The House of Representatives on Thursday began an investigation into how a $5m grant the Federal Government gave to the Lake Chad Basin Commission during the tenure of former President Olusegun Obasanjo was spent.
The House said the money was given to the commission to carry out “feasibility studies on how to direct rivers to the lake,” but observed that nothing much was heard of the $5m after it was released.
A member of the House, Mr. Ahmed Abu, who raised the issue on the floor, did not specify the period in Obasanjo’s eight-year tenure that the money was paid.
However, Abu informed the House that a report of an audit conducted on Lake Chad by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation and released in October this year, did not reflect how the fund was utilised.
Abu recalled that since the commission was established in 1964 with the “responsibility of planning and regulating the uses of the water and other natural resources of the conventional basin”, Nigeria had been funding it to deliver on its mandate.
He gave details of how Nigeria and neighbouring countries were to contribute to the commission’s annual budget.
“The House is aware that the percentage contribution towards the commission’s annual budget is 40 per cent by Nigeria; 18 per cent by Libya; 20 per cent by Cameroon; seven per cent by Niger; 11 per cent by Chad and four per cent by Central African Republic.
“The House is informed that the sum of $5m was released by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to the commission for feasibility studies on how to divert rivers from the Central African Republic to Lake Chad, which was drying up, in addition to funding the Lake Chad Basin Commission’s annual budget through the funding formula, to which Nigeria contributes 40 per cent.”
The House noted that the lack of attention given to the $5m in the AGF’s report showed how huge tax payers’ money was committed to many projects but without the necessary monitoring carried out on them.
“The House regrets that transaction of this magnitude paid for with tax payers’ money has not been given the due attention it deserves by way of follow-up,” the resolution added.
The House, which was presided over by the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, directed the committee to conduct the investigation and produce a report within eight weeks.
President Muhammadu Buhari and the Auditor-General of the Federation, Samuel Ukura, had on October 12, disagreed over the environmental audit report on the drying up of Lake Chad.
Buhari had noted that the report did not take into account the feasibility study conducted by a team under the tenure of Obasanjo, which cost Nigeria $5m.
But the AGF said that was outside his supervision, saying Lake Chad Basin Commission had that responsibility.
Buhari had said, “I have to digress here based on personal knowledge of this. I saw an article in a journal in 1978 that a professor in the University of London, in 1925, had foreseen what we are just seeing.
“I handed over the article to Obasanjo and I understand that he took the initiative sometime ago; it is on record that he is the only Nigerian that has presided over the country for more than 11 years.
“He gave $5m for the study, and the study reported that unless some of the rivers from the Central Africa Republic are diverted to empty into Chad Basin, Lake Chad will dry up.
“I understand that this report, which was sponsored by Nigeria, has been submitted. I am a bit disappointed that in the speech of the Auditor-General, there was no mention of this report and $5m was given.”
Besides Nigeria, other members of the commission are Chad, Niger and Cameroon.
On Thursday, the Speaker named the members of the committee on constitiution review shortly before the House closed its plenary.
The committee is chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun.
The principal officers of the House, including the Majority Leader, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, and zonal/state representatives were among the 47.
It will be recalled that former President Goodluck Jonathan had withheld his assent to the Fourth Constitution Amendment Bill, passed by the 7th Assembly earlier in the year on the grounds that some of the provisions usurped the powers of the Executive arm of government.
For example, while the 7th Assembly retained the immunity the President and state governors enjoyed against criminal prosecution, it removed the immunity in respect of civil cases.
The amendment also empowered the National Assembly to override the President’s veto on bills passed by the former.
Among others, it endorsed independent candidacy for elections and granted financial autonomy to local government councils in the country.
The National Assembly also separated the offices of the Minster of Justice and the Attorney General of the Federation.
But Jonathan withheld his assent to the bill.
However, the 8th House resolved to re-visit the review of the constitution as one of the key promises of its legislative agenda.
Both the Senate and the House had spent about N1bn on the last exercise, which was not signed by Jonathan.