National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and the acting president that approved the N5, 865, 671, 389. 26bn Emergency Intervention Fund for the North-east in June 2017, Osinbajo has questions to answer.

The lawmakers frowned at the fact that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) paid money into the accounts of private companies namely; Dangote Rice Ltd (N936, 196, 800); Golden Agric Input Ltd (N1, 384, 554, 236); BUA Rice Ltd (N1, 322, 273, 520); WACOT Ltd (N453, 674, 296); WACOT Ltd (N939, 946, 089) and NEMA (N829, 026, 456) for supply of food items that was never carried out.

Their grouse was that the authorisation granted for the withdrawal of the money from the Consolidated Revenue Fund Account was “highly flawed and infractions on Section 80(2) of the Constitution and Section (2) of the Procurement Act, as well as provisions of the Appropriation Act.

The lawmakers were miffed that the approval did not follow due process as taxes and interest accruable to the government were not deducted or remitted to FIRS and no meeting held by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) to approve the contracts.

“The funds were credited directly to the individual banks of the companies and NEMA bank account, a violation of the approval limit allowed by law. Out of the N5.8bn, NEMA got N829, 026, 456 for logistics and claimed it spent N369.5 million on general logistics, N189 million on branding and packaging, N248.6 million on branding and packaging and N21.9 million on contingency,” Isa noted.

The recommendations of the investigative hearing on the violation of public trust in NEMA were adopted by the House of Representatives after it was considered in the committee of the whole.

According to the House, the release of the fund for food security in the North-east contravened Section 80(4) of the 1999 constitution as amended, which states that, “No money shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the federation, except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.”

The committee, therefore, called for the dismissal and prosecution of the Director-General of NEMA, Mr. Mustapha Maihaja, over allegations of fraud, corruption and embezzlement of N33 billion Emergency Intervention Fund as well as all the government officials’ involvement in the approval, processing, release and diversion of the fund.

The presidency was obviously jolted! This was evident in the damage control that trailed the allegation, but the National Assembly too did not get away without a scar after the allegations against the VP.

A 2016 annual audit report released by the Auditor General of the Federation became public and it revealed that about N3.5 billion was misappropriated in 2016 by the management of the National Assembly.

It was alleged that in the National Assembly, money was siphoned through various schemes such as failure to retire advances, financial documentation irregularities, excess payment for goods, controversial purchases and diversion of funds.

Released almost at the same time, allegations contained in the controversial committee report made newspaper headlines, the audit report which indicated how the National Assembly failed to provide receipts, vouchers or contract documents for many transactions made in 2016, also rattled the National Assembly.

As the overall head of the National Assembly, Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Clerk of the National Assembly, Mohammed Omolori, Chairman of the National Assembly Service Commission, Adamu Fika and Director-General of the National Institute of Legislative Studies, Ladi Hamalai and other key officials in the National Assembly with oversight management responsibilities were indicted in the report.

“During the audit of the accounting records maintained at the National Assembly and its agencies, at the management section, under the General Services, it was revealed that capital account payment vouchers for amounts totalling N417 million (N417,312,538.79), raised for settlement of some contractors, were without vital supporting documents, “a financial decision that depicts violation of financial regulation, which provides that all vouchers shall contain full particulars of each service as to enable them to be checked without reference to any other document and will invariably be supported by relevant documents.

“The Clerk to the National Assembly, Mohammed Sani Omolori, should produce the supporting documents to the payment vouchers or recover the amount in question from the contractors,” the auditor noted.

Part of other issues raised was that during the audit of staff salary accounts, 37 payment vouchers which amount to N67 million (N66, 713, 355) were observed to have been paid between January and June 2016 for items not related to personnel cost.

That payee in the cashbook did not correspond with those in the bank statement, which violates the financial regulation, which states that expenditure shall strictly be classified in accordance with the estimates and votes must be applied only to the purpose for which the money is provided and that expenditure incorrectly charged to a vote shall be disallowed.

The auditor, therefore, instructed that “The sum of N66, 713, 355.08 being irregular expenditure should be recovered from the officer, who approved the payments from the personnel vote.”

During the review of documents of capital expenditure vote by the auditor, it was noted that payments totalling N116 million (N116, 162, 522.60) were made between April and June 2016, to some contractors for various jobs carried out, without raising payment vouchers. So, the Clerk to the National Assembly was asked to produce the payment vouchers for examination.

Also, a total sum of N57 million deducted from various contract payments in respect of Withholding Tax and Value Added Tax was without evidence of remittance to the tax authorities. Hence, the Clerk was asked to produce the acknowledgement receipts from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for verification. The Clerk of the National Assembly was alleged to have previously ignored the auditor on these issues raised.

Reacting, Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, said the allegation of misappropriation of about N3.5bn in the National Assembly in 2016, was not against lawmakers but the management of the National Assembly.

According to him, the management of the National Assembly is distinct from the lawmakers and as such was in the best position to react to issues raised in the audit report.

“Let me tell you, these issues can only be tackled by the management. It is not the House of Representatives. You people should differentiate spokesman for the House of Representatives. I speak for members of the House of Representatives.

“Management matters are done by the Information Officer of the Management Department because it is an entire management thing, they are talking about Clerk of the National Assembly (CNA), Clerk of the House, Dogara, talking about Senate President giving approval. So, it is not a House issue. You have to look for the Information Officer in charge of managerial issues. But if it is said that the member of the House of Representatives has done such a thing, then I will speak for them,” he said.

There was no official statement on the matter yet, but a source in the National Assembly management, who spoke strictly on the condition anonymity, said the manner the audit report became a subject of media publication showed that it was a hatchet job.

“What I will tell you is that the report is a 2016 report and it was a hatchet job. The person that did that did not even bother to do a thorough job – a professional job of a journalist. They didn’t even give us chance to act on whether that report is true or not. Tax dedication that they were talking about for instance is collected at source by the Central Bank on every capital project. When you have audit query, it only shows that there is something that is not properly done; give us additional information but they went to press with it without even getting our own side of the story.

“And even the management that was in place in 2016 is not the same management now. That was during the time of Makasua and I don’t have details of that and I don’t even know the report he is referring to. It is not news that will add up anything. They are coming up with that because the National Assembly is trying to investigate some of the actions of the executive, so they too are trying to bring things up,” the source stated.

From all indications, there is no end in sight to the altercations, allegations and counter-allegations between the Isa-led committee, which seems resolute to prove beyond reasonable doubts that things were not properly done with the N5.8bn IDP food intervention contract award and the office of the auditor-general, who is certainly waiting for an official reaction to issues raised in the report.