PROBEGATE: 400 panels in 12 years, billion spent, but no action on reports

2011-06-04
THE SUN Newspaper- Ikenna Emewu

W henever Nigerians hear of probe panel being set up to investigate an incident or development, what comes to mind are two things: there is politics going on or nothing would come out of it.
It has been entrenched that many in our society don’t believe that any probe panel could come up with anything to be implemented to better the nation and the way it operates.

But probe is a core part of governance and public office management. It is a tool used all over the world to get to the roots of an incident. The thrust of probes or investigations is to make sure the causes of a problem are known, persons behind it punished if there is the need for that and to generally ensure there is safeguard built against a repeat. In the Nigerian situation, there seems to be a repeat of the same pattern of probe and the end make the ordinary citizen not take any news of a probe into an incident as serious.
Saturday Sun spoke with Nigerians, who believe that probe panels in the system are like means of delaying a verdict the people expect and also a ploy to indefinitely, not act on any infraction in any sector of the society.

Before the return to democracy, Nigerians used to take the failures of implementation of probe panel reports as part of the outcome of military dictatorship, but the first major, and of course, the most prominent probe panel Nigeria has ever known in the nation reshaped the notion. However, the only panel that published its results among the lot is the probe, by the Senate, of former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Nasir El-Rufai. But in a surprising manner, it recommended that El-Rufai should no longer hold any public office for his failings in the previous.

In June 1999, just a month after the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration came on board, Mr. President set up the popular Human Rights Violations Investigation Panel popularly known as the Oputa Panel. In the resources put into probe, Oputa’s was paramount. On how the panel’s reference points affected the people, it had no equal. That was also the same with its popularity with the people from the revelations of the sittings that shook the nation.
Before Obasanjo set up the panel, the nation had been shaken to its roots in human rights abuses and had become a bastion for the dehumanisation of citizens, especially with the dictatorial administrations of Generals Buhari, Babangida and Abacha in unbroken succession.

Nigerians saw it as a relief to address the wrongs of the past. While the panel worked tirelessly according to its mandate, nothing at last came of report, as some powerful Nigerians, who felt threatened by the outcome used all tools within their reach, including court orders, to stop it. That signaled an endless chain of probe panels whose reports never saw the light of the day.
Since the failure of Oputa panel, the nation has witnessed at least 400 such unproductive probes that at last solved no problems. Between June 4, 2007 when the sixth National Assembly, that just wound up, commenced business and March 2009, the two arms had busied themselves with an average of 15 probe panels each.

Prior to this period and after, the two houses sustained the tempo and given that toll, since 1999, at an average of eight probe panels per year, the Senate and House of Representatives must have spawned about 176 probe bodies till date, that is in 11 full years, prior to 2011. With the Federal Government also not lacking in this jamboree of action without effect, it would be convenient to add about 120 panels to the list from the Federal Government. In addition to state panels over natural incidents, disturbances and state management outcomes, a conservative 400 probe panels must have sat across the nation since 1999.
One of the earliest probe panels or threats of such in the House of Representatives was a rumour of investigation into the collapse of the Societe Generale Bank that went under without any returns to the depositors and shareholders.

The story was that a probe team waved its wand before the board of the rested bank. This prompted a settlement, by way of refund of deposits. As most of the people that championed the probe were all victims of the bank, they got their trapped deposits back, as the story indicated, and the threat died. Since then, the House and the Senate have not looked back from wielding such sticks to either continue an intention or trigger a fresh action. It was the same tale from the Nigeria Stock Exchange (NSE) and some banks sometime in 2008/2009 when sales of shares by banks was the rave. After an announced planned probe of banks and sales of shares, some banks chiefs accused the National Assembly members of acting on vendetta after being refused special placement advancements by the banks. The threat also died.

In 2003, after Jackson Gaius-Obaseki left office, the then House of Representatives announced that about N320b belonging to the NNPC was not accounted for. The din was so loud in the House that it promised to investigate the deal and tell Nigerians what actually went wrong about the money. The talk ended the way it arose and nothing more was said or heard.

Nigerians, in their hideouts, believed, rightly or otherwise, that it is possible the House members were intimidated to drop the call or were ‘settled,’ especially as the money was rumoured to have financed the 2003 Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential election campaign. Ironically, almost every announced probe in the legislature is financed, as the members are handsomely mobilised to do the work and submit reports.

