28 April 2014, Abuja – Uncertainty surrounds the investigation by the House of Representatives into the alleged N10bn the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, spent to charter a private jet, Challenger 850, for her trips in the last two years.
The Public Accounts Committee of the House, which is investigating the expenditure, had two weeks ago, directed Alison-Madueke to make written submissions on the allegation before April 28 (today).
The committee, which is chaired by an All Progressives Congress lawmaker from Lagos State, Mr. Solomon Olamilekan, had also fixed Monday (today) as the start of a public hearing on the investigation.
However, The PUNCH gathered on Sunday that the anticipated public hearing would be a mirage as the committee had not received any reply from the minister.
Checks with committee sources indicated that up till the late hours of Sunday, no response had been received from Alison-Madueke.
It will be recalled that the minister had also failed to reply a March 26 letter signed by Olamilekan, asking her to explain all she knew about the N10bn expenditure and to state clearly the law that empowered a minister to fly overseas in chartered jets.
The Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Andrew Yakubu, was also asked to submit a memo to the committee.
The committee had called for the NNPC’s response after the corporation defended the minister on the grounds that chartered jets were allowed for oil industry operations.
Yakubu has also not replied the committee.
One of our sources said, “As I speak, there is nothing from the minister; she has not replied our letter.
“The story is the same with the NNPC; the corporation too did not send any documents to the committee as of Friday, the last working day for the week that just went by.
“Even key aviation agencies like the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, among others, have not filed any documents.”
Two weeks ago, the committee had threatened to proceed with the hearing today if the minister still failed to make submissions.
Findings by The PUNCH showed that some members of the committee reportedly made a U-turn of the plan to proceed without the minister’s responses after realising that it would lead them no useful results.
One of them said, “That would have been an exercise in futility. The committee would have merely wasted resources and energy conducting a public hearing today that would lead to nowhere.
“The minister is at the centre of the investigation; how far can the committee get without hearing from her? They are really in a quandary.”
The PUNCH learnt that in place of starting the public hearing today, the committee had resolved to hold a meeting for the “purpose of reviewing the situation.”
Another source said, “The committee will meet on Monday (today) to review the situation before we talk of public hearing.
“However, the committee will do its best to ensure that the minister does not trample on the constitution.”
The source did not explain how the committee would get the minister to comply.
Olamilekan declined to comment on the alleged dilemma his committee was facing, but merely admitted that a meeting of the committee today would deliberate on the way forward.
He added that since the assignment was given to the committee, its members would revert to the House on their findings.
“We have a meeting on Monday (today); we have issues to discuss as a committee. Wait till after our meeting”, the committee chairman said.
Although, the original mandate of the committee was to investigate the alleged N10bn expenditure on the Challenger 850, the committee stumbled on additional information indicating that Alison-Madueke chartered two other jets.
One of them, a Global Express XRS, was said to have cost €600,000 in a return charter trip to London.
– The Punch