The ongoing House of Representatives investigation into the $16 billion expenditure on power reforms between 1999 and 2007 without commensurate results has generated divergent reactions from Nigerian people. Generally, people were shocked at the colossal sum sunk into the power sector with a worsening effect on generation, transmission and distribution of power supply for industrial and domestic use. More shocking was the release of million of dollars for work not done to unregistered (illegal) companies under an administration that touted itself as an avant-garde of anti-corruption, apostle of due process and die hard patriots out to ameliorate the suffering of long suffering Nigerians.
But beyond the sickening revelation of what amounted to official stealing and other sharp practices in this all important sector for human and industrial development, there is the effect of the probe to give Nigerians a perspective on why in spite of our God-given resources, we seems perpetually incapable of providing for the basic needs of our people. The insulting exposure of those in position of authority who misused their positions for selfish gain is indeed a soothing balm to the heat, inconveniences and even consequential deaths suffered by the people as a result of epileptic power supply. In this view, while the probe results is being awaited and sanctions expected for culprits in this official malfeasance, the public know that even some hitherto thought pious and of impeccable character, are to be charitable only slightly better than petty thieves. And with or without sanctions, Nigerians can rightly relate with them in proper perspectives in the public domain.
Of course, some are not impressed with all the sordid revelation of what they always assume is second nature to most government officials. In the usual Nigerian cynicism of seeing the “handwriting on the wall” and concluding it could possibly be a fake, they see the whole exercise as all sound and fury without possible action thereafter. For this set of Nigerians, the probe’s only value is its real life ‘entertainment’ value that soon fades into darkness after the show. In this pessimistic view, they have a repertoire of precedents in our history to back their positions of “more heat than light” according to writer.
One also note that political parties, civil society organisations and individuals have latched on to the probe as anchor for call for a comprehensive probe of the last administration or specific individuals whose role in the whole depressing saga is less than salutary.
All these reactions are all well and good but there are others that are either based on ignorance or portend attempt to rubbish the work of the probe panel. In the first group are those who mistakenly assume that the House of Representatives committee has prosecutors’ and judicial power to sanction any indicted persons from their investigation and report. From this assumption comes the conclusion that at the end of the day the House will not do anything to the outcome of the investigative hearing as it happened in the past. But this misconception would not arise if such persons are appreciative of the role of the legislature in a democratic system with three arms.
Constitutionally the legislature makes the law for the executive to implement while the third arm, the Judiciary adjudicate/interprets the laws. In this instance the House is constitutionally empowered to conduct investigation into any matter it has competent to make law. The process leading to the current investigative hearing started with a motion on the floor of the House which sailed through mandating the Power and Steel Committee to investigate and report back to the House their findings and recommendations. Once this is done, the whole House will further debate the report and pass a resolution on it which will make certain advisory recommendations to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) for onward transmission for the Executive arm to take action. From this point, the ball has left the court of the legislature and thereafter Nigerian should hold the executive responsible for initiating further actions. For the leadership of the House under Hon. Dimeji Bankole, the House is going the full hog in this matter within the purview of their constitutional obligations. One recall a precedent of similar probe of the “missing ship” in the custody of the Navy where the last administration meted out sanctions to culprit in that episode based on the House’s recommendation. And reassuringly, the Executive led by President Umaru Yar’Adua has promised to act on the result of the probe through the Attorney-General. Let us wait and see.
But the present concern is that a group is working assiduously to rubbish the work of the acclaimed Hon. Ndudi Elumelu panel. It started with threats, pressure and inducements that met a brick wall. At a point the Speaker, Hon. Bankole was verbally assaulted and rebuked on the issues of probe.
When all these attempts were successfully rebuffed and the probe gathers steam, some of those with a finger in the $16 billion power pie resolved to undermine the probe using various means. Sponsored write ups have started appearing in the media questioning the integrity and alleged fabulous wealth of the chairman of the committee, Hon. Elumelu.
Similarly, attempts have been made to discredit indicting testimonies, particularly in relation to following due process in award of contracts and payments. Due process or no due process, there is no denying the fact that money was collected for job not done. Another front that is becoming apparent is attempts to influence the writing of the report of the committee towards certain predetermined conclusion that will down play the culpability of indicted persons. This is equally coming out as sponsored write ups suggesting certain conclusions and urging the nation to “move forward” and avoid “throwing away the baby and the bath water”! What nonsense in view of the quantum of money we are talking about. Some are even suggesting that money collected for work not done should not be recovered. As they say this is insult upon injury to the Nigerian people for all they have suffered as a result of selfish and greedy malfeasance of a few.
There are also indications that those against the outcome of the power probe intend to lobby members of the House with huge cash war chest from their loot to rubbish the report when it is presented at plenary for adoption. The attempt here is to water down whatever recommendations that will come out of the probe with a view to escaping with a slap on the wrist.
However, their plots is bound to fail following the resolve of Hon. Bankole led House to follow this as well as other investigations in the pipeline to its constitutional logical conclusion. Indeed this oversight function of the House of Representatives forms the fulcrum of what threw up the leadership of Bankole and so far the Speaker has been true to the mandate of the forces of integrity, transparency, good governance and due process that threw up his leadership. Part of this was the approval to air the power probe on a major television network with coverage extending to the Diaspora. And the viewing public were appreciative of this gesture that have help them to form their own opinion on the dark spell cast on their lives by those responsible to brighten their lives. As it is we are sure to see the light at the end of this contrived dark tunnel the probe panel has delved into. But Nigerians, the civil society and human rights groups should be ever vigilant to hold the various arms of government to their constitutional mandates.
Chief Kayode Odunaro
Special Adviser, Communication to Hon. Speaker House of Representatives