by: Yusuf Alli,
Public inquiry begins from April 29
The House of Representatives’ planned probe of the N10 billion incurred on chartered jet by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, is taking shape.
The House Committee on Public Accounts has summoned five key agencies to appear before it to testify.
The inquiry may commence on April 29, although some forces in the Presidency are believed to be mounting pressure on the House to shelve the probe.
The forces, sources said in Abuja yesterday, were the brains behind the recent pro-Alison-Madueke rallies in Abuja.
They were allegedly aimed at intimidating the reps.
But the House appears resolute to go ahead with the probe.
It was gathered that some volunteers have reached out to members of the House committee to testify in public.
Investigation also showed that there may be a resort to litigation by forces sympathetic to the minister, with a view to scuttling the probe.
The pro-litigation forces are of the opinion that Section 88(1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution is being abused.
They may ask the court to restrain the House from probing Diezani until the determination of the substantive suit.
Investigation by our correspondent confirmed that the House panel has notified the minister of Petroleum Resources and others to appear before the committee as from April 29.
The notice contains a list of documents the respondents are to bring along to assist the committee’s investigation.
Summoned are: the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
A reliable source in the House said: “We have put the minister and all these agencies on notice on why they have to appear before the House committee and documents expected from them.
“For instance, we are expecting from NNPC all transaction documents on the chartered Challenger 850 aircraft. We have taken note of its defence that chartered jets are used for operation purpose.
“The public should know whether there had been precedence and how much NNPC has spent within a given period on chartered planes.
“If we have a clearer picture, the amount involved might be more than what we are looking into. The list of beneficiaries of chartered jet service might even not be only the minister whom they say the House is trying to crucify for performing its constitutional duties.”
The aviation agencies are expected to produce relevant data, flight logs and evidence of payment of required fees.
The data will be verified with those already in the possession of the committee.
Responding to a question, the source said: “There is pressure on us by some forces to shelve the probe but there is no going back by the House.
“We hope to be fair to all. If the allegations against the minister are frivolous, we will give her a clean bill of health. We have no prejudice against her.”
A second source said the investigation will start from April 29.
“The probe becomes interesting as some volunteers have applied to the committee to appear during the public hearing.
“We have also written some of these volunteers for relevant documents.”
Meanwhile, there were indications last night that some forces loyal to the minister are planning to halt the probe through a court process.
The forces may join issues with the House on Section 88(1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution.
They are alleging that the said Section 88(1) is being abused by both chambers of the National Assembly.
It was learnt that the forces may ask the court to restrain the House Committee on Public Accounts from going ahead with the probe until the determination of the substantive suit.
Another source added: “I think these forces have realised that sponsored protest marches or rallies have not had the desired impact to stop the probe.
“They are planning to go to court to ask it to determine whether the committee has the powers to conduct the investigation in the light of Section 88(1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution.
“The real plot is to obtain a perpetual injunction to halt the probe until the determination of the substantive suit. And you know the culture in the National Assembly is to stay action once a matter is sub judice.
“The argument of pro-Diezani is that Section 88(1) (2) of the 1999 Constitution is not absolute.
“But the position of the House is that the constitution is explicit on such an inquiry.”
A pro-Diezani force said: “The National Assembly has really been abusing this section of the constitution to ridicule government officials.
“It is now time to seek the correct interpretation of the section in court and the limit of the powers of the National Assembly.
“Some of us think the intendment of the constitution is different from what the National Assembly is using it for. It is time to call a spade a spade.”