NIGERIA: Why NASS Exposed Budget Padding -- Hon. Zakary

MARCH 17, 2016

In this interview with ABDULLAHI OLESIN, the chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Basic Education, Hon. Zakari Mohammed speaks on sundry national issues and concludes that the Nigeria’s situation is like that of a patient in the emergency ward.


Crude oil swap

In the month of January a colleague of ours brought up a motion on the alleged misconduct in the handling of the crude oil swap. Simple; at some point Nigeria had issue in the provision of fuel for its citizenry and became cash-trapped. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) according to the narrative we got was owing marketers and of course it must provide premium motor spirit (PMS) and other related products for the usage of Nigerians. That is when the swap arrangement came. The crude oil swap is like trade by barter arrangement. We have crude and give it to marketers, they take it outside Nigeria and return it as a refined product.

Worldwide it is not a misnomer. Countries do it when there are issues. The other alternative is what they call crude in exchange of refined products. At any rate they adopted the oil swap and there was a lot of anomalies. One of the companies was called Duke Oil, a subsidiary of NNPC got the contract to do swap and it used to collect 445,000 barrels of crude oil daily. The company believed that it did not have the technical capacity to handle such a transaction and it decided to involve some other marketers. At some point it was going on very well. Between 2012 and 2014 the agreement expired; and when the agreement expired the sane thing to do is to renew it. We discovered that between that period crude oil of Nigeria was taken away without a valid agreement. Even though they said that they had written to the then petroleum minister for the approval of either president or federal executive council but unilaterally she approved an extension.

For now we have interrogated former GMDs, former petroleum minister, former PPMC’s heads, former MDs of Duke Oil, oil marketers and the only people we have yet to take on are Customs, Ports authorities and Prince Haruna Mommoh who was in charge of PPMC between the time Dizeani Alison-Madueke was the petroleum minister.

We are expecting them, at least we have dispatched letters to them. With that we will be winding down so that we can compile our report. The committee has set out that it will not witch-hunt anybody, but where we find out that there are infractions we will definitely make sure that we recommend appropriately. So far so go we have been getting on well. We have seen the reactions of Nigerians on what we will do with that. The assurances I have for them is that we have a mandate by the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to investigate and expose corruption.

Shortfall in the education sector in the 2016 budget?

There are certain sub-heads such as the Unity Schools that the meal subsidy was slashed down. We have 104 Unity Schools and of the number, we have a population of 19,000 students. The meal subsidy’s proposal should be N450 daily- that means N150 per meal amounting to over N11 billion but it was reduced to about N8 billion . The implication is that their food might be reduced to about N80 per meal. How much will N80 do with what we have today? We at the level on the committee on basic education in the House of Representatives have approached the appropriation committee to make provisions for that shortfall.

Misconceptions about the 2016 budget?
I think some people are not doing their jobs very well. I cannot explain for them as I am not a member of the executive. But the story we heard is that civil servants were already working on the budget before ministers were appointed. When the ministers came in they brought some version and consultants engaged at some levels.

The President has started taking steps to ensure that he goes into the crux of the matter. Budget is not a day’s job. It is there you will know whether certain heads are implementable or not. Padding is a relative term. For us in the parliament if a budget is brought to us we should be able to detect all these infractions. If it were the case of garbage in garbage out we wouldn’t have detected that. We want to bequeath an implementable document to Nigerians beyond our long grammar. Because a lot of things are calling for attention; the roads are in very terrible state; power supply shaky; education sector is in shambles. We definitely must make hay while the sun shines.

Our case in Nigeria is like a patient in the emergency ward. He needs all the consultants available to revive him.

What gave the NASS the effrontery to expose this anomaly in the budget based on the fact that the ruling party also has the majority in the assembly?

Our parties are vehicles for us to get to the National Assembly. When you get into the National Assembly your people are more paramount than the parties and there is a country called Nigeria. For us we believe that we are a separate arm of government. When we see things that are not right we point them out, because keeping quiet would be a conspiracy of silence that would not help anybody. For instance, I don’t think the president will be happy if he eventually knows that certain things have taken place and we allowed them to go without raising eyebrows. It is not an effrontery we are just doing our jobs. NASS has three responsibilities of representation, over sight and the budget and of course the budget is our core responsibility. If we fail to do that, we will be failing in one of our responsibilities. I can tell you that the NASS is a very liberalized body. Unlike what people think, we have people who had paid their dues in their different endeavours before going to the National Assembly.

Recalling each time there is interruption of the democratic setting it is the legislature that is the whipping boy. The judiciary will be there; the powers of the executive and the legislature would be fused together by the military heads. The only representation that you have is the legislature. In the executive the people only elect the president and vice president, others are appointees, who owe no allegiance to the people.

Kogi State’s crisis

Kogi Assembly is a-25 member House. Five members have gone to revalidate their terms as they have issues in the court. So we have 20 members; five members sat and said they have sacked the speaker. Fifteen others are in the same place. I don’t want to dwell on technicalities. I am a member of the committee of the House that went to Kogi state recently. We met with the Governor, Commissioner of police, director of DSS and the 15 members, but of course the other five refused to meet with us.

But the Nigerian Constitution is very clear, Section 11 (4) says when a state House of Assembly cannot sit for whatsoever reasons, the House of Representatives is empowered to take over the responsibilities pending the time the house can sit and make laws. Kogi state House of Assembly has not sat for three or four weeks and it is very obvious from our interaction that they are not ready to sit. And we cannot keep governance static.

I heard some people went to court. I think some lawyers too, I’m sorry to say, don’t understand the provisions of the Constitutions. I watched one of their lawyers on television and I am totally disappointed. The lawyer even went further to say they will stop the House of Representatives from exercising their constitutional responsibility. I see that as a huge joke.

One thing that is clear without any iota of ambiguity is that the NASS has the powers to take over the functions of the state house of assembly. We did that in the seventh assembly by taking over the Rivers state House of Assembly when a similar scenario happened.

I appeal to elected representatives to be accountable to our people. Like I told them that we should leave the election mood and face governance. The fact that APC has not issued a statement should not be mistaken that the party is not ready for governance. May be the party wants the forces to play themselves our naturally. We are running fiscal federalism and Kogi state is an integral part of the country.

Legality of card readers

What we are going to do is to amend the Electoral Act to include card readers? I think that is what the Supreme Court is saying. They are talking law but you and I know that card reader was able to curb election violence in a greater deal. The Evidence Law we are using in Nigeria till about three years ago was the one of 1930s. Until we amended it in the last Assembly; the law is saying electronic evidences are not admissible in court. But we changed that in the last assembly saying that electronic evidences are admissible.

Card readers for me, that is where the world is going. It is an issue for academic exercise. I think the judges want it in black and white that for the purposes of elections in Nigeria card readers should be used.