Because the FG is a major stakeholder in the probe panel tool, in 2001, the Obasanjo administration set up probe panels into some sectors. Before that, the aviation ministry under the watch of Dr. Olusegun Agagu had proposed setting up a panel of inquiry on the performance of Nigerian Airways.

At last, the Justice Obiora Nwazota Panel was set up in September 1999, following the sharp decline in the fortunes of the airways and the concern expressed by many Nigerians in that regard. It sat for 12 months instead of 21 days it got at the beginning. But the white paper on the findings of the seven-man panel that sat at the Ikeja High Court annex premises never came, especially when it also fingered Olusegun Agagu who set it up. The reports recommended that even Agagu, as minister, should refund US$3.5 million the ministry paid in part settlement of Nigeria Airways’ financial obligations on the botched Lease Purchase Agreement. That was how the Nwazota panel ended with unimplemented results after recommending that US$63,682,523.79 or N9.6b illegally appropriated by managers of the sector over time be refunded.
On October 30, 2001, the judicial panel of inquiry into the activities of the National Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria headed by the late Justice Ignatius Pats-Acholonu began public sitting but without calling witnesses, which prompted an adjournment of the matter to the following day.

On September 7, 2001, President Olusegun Obasanjo had given approval for the inauguration of the judicial panels of inquiry on Nigerdock and Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria later headed by Acholonu.
The two committees, according to a Transport Ministry statement, were formally inaugurated by the Attorney-General and the Minister of Justice, Chief Bola Ige, at the conference room of the Federal Ministry of Justice, on September 10. The panel on Maritime Workers Union sat at a wing of the Senate Annex at Onikan, which now serves as part of the Igbosere High Court, commercial division. It was headed by Pats-Acholonu of the Court of Appeal then. The Nigerdock probe body sat in the same premises. On October 30, 2001, Pats-Acholonu panel began public sitting.

Since 2001, about four occurrences of sectarian violence have been staged in Jos. Apart from thousands of people, who either got injured, displaced and their property burnt, over 1000 people were killed. After every clash, a panel of inquiry was set up to investigate the causes. One of them includes the panel set up last year by the Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang and headed by eminent jurist, Prince Bola Ajibola. Another had already been set up by President Umar Yar’Adua, which later became a matter for litigation as the Plateau government sued the FG. Although the panels have the sole mandate to unravel the immediate and remote causes and make recommendations to government on how to stop a recurrence and also punish offenders, none of the inquiry reports was made public.
Some years ago, Halliburton sacked its executive, Albert Stanley, for bribing senior Nigerian government officials with about US$180million to win Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) contracts in the late 1990s.

While the FG set up probe panel headed by the former Inspector General of Police, Mr. Mike Okiro, to investigate the case, and the House of Representatives and Senate separately probed the incident. Till date, no result has come from the probes and nobody was ever prosecuted from the outcome of the probes.
In the turbulent days of Anambra State leadership, when in 2003 the man in charge, Dr. Chris Ngige and the people that rigged elections in his favour clashed, the Okija shrine incident came up. The Inspector-General of Police, Tafa Balogun, visited the shrine and promised a thorough investigation and release of the names in the register of the shrine. Nobody later heard of the outcome of the promise.

Another major probe was the Ndudi Elumelu House of Representatives Committee on Power and Steel probing the alleged $16b sank in the energy sector between 1999 and 2007. The probe later turned out scandalous, as Elumelu later got fingered in wrongdoing by reason of his membership of the energy committee of the House, and so was Senator Ugbane, member of the Senate Committee on Energy. It got so bad that even the writing of the report of the probe was scandalized, as the person contracted to write the report was later found to be someone whose company was refused a contract by the NERC. He later owned up to introducing extraneous clauses and malice in the report he wrote. From that point, the people probing found excuse not to implement the report. The same House set up another panel to investigate the probe. At last, debating the outcome of the probe on the floor of the House became a prolonged issue of blackmail and, finally, it was never tabled or debated on. That ended the flurry of excitement over whether Obasanjo should be probed or tried.

