………..by Musa Ibrahim………….
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts Thursday, were enraged over the failure of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Group Managing Director (GMD). Engr. Mele Kyari to honour their several invitations.
These invitations were for NNPC GMD to defend several audit queries bothering on illegal withdrawals and mismanagement of public funds contained in a report of the Auditor General of the Federation.
Chairman of the Committee, Wole Oke (PDP, Osun) said this was the 10th time the NNPC boss has failed to appear before the committee, while ordering that he should appeare unfailingly within seven day.
Oke appealed to angry members of the House Committee to give Kyari the last chance to appear before the committee to defend the audit query against the organization failure which, they will be compelled to conclude that the allegations of mismanagement of public funds levelled against NNPC are true.
The NNPC Group Managing Director (GMD) was expected to appear before the Public Account Committee on Thursday to defend series of audit queries against the corporation, but at the resumed sitting of the committee, the NNPC GMD again failed to show up.
In a letter addressed to the Chairman of the House Committee on Public Accounts with ref. GGM/GPAD/08 and signed by the Group General Manager, Public Affairs, Dr. K.A. Obatelu, said the GMD was not able to honour the invitation as a result of a critical and time bound operational matter.
The letter reads in part “we wish to reassure the leadership of the National Assembly of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that the NNPC holds it in very high regard and esteem. However, we regret the inability of the GMD to attend the meeting scheduled for February 11, 2021 due to a pre-scheduled critical and time bound operational matter.
“In view of the current circumstance as stated above, we kindly request that the meeting be rescheduled.”
The chairman of the House Committee on informing his members that NNPC has written again for the tenth time seeking deferment and demanding for another date angered the members who took turn to accuse the corporation of undermining the oversight functions of the parliament.
Hon. Solomon Maren (PDP, Plateau) said the parliament cannot continue to sit back and watch agencies of government ignore invitations at will, adding that the House must rise up and defend its name.
*For an agency of government to continuously evade appearance before the Public Accounts Committee is unacceptable. I think it is time this committee exerts its power so that it will no longer be looked upon as a toothless bulldog.
“This is the time we should be able to rise above every sentiment and do the needful by ensuring that NNPC which is the collecting body of government revenue from the oil and gas sector is accountable. If they are not accountable to us, to whom will they be accountable?
“This is the time we must do the needful and arise to say you have deferred on too many occasion. Ten times is too much and this committee must rise up and say this is unacceptable and it will no longer be cordoned. We need to rise and do what is right in the interest of this nation.
“The local government councils are in shamble because we cannot account for how revenue is collected on their behalf. Many states are owing salaries of their staff because we cannot account for the revenue we are collecting on their behalf.
“Even the implementation of the budget has never gone beyond 70 percent and I am sure it is because the funds are not enough to fund the budget. Also, the federal government is borrowing huge sums of money to fund the budget and augment the deficit.
“For God sake, it is the tenth time that they are not appearing. When will they appear? Are we going to continue to cordon this? They will continue to find excuse not to appear until the lifespan of this 9th assembly expires”.
On his part, Hon. Bamidele Salam (PDP, Osun) said agencies like the NNPC should not be allowed to undermine the efforts of the parliament to ensure transparency and accountability, especially when President Muhammadu Buhari rode on the mantra of fight against corruption to power.
Salam said “democracy thrives where there is respect for the rule of law and where there is respect for institutions of government. It is not in the mouth of a body set up by law. NNPC is a creation of this parliament and not a creation of itself. It is not in the mouth of that institution to refuse to respect the institution that has been granted the power by the laws of this nation to invite them to account.
“This country is bleeding. Financially, we are bleeding and this is the institution that is saddled with the management of one of our greatest resources. If they will not open themselves to accountability, I wonder what kind of example they are setting for other institutions of government.
“Apart from the fact that this committee is saddled with that power by the constitution, it is also acting in pursuant to a report from the Auditor General of the federation. President Muhammadu Buhari rode into office in one of the mantra which is that of fighting corruption and ensures that this country is runned as an accountable institution.
“So, if the NNPC that has been indicted by a report from the Auditor General’s office refuses to come to parliament render its account and defend that report, it is high time we rise as a parliament to ask that sanctions be applied. I agreed that the letter authored and sent here should be rejected having not signed by the Chief Executive Officer.
“We should also call for appropriate sanction and order that the GMD be brought before this parliament. We have the power as a committee to order that he be brought here before the parliament pursuant to the constitution and the Legislative privileges Act.
“I want to suggest that we wield the big stick so that all institutions of government will know that we mean business here which is to entrench transparency and accountability in the management of the funds of this country.”
Also contributing, Hon. Victor Mela Danzaria (APC, Gombe) expressed disappointment over the attitude of the NNPC, pointing out that members of the parliament will continue to defend the interest of Nigerians.
He said “this is disappointing and unfortunate. This is not the first time. Let me say that we will continue to stand for Nigeria and look for how money meant for the development of this country is being used. This is regrettable and is not supposed to be.
“The GMD is the overseer of this company and there are competent he could have sent here to come and speak. Unfortunately, they choose otherwise. Let us do the right thing for this country because this is the engine room of this nation. We can allow it to go unsupervised by the National Assembly”.
In his ruling, the Committee Chairman, Hon. Wole Oke appealed to members to give the GMD the last opportunity to appear before the House Committee and defend the audit query against the corporation.
Oke said if the GMD failed to appear before the House on Thursday, February 18, 2021, the Committee will have no choice than to resolve all issues against the corporation in favour of the Auditor General and make appropriate recommendation to the House for adoption.
He said “let us situate the issues properly. The invitation extended to the NNPC stem from the query raised by the Auditor General of the Federation on the Federations Account and the financial statement of the Auditor General lf the Federation on several issues.
“We have written to NNPC because they have a right to fair hearing. They have the constitutional right to be given fair hearing and we have written severally and what we keep getting from them is request for extension.
“The worst story is that there are 18 subsidiaries under NNPC who also have queries to answer and the GMD ordered them not to appear because they are subsidiaries. I want to state that the GMD is not in a position to dictate to the parliament on how the parliament should conduct its business.
“If we wait and don’t see the GMD appearing here, we will resolve all matters raised by the Auditor General in favour of the Auditor General. All the allegations of misappropriation raised by the Auditor General will be raised in their favour if the GMD and the subsidiaries refuse to cause appearance. NNPC is not bigger than this institution. But I want to plead with us to give them the last chance.
“If they failed to appear at the next adjourned date, we will not summon them again, but simply resolve all the issues in favour of the Auditor General and then tender it on the floor of the House for adoption.”