09 April 2014, Abuja – 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.
– The Punch