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Saturday, March 29, 2014

We won’t probe Diezani –Presidency

Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke
The Presidency has said that it will not probe the allegations of misappropriation of  public funds levelled against the Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Dr. Doyin Okupe, told Saturday PUNCH on Friday, that the Federal Government would not set up a probe panel to investigate the minister because the House of Representatives was currently probing her.
Alison-Madueke was alleged to have spent N10bn on a chartered Challenger 850 aircraft in two years for which the House of Representatives is currently probing her.
Okupe said that the Federal Government could not institute a probe panel on matters that had not been substantiated.
Okupe, who spoke to one of our correspondents in a telephone interview in Abuja, on Friday, said since the House of Representatives had started investigating the matter, the right thing to do was to wait for the outcome of such a probe before any further step could be taken.
He said, “The Federal Government cannot set up a probe panel just on things that have not been substantiated as such. The information I have is that the House of Representatives is looking into the matter and they want to invite the honourable minister. Definitely, the right thing is to wait for the outcome of such an interaction before anybody can decide to do anything.”
Though the House of Representatives had assured Nigerians that it would investigate the allegations against the petroleum minister, it  is yet to start the probe one week after it  gave the promise. The House Committee on Public Accounts  was given three weeks to conduct the investigation and produce a report.
But as at Thursday, there was no formal action on the probe and no invitation had been sent out to any government official to appear before the committee.
This confirmed an earlier report by The PUNCH  that the probe committee, chaired by Mr. Solomon Olamilekan, had only held preliminary meetings on the probe, but had yet to swing into full action.
There were also indications that members of the committee had come under pressure to soft-pedal on the matter.  But the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Ogene, said the investigation was being delayed because the committee had not yet received an official  notification  from the House to proceed with it.
He explained that the normal procedure was for the committee to get the gazetted copy of the resolution and wait to be notified officially by the Clerk of the House.
He had also implied that the allegation might not be substantiated at the end of the day  as he clarified that nobody had been found guilty. He said,” Nobody is guilty and we don’t have to be judgemental until the investigation is concluded.’’
However, criticisms have trailed the decision of the Presidency not to probe the petroleum minister.

Lagos lawyer and activist, Bamidele Aturu, told Saturday PUNCH in a telephone interview that he would have been shocked if the Presidency had said it would conduct a probe.
He said, “This government does not probe anyone in the first place. Anything goes under this government. Nigerians would have been surprised if the Presidency was willing to take the Allison-Madueke matter any further.
“It has become a stock in trade for the government not to probe any matter. Nobody should be shocked about the government’s stand.
“It is clear that there are sacred cows in this government when you consider what is happening at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Financial Reporting Council; an organisation which nobody knew anything about and which had been inactive, was suddenly resuscitated to do all sorts of things against the sacked CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi.”
Aturu said that calls for probe were the same as saying she was guilty. He, however, insisted that the Federal Government owed Nigerians the investigation to shed light on the issue.
Another lawyer and activist, Mr. Jiti Ogunye, described the development as “very unfortunate and unexpected of any responsible government.”
He said it was unfortunate that the Presidency which was smaller than the entire Federal Government of Nigeria had decided to conduct itself in a way that militated against the interest of Nigerians.
According to him, by the Federal Government’s pronouncement on the issue, it has permanently demobilised anti-corruption agencies and the Code of Conduct Bureau from taking action even when they receive petitions against the minister.
Ogunye said, “By giving this careless statement, the presidency has granted a ministerial immunity to the minister and combined that with impunity.
“The legislature is investigating but what this statement implies is that the House of Representatives could do whatever it likes but that the Federal Government would never take an action on whatever its findings will be since the legislature do not have the power of implementation.
“The Presidency is telling the legislature to its face that, just like it did with Arunma Oteh and other reports, even if Allison-Madueke is found culpable, nothing would happen. This is an invitation to anarchy because we can easily slip into a dictatorship this way.”
Also, the National Coordinator, Committee for Democracy and Rights of the People, Alhaji Amitolu Shittu, said President Goodluck Jonathan should simply resign as a result of this.
He said that the decision not to probe Allison-Madueke showed the level of corruption and waste by Jonathan’s government.
“Why should Allison-Madueke not be probed? Is it because she is helping the President to stash away money for his coming re-election? This is why the controversial letter written by former President Olusegun Obasanjo should be revisited,” Shittu said.
Founder, Justice Now Foundation, Alhaji Lawal, who also reacted to the issue in a telephone interview with Saturday PUNCH on Friday, said the Presidency had come out in the open to encourage corruption.
He said the government should be courageous to conduct a probe since she has yet to be indicted.
 The President, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Debo Adesina, also stated that the presidency’s decision was a way of telling the  world that the President Jonathan condones corruption.
“It accentuates  the belief that there are sacred cows within the President’s cabinet. It seems to be confirming the belief among the public that the President has some people on whose ministry he is relying on to amass fund for his campaign,” he said.

by Tunde Odesola, Olalekan Adetayo, and Kunle Falayi

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