For the second time in less than one week, members of the House of Representatives and the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), disagreed openly on Monday at the National Assembly over the execution of power projects.
Fashola had appeared before the House Committee on Power to honour another summons.
The committee, which is chaired by a member from Cross River State, Mr. Dan Asuquo, was looking into the “Need to Facilitate Swift Action in the Management of Transmission Company of Nigeria for Electric Power Reforms.”
From the outset of his remarks, the minister complained that he was becoming uncomfortable with being summoned to the National Assembly frequently.
He recalled that he ended last week making a number of appearances at the House and had started this week again with another appearance.
Fashola noted that at this rate, he would have to be abandoning other executive functions just to come to the National Assembly almost every day.
But, his complaints seemed to have infuriated the committee members the more, particularly, Asuquo, who kept disputing every comment made by the minister.
The atmosphere became so tensed that the minister pointedly told Asuquo that he would no longer respond to questions on the eligibility of the Acting Managing Director of the TCN, E.G. Mohammed.
“I have told you that I have not exceeded my delegated authority. It’s within very clear presidential approval,” he told the committee.
The minister raised questions over the role of a former Manitoba employee, one Mr. Van Ron, who served as a consultant to the House committee.
Fashola said he was displeased that the former Manitoba official, a company which once manned the TCN and executed management contracts, would be the same person sitting as a consultant to the House.
He added, “I don’t know how he became a consultant to the House. He worked for Manitoba and the TCN, and Manitoba had a management contract, which was before I came in as a minister.”
But, Asuquo responded angrily, telling Fashola that the same Ron had served as an adviser to the minister when he assumed duties at the power ministry.
Asuquo stated, “It is not for you to decide for us how we select our consultants, just like we cannot give you instructions on how you make your policies.
“The same man even advised you when you came in. I have seen text messages exchanged between the two of you. If the man had been useful to the minister at some point, we as a committee also felt that we needed someone with inside knowledge to advise us. We don’t owe you any explanations.”
Asuquo went further to say that the committee also doubted the integrity of the permanent secretary working with Fashola in his ministry.
“I was in a committee that investigated this man in the 7th Assembly, where there was the issue that he didn’t have a National Youth Service Corps discharge certificate.
“But, today, that same man is a permanent secretary.”
However, Fashola clarified that he met Ron only once for briefings, and discontinued further contacts with him thereafter, adding that it had been his nature to always reply to every text message.
On the status of the controversial TCN projects, Fashola told the committee that work did not stop on them, contrary to the impression held by the lawmakers.
He disclosed that his ministry inherited 125 of the projects in various stages of completion.
The minister said some had legal bottlenecks, while others were either being tied down by the host communities over compensation payments or were simply stalled.
“Only 40 were viable and those were the ones we tried to work on and complete,” the minister added.
Fashola recalled a particular incident in Ikot-Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State, where the contractors were chased away from site by “juju that was said to have been planted there.”
He defended the work completed so far, saying that they had helped in improving power generation and distribution generally in the country.
The minister advised the lawmakers to write letters to his ministry, to seek clarification on any project they wanted information on, rather than resorting to the public display of issuing summons.
The session later ended abruptly amid the disagreements between the lawmakers and Fashola.
Both parties walked out of the venue hurriedly.