Peoples Democratic Party members of the House of Representatives and their All Progressives Congress colleagues nearly exchanged blows on Wednesday over the investigation by the House into the N1.7 trillion expenditure on kerosene subsidy by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation.
The House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), which is conducting the investigation, had summoned the Director-General, Budget Office of the Federation, Dr. Bright Okogu, to testify.
But, trouble started as Okogu addressed the committee when some PDP members opposed the line of questioning by their APC colleagues.
Some of the APC members were asking Okogu to tell the committee where the NNPC got the legal backing to deduct the kerosene subsidy before remitting revenue to the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation.
One APC member from Kaduna State, Mr. Bala Yusuf, stated that there should be no boundaries on questions, shouting, “Let us not downplay the significance of this gathering by arguing along party line because this is an issue of serious national importance”.
In his bid to maintain order, the Chairman of the committee, Mr. Dakuku Peterside, an APC member from Rivers State, objected to a point of order raised by some PDP members.
The members in turn accused Peterside of being political and personal about the investigation.
The vocal PDP members were Mr. Raphael Nnnana-Igbokwe ( PDP, Imo); Mr. Emmanuel Ekong( PDP, Akwa Ibom), and Mr. Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi).
Igbokwe in particular, shouted at Yusuf and Peterside, “This is not a private enterprise; again, this is not the Committee on Finance.”
He spoke further, as Peterside struggled to restore order, “If your (Peterside) ruling is biased, we will challenge the ruling.
“This is not a private enterprise. Let the NNPC answer questions relating to its operations. You (Peterside) cannot hold the DG, Budget responsible for the NNPC operations.”
On his part, Karimi said, “DG, do you have the competence and authority to speak for the NNPC or Central Bank of Nigeria?”
Okogu replied that he could not answer questions that should ordinarily be directed at the management of the NNPC.
In efforts to dismiss the claim that he was taking sides, Peterside said, “From time to time, we have our misunderstanding.
“We are before the public, let us respect ourselves as gentlemen.”
The session continued to progress in disagreements, forcing Peterside to adjourn it for a few hours to allow time for tempers to calm down.
Before the adjournment, Okogu had confirmed that the budget office did not make any provisions for kerosene subsidy in the national budget since 2010.
However, he clarified that the NNPC was in business and must find a way to pay for any extra expenditure it incurred above the official approved price of the product.
He explained, “If they (NNPC) buy kerosene from the international market at let is say $1 per litre and they sell less than half of a dollar, they must pay for the shortfall due to the subsidised nature of the product.
“So, it only makes a business sense if they source money elsewhere to pay for such amount that must have been cut down from the cost which the consumers must have borne.”