2013 Budget: The Waiting Game

17 Feb 2013

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President Goodluck Jonathan

The 2013 budget remained a festering sore. The waiting game continued even as several Nigerians gave different views as to why President Goodluck Jonathan was yet to sign it.
Interestingly, some persons did some calculations and by their calendar, Jonathan had kept the budget beyond the thirty day period allowed by the 1999 Constitution.

However, fears of a possible constitutional crisis over the 2013 budget were laid to rest after the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Hon. Victor Afam Ogene, debunked the claims of the bizarre count down to doomsday.
It turned out that those making such assertions were wrong. The error, it was learnt arose from the inclusion of weekends in their calculation of the thirty day period.

A Week of Fury
Even a goat, if pushed to the wall, will fight back. This statement underscores the depth of exasperation that played out in the Senate last week. Even though the House of Representatives is known for serial confrontation with the executive, the Senate had been the exact opposite. The David Mark-led Senate had since inception carved a niche for itself as an assembly of mature men and women who would rather opt for peace even in the face of provocation.

For instance, at the heat of fuel subsidy crisis authored by the decision of the government of President Goodluck Jonathan to raise the pump price of premium motor spirit (PMS) from N65.00 to N141.00 on January 1, 2012, the House of Representatives quickly met and asked Jonathan to revert the price to N65.00 immediately. Even though the Senate also felt the same way, it never took similar action in its drive to avoid being confrontational. Instead, Mark was very visible in the effort to resolve the crisis.

But last week, the trend of events changed in the Senate. The chamber was very angry with the Presidency. And it did not exercise any restraint in manifesting it.  The chamber lamented that President Jonathan had misconstrued its sense of maturity to be a sign of weakness. Hence, it said enough was enough. The senators said the executive had relegated it to the background by deliberately shielding Chairman Pension Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina, from obeying its summons six months after. Maina had been alleged to have misappropriated N197 billion pension fund and yet parading over 30 security men, going out in a long convoy, riding in an armoured car and becoming so powerful that he received Jonathan at the airport, a role that even a permanent secretary is not qualified to play.

So, given the power he wields within the executive, he ignores Senate summons and even dared to lead a crowd to the gate of the National Assembly to address them in his bid to spite the senators. The warrant of arrest issued against him by Mark did not change anything. Being pushed to the wall, the Senate asked Jonathan to choose between the chamber and Maina. It also called for his immediate dismissal, arrest and prosecution with threats that “the Senate has teeth to bite and it will bite when it will bite.” But will it indeed bite?

National Health Bill
Last week, the National Assembly played host to thousands of health workers from various parts of the country who thronged the premises of the institution to express their solidarity for National Health Bill at a one-day public hearing organised by the Senate committee on Health. The bill was on its third coming having been passed two times earlier but not assented to by both the sitting and a former president.

The public hearing was meant to secure the input of stakeholders from all spheres of the sector. During the event, Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) queried Section 20 of the bill which states that any medical doctor who refuses to treat patients in emergency situations for any reason will be liable to N100,000 fine if convicted or six months’ imprisonment.  While sponsors of the bill said saving lives at emergency situations should be paramount to a medical doctor, NMA faulted the section, saying if the bill sought to punish refusal to treat emergency cases, proponents of the bill should be magnanimous enough to state categorically who foots the bill.

But the Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, who was also present at the public hearing doused tension when he explained that all the world over, the government usually earmarks certain amount of money for emergency treatment. This implied that the Federal Government would fund emergency situations.

NMA also submitted that primary health care constitutes 70 per cent of the entire health care system and advocated direct disbursement of funds to primary health care through Primary Health Care Development Board. But Medical and Health Workers’ Union as well as National Association of Nigeria Nurses and Midwives suggested that all core professional associations should be part and parcel of policy formulation in the Ministry of Health as against the current situation where only the NMA is represented. The Institute of Health Administrators of Nigeria on the other hand, said the current situation where 80 per cent of appropriation for the health sector go for recurrent expenditure while paltry 20 per cent are spent on provision of facilities and growth should be altered.

When Senate Broke Protocol
In a manner that is uncharacteristic of the legislature, the Senate during the week put aside protocols and gave a standing ovation to the Super Eagles for doing the nation proud by their victory at last Sunday’s African Cup of Nations finals in South Africa. The senators also passed a vote of confidence on Super Eagles’ National Coach, Stephen Keshi, for a job well done.

For them, the victory had shown that Nigeria still had hope. They also encouraged Nigerians to learn to believe in themselves and never to give up hope as was done before the victory which was last secured 19 years ago.  They also commended what they described as high spirit of patriotism among the players.

To show the senators’ sense of fulfilment, the chamber recorded an impressive turn out that day. Besides, in an unusual manner, a whole lot of the entire 108 senators in the Senate besides Mark who presided over the sitting supported the motion.

State Creation
The Senate also allayed the fears of Nigerians who thought state creation could deprive them of their ancestral domains if the National Assembly carries through its crusade for state creation in the ongoing constitution amendment process. The institution disclosed that state creation this time unlike the case in the military era will not be by imposition but rather through the consent of all stakeholders in such areas.

This disclosure was made when a group of traditional rulers from six local government areas of Akwa Ibom State visited the Senate to express fears that if the agitation for creation of Oil Rivers State sails through, they stood the chance of losing their land to persons they described as mere settlers in the area. But the leadership of Constitution Review Committee in the Senate told the monarchs that the National Assembly would not be intimidated by any individual or groups from giving Nigeria an amended constitution that will reflect their true wishes.

It further disclosed that before any state would be created, there would be a referendum which it said would be transparent. The output of the referendum, the committee said, would be brought back to the National Assembly from local governments and will decide whether residents of the area want a state or not.  The traditional rulers who came from Eket, Esit Eket, Onna, Mkpat Ennin, Ikot Abasi and Nsit local governments of Akwa Ibom State were led by Chairman of Akwa Ibom Council of Traditional Rulers, His Royal Majesty, Edidem Udo Ntuk.

Tags: Politics, Nigeria, Featured, 2013 budget

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