Chinese loan probe, others stalled as Reps suspend panels’ sittings

  • Don’t compromise investigations, CSO warns N’Assembly members
  • We’ll continue probes after resumption —NDDC committee chair, others
  • I’m not aware of suspension of committees activities, says loan panel chair

The House of Representatives has suspended activities of its standing and ad hoc committees, including panels investigating finances of the Federal Government.

The Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, who made the announcement, in a notice dated August 19, 2020, with reference number NASS/9.HR/OLDR/ADM/VOL.1/0031, said it was a decision by the leadership of the House.

One of the major groups affected by the suspension is the Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements investigating external loans and commercial agreements between Nigeria and other countries, especially China.

The activities of the committee generated controversy nationwide as the Federal Government on  Monday admitted the loan agreement with China contains sovereignty clause,  which gives the Asian country the permission to seize a facility if Nigeria defaults in the payment of the loan.

The committee Chairman, Nicholas Ossai, had said the clause was not only ambiguous, but also dangerous.

He vowed to go ahead with the probe and ensure the renegotiation of the controversial loan agreement.

But the probe was stalled on Thursday with the suspension of activities of House committees.

Ado-Doguwa’s memo sighted by  one of our correspondents on Thursday was titled, ‘Notice of suspension of activities, meetings, public hearings and all engagements of the standing and ad hoc committees.’

The notice read, “The leadership of the House of Representatives has recently met and resolved that, henceforth, all activities of standing and ad hoc committees be put on hold while the House is on its annual recess.

“Accordingly, all standing and ad hoc committee chairmen are, hereby, directed to suspend with immediate effect, all committee meetings, public hearings and other engagements until the House resumes from its annual recess.

“The Clerk of the House should also ensure strict compliance to this circular by all committee clerks and other relevant staffs (sic) of the House of Representatives.”

The National Assembly is scheduled to resume plenary on September 15, 2020, after a two-month annual recess.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives had resolved to continue work at the committee level during the break.

The suspension notice came two days after a drama at the hearing by the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, probing  Nigeria’s external loans.

The Chairman of the committee,  Ossai, had had a heated argument with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, over the manner the probe was being conducted.

Before the altercation, Amaechi had warned that the lawmakers’ insistence on the investigation could make China to stop the loan.

At Monday’s public hearing,  the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, walked in and called for a break.

It was exclusively reported on Wednesday how the probe had polarised members of the committee.

I am not aware of suspension of committees activities —Ossai

When contacted on the telephone on Thursday, Ossai said he was not aware of the suspension notice. “I’m not aware,” he said.

When asked if it meant that his committee’s probe would continue, the lawmaker said, “Until I authenticate what you are saying now and I find out; I won’t be able to make a necessary decision now as you are telling me. By tomorrow (Friday), I’m going to find out whether it is all according to what you have said.”

When told that the notice must have been sent to lawmakers, Ossai said, “I don’t have it.”

The committee had on Tuesday suspended its hearing and adjourned till Tuesday. It  asked the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, to appear before it on Tuesday next week to shed light on the controversial clauses concerning Nigeria’s sovereignty.

Besides the investigation into loan agreements, also affected by the suspension   is the ongoing probe of the $11bn withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account for the implementation of the failed National Integrated Power projects.

Another probe is by an ad hoc committee of the House on the increment of tariffs by digital television service providers, especially DSTV.

We will continue NDDC probe after NASS resumption –Chairman

The House is also investigating the alleged illegal spending and mismanagement of N81.5bn by the Niger Delta Development Commission. The  NDDC committee has interrogated the Interim Management Committee and the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio.

The Chairman of the House Committee on NDDC, Mr Olujunmi Tunji-Ojo, told one of  our correspondents on Thursday, that activities would be delayed till National Assembly’s resumption.

Also, Chairman of the ad hoc committee investigating tank farms, Mr Sergius Ogun, said the exercise would continue after resumption.

Speaking on the probe of the DSTV and other digital television service providers, the Chairman of the committee, Mr Unyime Idem, in a text message to one of our correspondents, said, “Now that the leadership has suspended all committee’s activities, we don’t have a choice but  to wait until when we resume.”

Reverse suspension of probes, SERAP tells House

Commenting on the suspension, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project said it was not in the best interest of the public for the National Assembly to stop the probe into the Chinese loans.

SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, in an interview said, “Nigerians have the right to know the exact details about all Chinese loans, including conditions of repayment, spending details; the specific projects and their locations on which the loans are spent or proposed to be spent, and whether the loans are in fact necessary in the first place.

“Transparency in the details of all Chinese loans is good for everyone, as this would help to increase the effectiveness, legitimacy, and contribution of the loans to the development of public goods and services, and the general public interests.”

Don’t compromise probe, CSO warns lawmakers

On its part, the Co-Convener, Centre for Liberty, Raphael Adebayo, cautioned the lawmakers against compromising the probe which he said was about the future of the country.

Adebayo, in an interview, said Nigerians were waiting for the committee to continue with the probe after their recess, noting that “since the National Assembly is officially on recess, I think it is okay to give them the benefit of the doubt. It is not up to a month for them to resume, so I think Nigerians can wait.”

He stated further, “But the most important thing is they must not compromise the probe. They must remember that the onus is on them, that is, the committee in charge of the probe, to make sure that the collective interest of Nigerians is fought for and protected.”

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