• Says approval in citizens’ interest, wants scheme scrapped
• Reps threaten to arrest Okonjo-Iweala, bank chief over Capital Oil, Coscharis dispute
THE Senate Thursday approved the N161, 617, 364,911 billion supplementary budget for fuel subsidy in the 2012 fiscal year.
The upper legislative chamber said that it made the approval in the interest of Nigerians. But it bemoaned the level of corruption in the oil subsidy sector and called on Nigerians to take decisive steps towards eliminating the monster.
On its part, the House of Representatives Thursday concluded debate on the general principles of the 2012 supplementary budget of N161 billion sent to it by President Goodluck Jonathan last Tuesday.
It referred the proposal to its appropriation committee directing it to conclude work on it and submit report within one week.
And the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, faced difficult times convincing lawmakers to allow the proposal to be referred to the committee for further work.
The Chairmen of House Committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Dakuku Peterside (River/PDP); Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Ajibola Muraina (Oyo/PDP) and Appropriation, John Enoh (Cross River/PDP) were unanimous in their argument that there was no need to rush and pass the supplementary budget proposal.
Besides, an attempt by the House of Representatives to investigate and resolve the face-off between Capital Oil Plc and Coscharis Motors Limited recorded more hitches Thursday.
Piqued by the absence of Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, from a meeting convened to address the issue at the National Assembly, the House Committee on Public Petitions threatened to arrest her.
It also threatened to arrest the Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc, Mr. Aigboje Aig-Imokhuede.
The Senate President David Mark stressed that the request of the Executive for extra subsidy budget had to be granted and urgently too, to save Nigerians from suffering the effect of fuel scarcity during this festive season, and that it was high time Nigerians took a decision on fuel subsidy.
He maintained that since it had become difficult for the government to combat corruption in the fuel subsidy industry, Nigerians must take a decision once and for all to stop the whole exercise of oil subsidy.
“It is no gainsaying and it is not a secret anymore to say that there is so much corruption in the fuel subsidy industry in whatever system they adopt and I think the nation must take a decision now whether to continue this or to stop it. The nation in my candid opinion must make that decision sooner than later because we cannot carry on like this way.
“If they cannot eliminate or stop the corruption in the industry, then, the other alternative will be to stop the whole exercise of subsidy and we will take the one that is easier and the one that will bring less pain to Nigerians.
“I thank all of you for taking into consideration the fact that if this is not approved, Nigerians are the ones who are going to suffer. The reason we are in the chamber here is to work for the welfare of the people and anything we can do to alleviate their sufferings would be done and we will continue to do so in the interest of those who have elected us here,” Mark said.
President Goodluck Jonathan had in a letter addressed to the President of the Senate on Tuesday, requesting a supplementary sum of N161 billion to allow free flow of fuel during the festive season
The President said in his letter that the N888.1 billion was found inadequate following a forensic audit on the 2012 appropriation for fuel subsidy.
His words: “You recall that as part of the 2012 budget framework a provision of N888.1 billion was made for payment of fuel subsidy for the nation. I wish to intimate the distinguished Senate of the fact that following the forensic audit carried out, the provision for fuel subsidy in the 2012 budget was underestimated.”
The President added that so far, the sum of N880,264, 243,683.61, had been paid leaving a balance of N7,735,756,316.39.
“As at now, the sum of N880,264,243,683:61 billion has been paid out leaving a balance of N7, 735, 756, 316: 39billion.
“In order to accommodate the outstanding arrears resulting from the forensic audit exercise and the remaining period of the 2012 an additional sum of N161,617, 364, 911 billion over and above what was programmed in the 2012 framework is required,” he said.
While some lawmakers justified President’s request, others said it was a cheap blackmail aimed at pitting the people against the Senate by the Executive. According to this group of senators, their support for the passage of the bill was with mixed feelings and sentiments for the Nigerian public. They also called for an investigation into 2012 subsidy management.
“I am supporting the request because they are bringing it at a time we seem not to have any choice but to support it. I will not be surprised if the amount has already been spent. How come the forensic audit report was not made public? What is the daily oil consumption in the country?
“These are some of the issues discovered in 2011 fuel subsidy scam and up till now, nobody has been prosecuted. We should at the end of the day investigate this total sum of N1.1 trillion for 2012 oil subsidy,” said Senator Ganiyu Olarenwaju Solomon (Lagos West)
“I speak in support of this with a very heavy heart. There is a clear case of blackmail by the Executive here. They are forcing us into accepting the request because there was no choice. I support this request so that Nigerians should not be allowed to suffer because of incompetence and inadequacies of the country’s Economic Team.
“This shortfall has not come from any systematic analysis. Who is the custodian of the country’s audited account? It should be the auditor general of the federation. Has anybody submitted the outcome of the audit to the accountant general?
“I hope we are not creating another cabal to replace those that have been indicted, the old cabal. While we support this request based on sentiment that we don’t want our people to suffer, nobody should take advantage of us to blackmail and twist us because we have soft hearts for our people”, Senator Ahmed Lawan said.
On the other hand, some lawmakers believed the President’s request was in the interest of Nigerians and that he should be commended for his respect for the constitution, which demands that additional expenditure be approved by the National Assembly.
“I support the request of President Goodluck Jonathan for the approval of N161 billion supplementary budget. Any request that will improve the wellbeing of the mass, which will go a long way towards alleviating the suffering of the people, should be supported.
It will help in ensuring peace and stability of the nation. This is not the period the country should be grounded,” he said.
The Chairman of the House Committee on Public Petitions, Uzo Azubuike, who issued the threats said the two officers had twice failed to honour the committee’s invitation, adding that their absence was frustrating the investigation.
However, the appearance of the two gladiators namely Chairman of Coscharis Group, Mr. Cosmas Maduka and Mr. Ifeanyi Ubah, Managing Director, Capital Oil and Gas Industries Limited made the committee to proceed with the matter.
Azubuike said the invitation was not for the minister as a person but for the Federal Ministry of Finance to put up an appearance and supply the information requested by the committee.
He warned that if the ministry was not represented at the next sitting of the investigative panel, the committee would be left with no other option but to issue a warrant of arrest on the head of the ministry.
Aig-Imokhuede had, through his lawyers informed the committee of his absence on legal grounds.
In the letter he pleaded that whereas the committee invited him as Chairman, Presidential
Committee on Verification of Subsidy Payments, he had since discharged his role in that committee and submitted a report to the government.
According to him, there was therefore no more legal grounds for him to function in that capacity.
Imokhuede also pleaded that the issues for which he was being invited were already before different courts in Nigeria and abroad, hence discussing them would amount to contempt of the courts.