“If subsidy has to be removed, there must be public enlightenment and education so that facts would be made available to the people and then public opinion at the end of the day will count.
“If we sit here now and said remove subsidy, I think those who are benefitting from subsidy are very powerful and tomorrow they would influence media report and twist it to create an impression that the Senate is anti-people,” President of the Senate said in his remarks after the Senate had rejected the proposal for subsidy removal.
The finance committee had recommended the removal of subsidy on fuel because of the alleged misapplication of the billions of dollars being voted annually for that purpose.
The Senate rejected the recommendation while adopting the report of the Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led committee.
The senators however approved the committee’s recommendation that the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should refund to the Federation Account, the total sum of $218,069,354.32, being the balance of the gross lifting under the third party financing.
They also directed that inter-agencies reconciliation meetings between government institutions, including the Ministry of Finance, NNPC, CBN and the Federal Inland Revenue Service should be done on a regular basis.
It said such regular meetings among those sensitive economic institutions would prevent a recurrence of the situation and ensure that all revenues were properly and legally accounted for.
The Senate rejected the committee proposal to accept the N813.8bn subsidy deductions by the NNPC from January 2012 to July 2013, since it was certified by the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency and appropriated by the National Assembly.
It however accepted the subsidy deducted by the NNPC in the sum of N180bn for the fourth quarter of 2011, which was also certified by the PPPRA and appropriated by the National Assembly.
It advised the NNPC not pay its operational expenditures directly from the Federation Fund without appropriation by the National Assembly, saying the government oil corporation should strictly adhere to international best practises in keeping records.
It also cautioned that the NNPC should not control the revenue account of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company so as not to undermine its separate legal status and make accountability more difficult.
Senate President, David Mark, commended the committee for presenting a courageous report based on the facts that were presented to it, stressing that members were forthright by paying attention to details in the course of their assignment
Mark said, “At the inception of the 7th Senate, I did say emphatically that there is no issue in this country that we cannot discuss as respected and distinguished senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If we have the courage to set up a committee nothing will stop us from taking the report of that committee and nothing will be swept under the carpet in this red chamber.
“I think what is glaring from this report is that we are all guilty. If the committees expected to carry out oversight functions on the NNPC were doing their job very well, we wouldn’t have needed the Governor of Central Bank to ring an alarm bell before reacting.
“Whether the alarm is genuine or not is another matter. The Executive may have good reasons but the legislature obviously does not have reasons not to find out. Let me appeal to the various committees to endeavour to do their work.
“Facts are different from rumours and what we have before us are the facts based on the interview conducted by the committee on public hearing and on all the documents that they could put together.
“One thing is very obvious, due process has not been followed and they have stated so very clearly.”
On resolution of the Senate not being adhered to, Mark said the blame would come to the legislature.
He said, “We would have to be supported by two-thirds majority. If we have to do so, we have to enact a law that would make resolution binding; it is not something that could be done by voice vote.
“Whether it is funds yet to be remitted, funds yet to be reconciled or funds yet unaccounted for or missing, I think we should not play politics with it. Because if we described it as missing or unaccounted for, the issue is that there is reconciliation going on.
“When you outrightly said it is missing, then you have concluded. The point I am trying to make is that we should not conclude when the process of reconciliation is still ongoing.”
Earlier in his contribution, Senator Ayogu Eze, commended the committee members for the professional work carried out by them, especially when they decided to hire professional auditors which made it possible for them to come up with such a discreet report.
He said it was amazing that the former CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who was supposed to know the facts, was misleading the country by giving conflicting reports.
He stressed the need for cooperation of all agencies in charge of resources accruable to the country from the petroleum sub-sector and noted that they were working at cross purposes without adequate communication among them.
Senator Ahmed Lawan described the development as a wake-up call for both the executive and the legislature.
He noted that the lawmakers saddled with the responsibility of carrying out oversight on the activities of the NNPC seemed to have gone to sleep while government appointees were busy spending public funds without seeking the approval of the National Assembly.
– The Punch