The Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, has been given up till April 28 to respond to enquiries on the N10bn she allegedly spent on chartering a private jet, Challenger 850, for her trips in the last two years.
Findings by Sunday PUNCH showed that the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts, which gave the deadline, would also open a public hearing on the allegation on April 28.
“The committee will proceed with the public hearing, whether or not, the minister responds to our enquiries.
“She has been given adequate respect as a minister and public officer by the committee.
“Our letters were sent to the minister as far back as March 26,” a source close to the committee, confided in Sunday PUNCH in Abuja.
It was learnt that the committee gave the deadline just as the original period given to it to produce a report on the probe expired on April 9.
The House had passed the resolution on the investigation on March 10.
It gave the committee, which is headed by Mr. Solomon Olamilekan, three weeks to conclude the assignment and produce a report.
However, findings indicated that a combination of factors, including Diezani’s alleged refusal to respond to enquiries and pressures mounted on the committee to soft pedal on the matter, had delayed the committee’s work.
The delay was said to have dove-tailed into the start of a three-week Easter break, which the House began on Thursday, April 10.
Another committee source claimed the “delay and all the shenanigans” would not deter the committee from proceeding with the public hearing.
The source, who did not want to be named, added, “We have scheduled a public hearing on the matter for April 28.
“I believe the committee will do all that is within our power as contained in the legislative right and privileged acts to ensure justice.
“Don’t forget that we all, as elected or appointed officials of government, are not above the laws of the land.”
Although, the original mandate of the committee was to investigate the alleged N10bn expenditure on the Challenger 850, the committee stumbled on additional information indicating that Alison-Madueke chartered two other jets.
One of them, a Global Express XRS, was said to have cost €600,000 in a return charter trip to London.
When contacted to comment on the failure of the committee to meet the initial three-week deadline, the Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, said the House would normally not interfere with an ongoing investigation.
He explained that since the committee had not lodged a complaint of facing any difficulties, the House would allow it the discretion to complete the assignment.
Mohammed added that it was likely the committee was trying to exhaust all legal avenues to get invited government officials to respond to enquiries.
“We believe the committee is on course.
“They may not want to stampede the minister. Certainly, as a government official, it is not possible that she will not reply to letters from the House.
“The minister herself knows the implications of doing that; so, the committee is working”, he stated.
Meanwhile, Alison-Madueke is reported to be gathering a team of seasoned lawyers to guide her.
It was learnt that the lawyers were working with the legal arm of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to provide a defence that would justify how the minister has not broken any law that empowers the corporation to charter planes for oil operations.
Several efforts made by our correspondent to speak with the NNPC on the details of the allegation have been abortive.
NNPC spokesman, Mr. Omar Ibrahim, had justified the use of the jet by the minister but did not give details of how much the minister has spent on chartered jets.