Again, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Raji Fashola is engaged in altercations with the National Assembly over the operations of his ministry. Senator Dino Melaye, the representative of Kogi West Senatorial District had, on November 2 and November 8, moved motions on the floor of the Senate alerting his colleagues to the need to investigate the sum of $1.035 billion, which he said the Ministry of Power had systematically mismanaged. Like it happened during the 2017 Budget saga, Fashola immediately picked up the pen to defend his ministry.
Earlier in the year, a huge altercation, which developed into name-calling, engulfed the polity as spokesmen of the two chambers of the National Assembly took on Fashola over allegations that the chambers injected some untoward items into the ministry’s budget. Fashola had accused the lawmakers of deliberately cutting funds from critical infrastructure projects and taking the same to service constituency projects. After some back and forth, the parties later embraced peace and moved on. The lawmakers were later to explain that the funds for the constituency projects in the budget were located in the Service Wide Votes and that the projects were only domiciled in the different ministries and agencies. Again, the minister was told that the reduction in the allocations to critical projects as identified by him was already being handled by the Presidency, which at the time had communicated the lawmakers.
As the dust settled over that needless squabble, the Ministry of Power again got caught in Melaye’s lens, which had fished out some high sounding probes of late. What I found questionable here is the persecution syndrome easily exhibited by members of the executive anytime a probe by the legislature is involved. During the 2017 budget saga involving Fashola and the lawmakers, it became almost a personal fight, with the minister issuing statements after the other. The sentiment in the executive is usually against the lawmakers and the stereotypes often point to the direction that the lawmakers are up to mischief or that they wanted something. There is also the insinuation that the executive, which superintends over the key agencies of government is more positioned to provide accurate data, facts and figures and that whenever the legislatures query that, they are surely up to something.
I beg to disagree with those insinuations and notions. While the legislature cannot be said to be always right, the executive is also not all-knowing. And for the executive to get it right, it needs an inquisitive legislature. Just as we have mischievous lawmakers, so are there mischievous members of the executive, who would not blink an eye to deny the people their rights.
While one will not dabble in the details of the Melaye allegations here, since the Senate is yet to come to a verdict (it only resolved to investigate the matter), it is, however, imperative to note that the power to expose corruption granted to the National Assembly needed to be encourage rather than muted. While Fashola replied the NASS with hot words earlier in the year and met stiff resistance from the lawmakers, I expected a display of better understanding this time, no matter how ugly the insinuations in Melaye’s motion. True, Melaye had dramatised his motion and presented a picture of systemic fraud, but the Minister only needs to face the public with the facts of the matter. The public doesn’t gain anything from antagonistic tones; only facts will clear the air. Good enough, he has expressed readiness to collaborate with the Senate on the investigation.
In his statement on Friday, Fashola said that Melaye first came up with a petition and later a motion. He sounded as if the minister and the staff were being persecuted. His tone might have been influenced by the stereotypes. But what Melaye did in the first instance was to raise a matter of Urgent National Importance in accordance with Order 42 of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 as amended. That order does not allow debate on the first date. Going by the order, the mover only needs to secure the leave of the Senate to table the motion on the next legislative day. If the Senate agrees, then the debate will ensue on the next legislative day. In essence, what Melaye tabled was not a petition but a motion on notice so to say. Having secured the leave of the Senate to present the motion, he was then allowed to move the proper motion on November 8 since the presentation of 2018 budget had taken over November 7, which was originally the next legislative day.
With Melaye’s motion having being tabled, what is expected of Fashola’s Ministry is to provide the facts as they are before the Senate Committee at a chosen date. But since the Minister cannot wait for that day, his statement is expected to throw light on the hidden details. He doesn’t need to rail at the allegations. Once that is done, the Senate itself will have no option than to come up with a clean judgement. True, the Nigerian legislature is still young, its operatives who keep changing at every election cycle are inexperienced but we cannot throw away all probes they embark upon since only a collaborative effort of the three pillars of power can help democracy grow.
…And the Road to Afam
Afam has played host to power installations since 1952 in the days of ECN, but it is not funny to hear that the locality only started enjoying electricity in 2006. Minister Fashola said in his reaction to Melaye’s motion last week that the Federal Government was building one of the fastest Power Plants in Afam, Rivers State, under the Fast Power Project.
He said that the Afam fast power project was kick-started as an investment by a U.S. firm, General Electric, to boost power supply in the country and that the firm offered to provide Nigeria with mobile turbines of 600MW. He said that Nigeria paid $27.9 million for eight units of 30MW turbines each, totalling 240MW and valued at $186.6 million. That sounds like good investment in the offing and a huge succour coming the way of the troubled power sector.