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Budget defence: Reps clash over Alison-Madueke

Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke

A shouting match erupted among members of the House of Representatives House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream)   on Tuesday  as they  deliberated   the N61.9bn  budgetary proposals for the Ministry of Petroleum Resources and its parastatals this year.

Before the trouble started, the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke,  had informed the committee members   that  N53.8bn  out of the N61.9bn  was for personnel cost; N1.8bn for overhead cost; and N6.2bn for capital projects this year.

Alison-Madueke, who claimed that the ministry was facing funding challenges,  added  that  out of the N8.5bn budgeted for capital projects in 2013, only N4.3bn was released by the Ministry of Finance.

But, she said the ministry could only utilise N3.8bn of the N4.3bn, an indication that over N500m was returned to the treasury.

The ministry had  N50.4bn  budget  for overheads   and  N1.8bn   as personnel cost  in 2013.

Trouble started shortly after the committee met in closed-door session to discuss the budget.  Some members accused the  Committee  Chairman,  Mr. Ajibola Muraina, of attempting to shield the minister from answering questions on the details of the 2014 budget.

Muraina, a Peoples Democratic Party member from Oyo State, had  ordered that the details of the budget   be considered behind closed doors   after the minister had given the highlights in the open.

The decision did not seem to go down well with some members.

Not quite 10 minutes into the   session, some members were heard   protesting loudly over an alleged bid to shield Alison-Madueke from talking.

One All Progressives Congress member from Kaduna State,  Mr. Bala Yusuf, forced the door open and stormed out of the session.

He kept shouting, “I will speak, I will speak.  That is not the way to handle budget issues. Why can’t we ask questions? Why?

A PDP member from Imo State, Mr. Raphael Nnana-Igbokwe, rushed after the APC member, trying to calm him down to no avail.

The closed-door session came to an abrupt end as Muraina too went to where Yusuf was standing. Muriana spoke to him in hushed tones.

Alison-Madueke, who looked worried, also went to Yusuf and tried to calm him down by making a joke out of the situation.

She went to meet Yusuf in company with the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Mr. Andrew Yakubu.

The minister held Yusuf’s hand, asking, “What is your question? What is your question? Tell me, I will answer you.”

When she saw that the lawmaker was not ready to reduce   the  issue to a joke, Alison-Diezani added, “okay, next time, if you shout, I will shout too.”

At this point, the GMD   intervened  and Yusuf acknowledged him, saying, “This is my elder brother, I respect him.”

They succeeded in calming Yusuf, but the lawmaker later stated that he had already made his point.

Meanwhile, the committee also  reviewed the scarcity of petroleum products, especially petrol, in the country and directed Alison-Madueke to use “magic” to end it.

The meeting was a joint session of the committees on Petroleum Resources, Upstream/Downstream and Gas Resources.

On petrol scarcity, Muraina said, “There was the magic that you used sometime ago to stop scarcity. Go back to the magic and ensure that products flow freely.

“We saw the GMD trying to cover up by visiting some filling stations, but the truth is that there is scarcity.”

When journalists confronted Alison-Madueke with questions as she  left the venue of the meeting, the minister insisted that the scarcity was caused by “diversion and hoarding.”

She stated that the ministry was working hard to resolve the problem by investigating it.

The minister  said the situation in Lagos had normalised following the intervention of the ministry and the NNPC.

She  added that she was turning serious attention to Abuja where the scarcity had persisted in spite of raising the daily supply of products to the city.

An NNPC source claimed on Tuesday that the daily truck out   was increased  from 100 to 150 lately in efforts to end the scarcity without success.

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