The House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts appears to be in a dilemma following the refusal of the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to respond to its letter demanding information on the controversial Challenger 850 aircraft chartered for her use.
In the letter written by the committee Chairman, Mr. Solomon Olamilekan, on March 26, Alison-Madueke was requested to provide information on the sources of funding and to cite the law that empowers a minister to fly in chartered jets.
She was given one week to respond to the questions. However, as of Tuesday, there was no response from her.
A similar set of questions was sent to the Group Managing Director of the NNPC, Mr. Andrew Yakubu.
The committee was given the specific mandate to probe the alleged N10bn expenses the minister incurred in the last three years, flying in Challenger 850.
In the course of preliminary findings, the committee got additional information that Alison-Madueke chartered other jets, including a Global Express XRS.
The committee was given three weeks to report the outcome of the investigation to the House.
The PUNCH gathered on Tuesday that three weeks after the committee got the mandate, little progress was achieved on the assignment because the minister and Yakubu had yet to respond to enquiries by the committee.
A source close to the committee, confirmed to The PUNCH in Abuja, that “no response has been forwarded to the committee on this jet issue.”
“Not from the minister, not from the NNPC. There is a situation of a dilemma because the committee can really not make much progress without getting the responses,” he said, pleading not to be named.
The source added that, rather than respond to the enquiries, what the committee had heard was that the NNPC fired its Executive Director, Legal Services, Mr. Tony Maduchi, on Monday.
The source claimed that the alleged sacking was not unconnected with the ongoing investigation into the chartered jets.
The director was said to be in a position to avail the House committee of useful information on the investigation.
The source added, “These are not ordinary times. We are aware of steps being taken to prevent the committee from carrying out its assignment.
“Why the removal of the Director of the Legal Services of the NNPC at this point in time?
“The NNPC and the minister must come before the committee to explain their roles in the deal to all Nigerians. We, as lawmakers, will use all the constitutional powers we have to get to the root of the matter.”
The PUNCH had reported exclusively last week that the committee had come under pressure from “forces outside the House” to soft pedal on the investigation.
Efforts to get Olamilekan’s comments on the alleged frustration of the committee failed.
After our correspondent placed several calls to him, he picked one and responded, “Let me call you back, if you don’t mind.”
As of 7.15pm on Tuesday, Olamilekan had not returned the call. He also did not reply to text messages forwarded to him by one of our correspondents.
While the House committee is in a dilemma over the probe, the Senate Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) seems set to probe the NNPC over its handling of funds from the nation’s oil and gas sector.
The committee, according to a source decided after a closed-door meeting to, among others, probe the chartering of aircraft for Alison-Madueke by the NNPC.
The source, who did not want his name in print, explained that the committee decided to begin a full-scale investigation of the corporation because it (NNPC) had consistently shunned its invitation on six different occasions since October last year.
He added that the Senator Magnus Abe-led committee had not been able to get details of NNPC’s use of public funds because of its management’s actions.
The source recalled that on April 4, the committee sent a letter to the NNPC GMD to attend a scheduled meeting on Tuesday (yesterday) but got no response from him.
“The meeting originally planned for 2. 45 pm in the Senate had nobody from the NNPC in attendance and there was no correspondence either,” he said.
He disclosed that the committee had again written to the NNPC, requesting among others, detailed records of the volumes and sales of all crude oil and products and detailed record of the volumes of crude oil received as part of the crude swap arrangement by local refineries.
Also, the committee requested from the NNPC, details of kerosene importation and distribution and details of the number and management of aircraft (both chartered and purchased) in the corporation’s fleet.
The corporation was asked to provide details of funds expended on aircraft purchases, hiring and maintenance in the last two years.
It is also to produce contract papers on the lease or purchase of aircraft; issues surrounding the Turn Around Maintenance and or rehabilitation of the nation’s refineries as well as the supply and distribution of petroleum products and ancillary issues.
The April 4 letter read in part, “I am directed to refer to you, several letters of invitation to you to meet with the committee. You are requested to furnish the committee with information relating to the activities of your corporation since October 2013.
“I am to draw your attention to the fact that the 1999 Constitution, as amended, statutorily empowers the Senate and by extension, its committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream) to ‘oversight’ the activities of the NNPC and its subsidiary refinery companies.
“I am to further express the committee’s dissatisfaction with the conduct of the management of the NNPC, especially its seeming disrespect and disregard of its invitations and requests for information and data relating to the activities of the NNPC and its refinery companies.
“Also, in view of the inability and or unpreparedness of your officials to adequately respond to questions at the committee’s meeting of Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee resolved to further invite the GMD (PPMC), the Group Executive Director (R&P), and the Managing Directors of all the nation’s refineries to a meeting on Tuesday, April 8.”
Another source told one of our correspondents that “previous meetings between the NNPC and the committee had always been frustrated because junior officers were sent to attend them.”
He said, “Those who attend the meetings are either junior officers or they are not in possession of documents or details pertaining to what the committee wants.”
When contacted, the committee chairman, confirmed that the NNPC management had consistently shunned the invitation of the committee.