Presidency lobbies Senate to drop probe of $25b NNPC contracts

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Kachikwu and Baru

As the Senate postponed the commencement of its planned investigation into the alleged award of $25 billion worth of contracts in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), there are indications that the Presidency has initiated moves to avert serious probe into the allegations.

Following the allegation of abuse of due process made by the Minister of State for Petroleum, Ibe Kachikwu, against the NNPC Group Managing Director, Dr. Maikanti Baru, the Senate resolved to investigate the matter.

The upper chamber also resolved to investigate Baru over alleged insubordination and abuse of office as contained in the leaked Kachikwu’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari.Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who announced the postponement during yesterday’s plenary session, said that the investigation would commence next Tuesday.

The investigative panel headed by former Sokoto State Governor, Aliyu Wamakko, ought to have started work yesterday.Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, did not give any reason for the sudden postponement. It was, however, learnt that pressure was being mounted on the Senate leadership from many powerful quarters to abandon the probe.
When Senate President Bukola Saraki constituted the ad-hoc panel last week, following a resolution of the Senate and public outcry over the award of the alleged contracts, the committee was given four weeks to submit its report.A source said that an earlier meeting scheduled last week by the panel chairman, Wammako, was also called off at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.

Wamakko is yet to address the press about the modalities his committee would adopt in conducting the investigation.After the Senate announced its decision to probe the alleged contracts, the presidency came out to deny their existence.Already, an Abuja-based lawyer, Johnmary Chukwukasi Jideobi, has asked a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja to restrain the Senate from inviting Baru over the allegation.

In his suit, Jideobi asked the court to set aside the October 4, 2017 proceedings of the Senate on the ground that its planned investigation was based on the contents of an unconfirmed document of doubtful origin.

According to the originating summons, the counsel to the plaintiff, Ramsey Abuchi Omego, wants the court to determine “whether in view of combined reading of Sections 5 and 88 (2) (a) and (b) of the amended 1999 Constitution, the investigative power of the Senate is extendable to the contents of documents with unconfirmed, doubtful origin forming the basis of a probe into the activities of Baru in his management of the NNPC.”

The plaintiff is also seeking an order declaring the October 4, 2017 resolutions of the Senate as illegal and therefore liable to be set aside.The plaintiff has also asked the court to issue an order restraining the Senate from acting on the votes and proceedings of October 4, 2017.The defendants in the suit include the NNPC, Baru, Saraki and the Senate.

Also yesterday, the Senate urged President Muhammadu Buhari to appoint a separate minister to take care of power to facilitate higher performance in the sector.
Former Lagos State governor, Babatunde Fasola, has been the minister in charge of Works, Power and Housing since the inception of the Buhari administration in 2015.

Adopting a motion sponsored by Senator Mustapha Bukar (APC-Katsina) on the “Need to Establish and Delegate Special Purpose Vehicles to Execute and Operate Major Power Sector Development Projects”, the Senate sought the immediate incorporation of Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) for the implementation of alternative energy projects. It equally sought the use of gas as the source of energy for the Kaduna project in accordance with the original concept.
Defending his motion earlier, Bukar noted that the Federal Government in 2004 conceived the idea of an integrated power project which metamorphosed into the Niger Delta Power Holding Company Limited (NDPHC) incorporated in 2005.“This was in government’s quest to bridge the power gap for sustained economic growth in Nigeria by adding significant new generation capacity to Nigeria’s electricity supply system,” he said.

He noted that the National Assembly enacted the Electric Power Sector Reform (EPSR) Act, 2005 on March 11, 2005, which kick-started the process of privatisation of the Nigerian Electricity Supply Industry (NESI).This, he said, was in a bid to develop a Competitive Electricity Market with the establishment of the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC). The function of NERC is to provide for the licensing and regulation of the entire value chain of the Nigerian Electricity Market (NEM).

“The privatisation became effective on Nov.1, 2013 when the unbundled Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) was sold and transferred to successful bidders of the six generation companies (GENCOs) and the 11 distribution companies (DISCOs).“The ownership and control of the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) was retained by the Federal Government for strategic reasons,” he said.

The lawmaker further said that consequent upon the commencement of the privatisation and establishment of the NEM, the role of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing was restricted.The Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Eyinnaya Abaribe, said the committee was already making moves towards securing greater efficiency for the sector.

“We are working toward ensuring that these concerns that have been raised by this motion are looked into.“The ministry of power today is combined with works and housing and the thrust of the ministry is to give quality direction. But what we find is that the ministry continues to appropriate these jobs that are specifically meant to be done by agencies under the ministry,” he said.
Ekweremadu said every talk about growing the economy would not work unless the power sector was repositioned.The lawmakers summoned the Minister of Solid Minerals Development, Kayode Fayemi, for a briefing on his plans to protect people in mining communities.They mandated the Committee on Environment and Solid Minerals to visit affected communities and ascertain the levels of damage.

The resolutions followed the adoption of a motion sponsored by Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central) and four other senators on lead poisoning in Zamfara State.The chamber further directed the Committee on Environment to investigate activities of the Ministry of Environment with regard to the mining sector.

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