John Ameh, Abuja
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, on Thursday disclosed how the Federal Government, states and private organisations allegedly diverted N320bn from the Natural Resources Fund over the years.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo had, through an Executive Order, created the fund in 2002 for the purpose of developing the country’s natural resources.
But, the Speaker said as much as N320bn was diverted from the fund to projects that were totally unconnected with the objective of setting it up.
Dogara spoke during the opening of a public hearing by the House Ad Hoc Committee on the Utilisation of N350bn Natural Resources Fund and Federal Government Investments, Proceeds and Leakages in Solid Minerals at the National Assembly.
The committee was chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Adamawa State, Mr. Adamu Kamale.
The Speaker, who was represented by the Chief Whip of the House, Mr. Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, alleged that the Federal Government, states and private firms resorted to borrowing from the fund for other reasons, thereby defeating the aim of creating it.
He noted, “I understand that most of the invitees seated here today are directly or indirectly involved in the utilisation of the Natural Resources Fund.
“Available records show that over N320bn of the Natural Resources Fund was utilised as loans to the Federal Government of Nigeria; states; Ministries, Departments and Agencies; and in some cases, private firms, most times for matters unrelated to natural resources.
“This practice is unacceptable and must be corrected. I charge this ad hoc committee to use all available legislative powers to recover the funds that are utilised illegally.
“In addition, the committee, in line with the resolution of the House, should come up with recommendations to safeguard further misappropriation of the Natural Resources Fund, and also recommend an appropriate legal framework.”
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Dogara told the session that worse still, withdrawals from the fund were made without appropriation by the National Assembly.
The Speaker argued that such illegality did not only encourage corruption but was also responsible for the rapid drop in revenue from the solid minerals and steel sector.
He added that common practices in the sector included illegal mining, institutional failure, diversion of funds, connivance of public/political office holders with private developers, as well as non-remittance of taxes, fees and royalties by the operators, among others.
Dogara stated, “It is a common impression of the citizens of Nigeria that solid minerals alone can solve the problems of unemployment in Nigeria.
“Countries less endowed with solid minerals, such as South Africa, have successfully sustained their economy through proceeds from the sector. Nigeria, therefore, cannot afford to continue the neglect of the sector.”
Speaking earlier, Kamale informed the session that the investigation was not a witch-hunt, but to hold government agencies and all those who abused the fund accountable.
To carry out a thorough investigation, Kamale stated that the committee would look into projects the funds were spent on by visiting the sites for physical assessment.
“I want to assure you of the committee’s determination to work in line with the extant laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he added.
Up to 31 agencies have been invited so far by the committee, but Kamale said the list was not exhaustive.
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