Like a balancing act, the Senate might have felt the House outshone it in probe scandal and later had its fair share, when it investigated former FCT minister, Nasir El-Rufai, on fraudulent allocation of plots of land in Abuja. While facts of the sleaze in lands allocation jolted Nigeria, the major bang came when it was revealed that the head of the probe panel, Senator Abubakar Sodangi, acquired plots of land from the same cesspool and odd process. Till date, nothing has been said or done about that allegation, as to make the accuser who later became the accused to face the music.

Another jamboree probe of the Senate was the transport sector, where it invited past transport ministers to testify. It did not leave out the works ministry in charge of roads fixing. In targeting the transport sector, the Senate focused on unraveling spending in the sector and invited Bode George, Kema Chikwe and Olusegun Agagu to explain their roles while managing various sectors of the transports system in the use of $1.3trillion transport fund since 1999. It was instituted by Diezani Alison-Madueke, as transport minister. The panel whose report never saw the light of the day started sitting on June 23. When it summoned Anenih over management of N300 billion from the government to fix Nigerian roads, the man came with truckload of intimidation and hostility to the panelists. After fuming and stampeding the Senate, Anenih was at last indicted by the panel report. But the compensation he got for the indictment was his appointment later by the FG to head the Board of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA)

The Senate also probed the problems of call dropping and poor services by the GSM operators in the country. At last, the committee, headed by Senator Sylvester Anyanwu, got it wrong, as indicated by the Senate when it submitted report. Therefore, the report was rejected and the fund expended in the probe a waste. The report failed to provide adequate protection for consumers and was recommending additional powers to the Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC), which, according to Senate President, David Mark, is yet to fully exercise the powers given to it to regulate operators of GSM.

In November 2007, Governor Rotimi Amaechi announced that there was to be a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Rivers State. The seven-man panel headed by former jurist of the Supreme Court, Justice Kayode Esho, was charged with “unearthing the remote and immediate causes of cult clashes in Rivers State” and identifying perpetrators and victims, with a view to prosecuting the culprits and compensating the victims.

Justice Esho, identified ‘greed’ as the main cause of the Niger Delta crises, while the remote cause is demand for self-actualisation by citizens of the Niger Delta states
Presenting a 572-page report of the Rivers State Truth and Reconciliation Commission to a crowded hall of stakeholders at Government House, in Port Harcourt, Esho also listed several immediate causes of the crises. But where is the outcome of that panel and what happened to its recommendations?
In August 2008, the FG set up a 10-man panel to investigate cement plants in Nigeria. The minister, who handled this in the Ministry of Industries, was Mr. Charles Ugwu. It was meant to arrive at conclusions on how to cut down the price of cement in Nigeria. Today, the price of cement is???????????

If you think the nation was so busy with probes in 2008, just wait and hear this. The same year saw the probe of the aviation sector by a panel set up by then minister, Mr. Felix Hyat to investigate utilisation of the Aviation Intervention Fund of N19.5billion. Where is the report of the probe? What was done with it?
The year was not done yet, as the Senate continued with its game of endless probes with that of the sale of the Ajaokuta Steel Company in March. The company was valued at $6billion in 2006, but later concessioned by the FG to the Global Infrastructures Nigeria Limited at a value of $525million, just two years later. It was over this revelation that the former Defence Minister, Theophilus Danjuma, fired: “Obasanjo was busy selling Nigeria’s steel firms to economic terrorists.”

While still busy with this, it announced another plan to investigate the NIMASA and Shippers Council together.
The competition between the Senate and the House, on who probes most was still on in 2008 as the Reps set up a panel to probe the spending or utilisation of $8.3b meant for the revival of the nation’s railway system. As the year wound to a close, the House took multiple probes and launched at two major areas. In December alone, it created two panels to probe the Ministry of Finance over budget implementation in 2007 that led to a deficit of N1.07trillion, and never overlooked the investigation of oil blocks allocation and petroleum import between 1999 and 2004.

The two chambers of the National Assembly had overlapping duties in the probe of the crisis in Jos, as the House and Senate separately set up probes on the same subject matter. But that of the Reps came in January 2009 and it capped it at the beginning of the year with another probe of N294million scam in the Nigerian Customs. Although the chairman of the probe, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, wrote the Comptroller-General of Customs, Bello, to appear before it, nobody heard more from that.
The following month, the Senate bounced back into the probe fray and commenced one goose chase of probe of Obasanjo and Yar’Adua over withdrawals made from a designated account for solid minerals created in 2002. The amount deducted illegally by the two ex-presidents according to the senate was N231billion.

