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Subsidy probe: Reps vow to uncover alleged fraud

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The House of Representatives has vowed to go all out to uncover alleged frauds as it investigates the payments for subsidy on petroleum products, especially Premium Motor Spirit popularly known as petrol.

According to the task given to the ad hoc committee set up by the lower chamber to carry out the investigation, the probe will cover the regime led by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), from 2017 to 2021.

This was disclosed in a joint press conference by the Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu; and Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate the subsidy regime, Ibrahim Al-Mustapha, in Abuja on Thursday night.

The House had on Wednesday resolved that the committee be set up to carry out the investigation and report back within eight weeks for further legislative action.

The probe was based on a motion titled ‘Need to Investigate the Petroleum Products Subsidy Regime in Nigeria from 2017 to 2021,’ which a member of the House, Sergius Ogun, moved at the plenary on Wednesday and the lawmakers unanimously adopted.

According to the lawmakers, the probe would be extended to the Direct Sale Direct Purchase and known as oil swap deal between the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (formerly Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) and importers of Premium Motor Spirit (petrol) as well as verification of NNPC’s claim on the actual volume of petrol consumed in the country daily.

Al-Mustapha was asked if the committee was ready to withstand the pressure that would come from the cabal in charge of subsidy payments in the petroleum sector, including lobbying from political, religious and traditional rulers.

He responded, “We are here before you as members of the parliament, by the grace of God, out of millions of constituents. We are here to serve our dear nation. We are for Nigeria first. We are concerned about the plight of over 200 million Nigerians. And I believe the traditional leaders, our fathers, are also seriously concerned. Eminent personalities in the country are also disturbed about what is happening in the country.

“So, seeing that we are out to change the status quo, I believe instead of what you are thinking about negativity, the calls we would receive from them would be a positive call to do the right thing, and we are going to do the right thing.”

Al-Mustapha also stated, “It is an issue that concerns all of us. It concerns the economy of our beloved country, Nigeria. This time around, because I don’t want to pre-empt the findings of the committee, actually there are issues that we are concerned about: the total and actual consumption of PMS and the claimed consumption that are always reflected in the NNPC report for the subsidy.

“There are other issues that have to do with Direct Sale Direct Purchase (oil swap) arrangement, which we all know has affected growth since 2002; the economy and to a certain extent, our refineries that are now near comatose. Even though we are aware that they are undergoing rehabilitation and revamping, that may take time before they are being put to use. So, these are some of the issues this committee would hinge on and work towards changing the status quo.”

Kalu also described the panel as an “all-important committee that Nigerians have been waiting for,” adding that there are a lot of questions Nigerians have been asking which the lawmakers would find answers to, including the daily consumption rate.

“How much have we spent on subsidies? Is subsidy coming back? Will it help us to augment the gap created in the supply sector of gas and oil at the moment? Those questions would be addressed by that committee,” he stated.

While responding to a question from our correspondent on the fact that several probes had been initiated previously, some of which were included in the mandate of the Al-Mustapha-led committee, Kalu argued that it was not another “jamboree.”

He said, “The point must be made that quality reports must not be sacrificed on the altar of speed, where in order to impress the public and also journalists, we do garbage-in-garbage-out. We have broken them into parts to make it easier. There is no conflict of mandates. Subsidy is subsidy.

“The committee is going to check when it started, when it ended and how much was spent on it. That is subject-specific. It is not going to run into refineries; it is going to focus on how much we spent. How was it spent? Is there anything left from where it was spent from? Is there anybody who owes us after we spend it? Those are some of the things that would come up.”

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