The last may not have been heard over the ongoing probe by the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Representatives into the auctioning of the multi-billion naira assets of the Nation’s River Basin Development Authorities as the Minister for Water Resources, Engr Suleiman Adamu has admitted to the Committee of the House of Representatives that the Ministry erred in law when it ordered the auctioning of government property in the 12 River Basin Development Authorities across the country.
Chairman of the Committee, Rep. Oluwole Oke (PDP, Osun) who spoke on Monday while reviewing the Minister’s appearance before the Committee on Thursday, June 16, 2022, said that the Minister claimed that he was not aware of the provisions of section 55 of the Public Procurement Act which vested the power on the agencies.
The Ministry had, through four Auctioneers auctioned several billion naira worths of assets at a total sum of N137,235,746.50, a figure which was a far cry from the valuation of the Office of the Auditor-General for the Federation.
The Chairman of the Committee had sought to know whether the Management of four of the River Basin Development Authorities that appeared before the committee willingly auctioned the property of the agencies, informed that it was a crime in the eye of the law for them to allow another person to perform their duties without recourse to the law.
According to him,“your Minister was here last week and admitted that he actually raped the law. He apologised and said he did not that aware this law actually exists. How can you just carry auctioneers, and give them government property to auction?
“Is the Minister for Water Resources the same as Upper Niger Basin Development Authority? They went to Abeokuta and carried the property belonging to Nigerians and they admitted that we have 12 River Basin Development Authorities.
“The Auctioneers were here and we asked them how they knew that the items will be auctioned. Where is the advertisement you responded to? How many auctioneers do we have in Nigeria and why is it just four that were selected to do the auction? Your colleague from Abeokuta, Ogun State, was rushing to defend the Ministry.
“They carried out the auction without recourse to the provisions of the law. It is this same law that sent Bode George and his co-travellers at NPA to jail. It is the same law that earns Ngilari that we wrote the law together in 2003 a sentence in Adamawa.
“You do not wait for somebody to take over your functions because he is your supervisory ministry. The former Chairman of the Board of Ogun/Oshun said he is coming to this parliament to testify of how he tried to stop them, using police and everything. Yet, they forcefully took away government property and sold them at ridiculous prices.”
The Minister had while appearing before the Committee said he was not in office when the proposal to auction the items in the River Basin Development Authorities was first tabled, an excuse that the Committee frowned at.
A submission by the Ministry to the Committee however indicated that a Board of Survey was constituted by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Water Resources on the 7th of October 2018 and headed by the Director of Human Resources, Abdul-Sule Mohammed with the mandate to inspect all the unserviceable items listed for disposal by the agencies among others.
The report said, “prior to the commencement of inspection of the unserviceable items and in tandem with the directive of the Honourable Minister, the RBDAs were formally advised to expunge from the list of items earlier recommended for boarding, any item(s) considered salvageable”.
The Committee that to unravel the illegal sales of the assets directed the Minister to provide before it all documents relating to the auctioning of the assets and vowed to sanction anybody found culpable in the deal in order to serve as a deterrent to public officers
The committee however frowned at the attitude of the management of government agencies to account for government money at this disposal by failing to render their audited account to the office of the Auditor-General for the Federation as required by law.
Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Rep Sa’ad Abdulkadir (APC, Bauchi) said the agencies have made it a habit to disobey the laws of the land which stipulate that agencies of government must submit their audited account to the Auditor General for the Federation on or before 31st of May of the preceding year.
He said the House may have included in the audit bill under consideration stringent measures such as considering such disobedience as economic sabotage, adding that doing so would make the agencies stop disobeying the law.
Currently, Financial Regulation 3129 considers failure to render financial account by agencies on the stipulated date as gross misconduct which is punishable by dismissal from service for the officer involved.