Three senators, Ahmed Lawan, Ali Ndume and Kabir Marafa, all of the All Progressives Congress, APC, clashed on Tuesday over an ad hoc committee set up to probe a “$3.5 billion subsidy fund” belonging to the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
The Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti-South), had earlier raised a point of order, urging the Senate to probe the NNPC for paying subsidy on petrol without the approval of the National Assembly.
Olujimi said, “Since 1999, there has always been a budget for subsidy but this has been jettisoned by the current government. What is happening now is that there is a fund named as ‘Subsidy Recovery Fund’, which is being managed only by two individuals at the NNPC. That is the Managing Director and the Executive Director, Finance. This fund is too huge to be managed without recourse to any known law of the land.
“Right now, it is almost certain that the $3.8bn is slush fund, which is being managed by two individuals under a new terminology.
“I want to urge this Senate to cause the Downstream Committee to compel the NNPC to come before the committee and explain why this should be so. The new terminology that is now being used is ‘under-recovery’ rather than subsidy approval.”
President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, recalled that when the National Assembly passed the 2018 Appropriation Bill, it requested that the executive should send a supplementary budget that would capture subsidy on petrol and legalise the payment.
He said, “I will want to suggest that in the light of the enormity of the issues before us, where we are talking about subsidy of almost $3.8bn, which, if you remember when we did pass the budget, I said from here that there was the need for the executive to bring before us fuel subsidy item. This has always been the practice. And this money is too huge for it not to be appropriated.
“In the light of the enormity of this, I want to suggest that the Senate Leader, with the Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), should urgently summon those in the NNPC, who are responsible (for the payment), to look into the matter and come back to us with a report that we can all debate.”
The issue, however, became controversial when Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) accused the Committee on Petroleum (Downstream) of being compromised.
Ndume said, “I think the committee – I don’t want to be too hard on them – is not doing its oversight and when all these things happen, the committee is supposed to know. So, I am suggesting that Marafa, being the Chairman of that committee, should be out of this and the committee members too.
“The Senate Leader and other members of the Senate should look at this thing objectively and not be partisan, because by the time you have such amount of money stashed somewhere, it calls for more question. As distinguished Senator Bukar Abba (Ibrahim) said, not I, the committee might be compromised. That is what he said.”
Saraki ruled that an ad hoc committee be set up to conduct the probe, while appointing the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, as its chairman.
Marafa (APC, Zamfara Central), who was irked by Ndume’s comment, raised a point of order to demand a retraction of the statement. He said his committee was ready to be excluded from the probe or dissolved.
Responding, Saraki said, “Senator Marafa, listen to yourself. You decided to choose the same offensive words against your colleague. You have to first withdraw what you have just said.”
Lawan subsequently withdrew from the probe.
The Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, however, urged Lawan not to withdraw from the probe.
“While I associate myself with what the leader said, I think he was so angry to listen to what happened. The Leader needs to calm down as we set up the ad hoc committee. He should say he should be excluded from the committee, not that he wants to withdraw when he has not been given the job,” Ekweremadu said.
Saraki insisted that Lawan would lead the ad hoc committee as the amount involved was too huge to be left with the Marafa-led committee.