The House of Representatives on Monday locked horns with the Presidency, saying there was no limit to the number of times the legislature could summon any minister of the Federation to appear before it and answer questions on issues bothering on accountability.
It said the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, “or any minister or official of government” could be summoned to answer questions “over 1,000 times” so long as there was need for it.
The green chamber was reacting to comments attributed to President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday night during a media chat where he claimed that Mrs. Alison-Madueke had appeared before the House for more than 200 times.
Jonathan also dropped the hint that he won’t sack the minister on corruption allegations, arguing that certain probes embarked upon by the House appeared to be tainted with politics.
The president’s comments came on the heels of Mrs. Alison-Madueke’s refusal to appear before the Public Accounts Committee of the House probing the N10billion she reportedly spent in two years to charter a private jet, Challenger 850, for her trips.
But, speaking on behalf of the House, the Chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, cited Sections 88/89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended), which empowered the legislature to expose corruption.
He noted that in doing so, the House could summon any official or agency of government to appear before it on the subject matter under investigation.
Mohammed added, “There is no limit to the number of times a minister can appear before the House for the purpose of accountability.
“There are many investigations or issues being considered by the House.
“That a minister had appeared before over a particular issue, does not mean that when summoned over a different subject, the minister cannot appear again.
“Besides, on this issue of expenditure on jets, she (Diezani) is yet to appear before the House; she has not appeared on the matter before.
Mr. President should not use her previous appearances over entirely different subjects, as an excuse for her refusal to answer questions in respect of the expenditure on jets”.
On the claim by President Jonathan that the House conducted politicised probes, Mohammed described it as “unfortunate, particularly coming from Mr. President”.
He stated that, as a legislature, the least the House expected of the president was to encourage his ministers to respond to “parliamentary inquiries”.
The House spokesperson recalled that Jonathan was the “highest beneficiary” – in veiled reference to the invocation of the doctrine of necessity that made him acting president – of House resolutions, but did not consider them political whenever they favoured him.