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The endless probe into NNPC
By Eric Teniola
My guess was like yours when I read a recent report that the Senate was to probe the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). I can’t tell the outcome of the Senate probe this time but like many probes conducted by the National Assembly, I don’t have much anxiety at all.
Thirty-seven years ago, I was anxious about such a probe. On December 12, 1979, I covered the sitting of the House of Representatives and a motion was brought by Mr Dagogo Princewill (Degema) and Mr. Fola Omidiji (Egba Alake Constituency) to probe the NNPC, following a report that certain money was stolen in the Corporation.
The Speaker of the House then, Chief Edwin Ume-Ezeoke (1935-2011) from Nnewi in the present Anambra state ruled both of them out of order. He then asked the two members to bring a substantive motion for deliberations.
On January 15, 1980, Princewill brought a fresh motion to probe the NNPC. He said: “My enquiry has revealed, Sir, that in this Company there are no adequate personnel especially in the field of accounting and internal audit. I understand too, Sir, that people are being scared away for one reason or the other because they do not come from a particular part of this great country and too, Sir, because they do not belong, or because they were not ex-students of a particular institution. As a result of this, Sir, well qualified people left their jobs in this Corporation. I am told,Sir, that one Mallam M.Y. Wanka,from Bauchi State, a qualified Chartered Accountant, was the only one in the Audit Department. He was frustrated, and he had to leave, and today, he is in the Nigerian National Supply Company as a Representative/Agent in their London Office. Even as at today, Sir, there are only four qualified Chartered Accountants in that Company.
Mr Speaker, Sir, members of the profession of which I am one are very difficult to get — I mean the Chartered Accountants. A Corporation of the magnitude of the NNPC should have gone to the Nigerian labour market and tried its best to get these people. Instead of that, sir, there are only four accountants, two in the audit department and two in the main accounts department. For a Corporation of this magnitude, this is grossly inadequate. The four chartered accountants are not even sufficient in one department not to talk of the whole Corporation. A corporation of this standard should get at least twenty Chartered Accountants. I am also told that the service condition is very bad in this Corporation, and the service condition has made good people run away from this corporation.
Now, sir, the audit report as given by an internationally recognized and reputable firm of chartered accountants, disclosed that they were unable to confirm or find any justifiable reason for the misappropriation of N2.8billion. This is very serious. In this country, we are told that the press is the watchdog of the nation. During the Army regime it was very difficult, if not impossible, to investigate this matter. Now it is falling on our shoulders to do this onerous task. I would like to commend the Punch Group of newspapers who were able to tell us what was happening in this corporation, but they were unable to investigate further what had happened to N2.8billion. Either as a result of inefficiency or misappropriation, this amount is unaccounted for”.
Other members who contributed to the debate were Mr. O. Akinboro)Oke-Ona/Owu/Gbaguar), Mr. M.O. Ugwu(Udi), Dr. E.J. Sowho(Ethiope North), Mr Debo Akande(Ibadan North), Mr Gbadebo Adewumi(Osogbo South), Professor Opayemi Ola(Ekiti West), Mr Abubakar Audu(Anpa South), Prince Awa Ekpo(Eket II), Mr. Charles Adigwe(Awka), Mr E.D.N. Nwandu(Mbaitoli), Alhaji Sanda Kunduga(Kunduga), Dr Junaid Mohammed(Kano West Ward) and the leader of the House then, Alhaji Yinusa Kaltungo(Tangale-Waja South).
At the end of the day the House set up a Committee to probe the NNPC. Alhaji Yinusa Kaltungo declared: “the motion standing in my name read: That in accordance with House Resolution 48 of 15th 1980 the special committee on the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation should be made up of 15 members to be composed as follows: six members of the NPN, four members of the UPN, three members of the NPP, one member of the PRP and one member of the GNPP. The motion was seconded by Mr Jimoh Damisa (Adabbi/Okehi).
After the motion, two members spoke again. They are Mallam Sidi Ali(Dambata) and Dr Junaid Mohammed(Kano West Ward).
Dr Junaid declared,“Another thing is that we have to subpoena the Council Memo which was written and submitted to the Council asking for a transformation of the NNOC into the NNPC. These are very vital documents and vital personalities. Another person will be the former Chief Internal Auditor who has resigned and is now in Britain as the Representatives of the Nigeria National Supply Company. We have got to summon some of these people. It is absolutely important, Sir, that you co-opt more people as the Speaker of this House in order to make this Committee’s work succeed, otherwise, we are up against a very powerful clique. The Senate has been sitting on the Bill sent by the President to discuss and re-organise the NNPC. This gives us room for enormous suspicion and I think it is absolutely important we know the enormity of the task before us so that we do not deceive ourselves. Mr. Speaker, Sir, we may find that the Committee with all its intentions may be a worthless exercise. I want to add that we it with all seriousness”.
On February 4 1980 the committee was inaugurated by Chief Ezeoke and it was headed by my friend, Dr. James Taribo Sekibo (1939-2013) (Bonny II)) who later became the Odo-Abaji of Canoe House in Okrika, Rivers State.
On March 31 1980, Chief Ezeoke told the House that “I think I would seize this opportunity to congratulate ourselves for the progress we have made so far in respect of the investigation of the missing N2.8 billion in the NNPC. (Applause) Following the events of the last week and the newspaper publications, the stand of this House in respect of the misappropriation of N2.8 billion by whoever it might be in this country, has now been fully justified. (Applause) I will maintain that the investigation must continue. We must satisfy the aspirations of the people who elected us into this august Assembly. I must maintain that we must not be a successful victim of any blackmail, any subversion, and any attempt by inside and outside sources to impede sources to impede the continuation of this investigation. This money, in whatever account it may be anywhere in the world, must be recovered and brought back to this country.(Applause)
As soon as we conclude our investigations, the appropriate committee will introduce a legislation to enable the repatriation of this money, and to ensure that the people involved are adequately punished. Accordingly, the special Committee on NNPC will meet in my office immediately after today’s meeting”.
Sadly, that was the last we heard about Dr Sekibo’s Committee and the report of the Committee. On December 31, 1983, the Military headed by Major General Muhammadu Buhari took over power.
Here, we go again.
Eric Teniola, a former Director at the Presidency, stays in Lagos