The two National Assembly bodies jointly had interest in probing the $61.65billion World Bank aviation loans to the nation, approved in 2006, and the Senate followed this in March with another probe of the FG’s sale of landed property in Lagos and Abuja by the Presidential Implementation Committee. Simply put, between May 2007 and March 2009, the National, (each arm) embarked on at least 15 probes each, all with results not seen.

In 2010, the tradition continued, so early, with the two houses of the National Assembly and the FG competing on who probes most. At least in February, the House commenced probe into sale of Nigerians House in New York, while the FG held its end with the probe of import duty waivers. It was, however, promised by Finance Minister, Usman Shamsudeen, and nothing more than that heard or seen.
However, the FG, under the ministerial supervision of Nenadi Usman, in the Finance Ministry, set up a probe of the deposed DG of NAICOM, Emma Chukwulozie, over his sack on March 19, 2007. She set up a 13-man panel, whose product we never were told of. The other arm of the National Assembly also started a probe of the lead poisoning incident in Zamfara State between February and April last year.

Even before the coming of democracy, the nation has always engaged in probes that came out with nothing. On January 15, 1994, as part of his early moves to convince nation of a new broom of probity and accountability, General Sani Abacha assembled eminent Nigerians led by the late economist, Dr. Pius Okigbo, to probe the Gulf War period receipts. The full report, submitted on September 27, 1994, has never seen the light of day, and was declared “missing” from government records thereafter.

During a heated encounter between Saturday Sun and the late Gani Fawehinmi, he charged that the nation should ask the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Ufot Ekaette, to produce a copy for the government it was part of because he was a member of that panel. Till today, Ekaette never heeded the call and the report remains ‘missing’.
With all the figures involved in public fund misappropriation that necessitated the failed probes, the money involved whose probes never proved any result is in excess of N100trillion. Where is the money and where are the culprits whom the probes would have reined in for action?

Probe lists
Human Rights Violations Investigations Panel (Oputa Panel) June 1999
Justice Obiora Nwazota Panel on NAL management, September 1999
Senate probe of NNPC under Gaius-Obaseki, 2003
Maritime Workers Union probe (Pats-Acholonu Panel) October 2001
Nigerdock Management probe panel, September 2001
Bola Ajibola Panel on Jos disturbances, 2010
Mike Okiro Panel on Halliburton scam
House of Reps probe of energy sector, 2008
Senate probe of FCT Minister, El-Rufai, 2008
House probe of Railway project
FG import duty waiver probe, 2010
Senate probe of Jos crisis, December 2008
House probe of Finance Ministry over 2007 budget, 2008
FG probe of oil blocks and petroleum importation between 1999 and 2004, December 2008
House probe of Jos crisis, January 2009
House probe of Customs scam, January 2009
Senate probe of Obasanjo and Yar’Adua on solid minerals special account, February 2009
NASS probe of World Bank Aviation loans of 2006 in March 2009
Senate probe of FG sales of houses in Lagos and Abuja
Reps probe of sale of Nigerian House in New York, February 2010
Senate probe of lead poisoning in Zamfara, 2010
FG probe of NAICOM boss in March 2007
Senate intended probe of NIMASA and Shippers Council in 2008
FG Aviation intervention fund probe
Senate probe of Ajaokuta Steel Company concession in March 2008
House mooted probe of Banks and Stock Exchange in May 2008
Senate probe of Transport ministry 1999-2008 in May 2008
FG 10-man probe panel on cement manufacture, August 2008
House probe of NNPC fund
Senate probe of transport sector in September 2008
Reps probe of the Salami/Katsina Alu face-off, 2011
Plateau State probe of Jos crisis led by Bola Ajibola, 2010
Rivers State Reconciliation Panel, 2008
Oluwole Rotimi panel on federal government landed properties, 2003
FG investigation panel on shares of Okomu Oil
Emmanuel Abisoye panel by the FG on Jos disturbances, 2008


 

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