President Goodluck Jonathan
Onwuka Nzeshi and Dele Ogbodo
Amidst mixed feelings amongst some of its members, Senate Thursday passed into an Act the request by President Goodluck Jonathan on Tuesday for an additional N161,617,364,911 as fuel subsidy payment in the 2012 budget framework.
The approval came from the upper chamber after the second reading of the bill for an Act to authorise the issue of appropriation of the request from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation to provide for the supplementary payment of fuel subsidy.
The Senate eventually passed it in view of its emergency nature, as observed by Deputy Senate Leader, Senator Abdul Ningi.
In their contributions, Ningi, and Senators Ganiyu Solomon, who is a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), Ahmed Lawan and Gbenga Kaka, said they were constrained to support President Jonathan’s request for the additional money which they said would be used to offset the fuel subsidy payment. They added, that they were in support of the bill because they did not want majority of Nigerians to suffer the usual untold hardship during the yuletide.
The lawmakers, however, queried the authenticity of the report of the forensic audit purportedly carried out by the Federal Government. They suggested that the report of the Senate’s investigation into the fuel subsidy regime be made available to the public and be implemented without delay.
Summing up the contributions of the various lawmakers, Senate President, David Mark, called on the executive arm to either stamp out corruption in the oil industry or stop fuel subsidy.
Mark said: “You have all made valid contributions whether from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or from our friends in opposition.
“Nobody went out of track, there is no gainsaying the fact and it is not a secret anymore that there is too much corruption in the fuel subsidy industry in whatever system they adopt, and I think the nation must make a decision now on whether to continue or stop it.
“If they can’t eliminate the corruption in the industry, then the alternative would be to stop the whole exercise of fuel subsidy, and we must take the one that is easier, which will bring less pain to Nigerians,” he said.
The Senate President also noted that Jonathan’s request for the supplementary budget was approved by the upper chamber in the overall interest of Nigerians.
“I thank all of you for taking into consideration that if this is not approved, Nigerians are the ones who are going to suffer. Why we are in the chamber here is to work for the welfare of our people. The nation in my candid opinion must make that decision now because we cannot carry on this way. Obviously, they must have anticipated that there was going to be a shortfall when they first made the presentation at the beginning of the year. That did not happen, we are not shouldered with the responsibility of the additional approval. And what we have just done is in the best interest of this country,” Mark said.
President Jonathan’s re-quest for a supplementary appropriation to the tune of N161,617,364,911 billion passed the second reading stage yesterday at the House of Representatives. It was subsequently referred to the Joint Committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream and Downstream); Finance and Appropriation for further legislative work.
The President had asked the National Assembly to approve the extra budget to enable the government have funds to settle arrears of fuel subsidy claims owed oil marketers and maintain a steady flow of petroleum products, especially in the run-up to the yuletide season.
The budget bill did not however scale the hurdle without lawmakers raising several questions on the forensic audit conducted by the presidency which informed the extra budget request.
The lawmakers accused President Jonathan of attempting to blackmail them by sending the supplementary late in the year and seeking a speedy approval for the proposal.
In line with the House resolution on Wednesday, three relevant committees of the House were called upon to throw some light on the supplementary budget proposal. They included the
Chairman of House Committees on Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Hon Dakuku Peterside; Chairman House Committee on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Hon. Ajibola Muraina and Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Hon. John Enoh.
Even after these committee had provided their opinions, some lawmakers insisted that the forensic audit carried out by the executive arm must be presented before the House for scrutiny.
According to them the under -estimation of the 2012 fuel subsidy budget was an indictment on the budget office.
In an address at the end of the debate, Speaker of the House, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, called for better budget tracking by House Standing Committees.
Tambuwal said issues such as the forensic report, actual subsidy figures and actual fuel requirements could only be resolved when the bill passes second reading and gets to the relevant committee.
“As at now we are not sure whether they truly needed this funds. So in the committees’ work the committee should be able to come up with justification for whichever way we are going either which way, justification for approving it or disallowing it.
“The gamut of the entire debates serve as a wake up call to our committees. Issues on oversight, we need to do more of budget tracking and ensure that we are not been taken for a ride by our executive counter-part.
“So, I believe that at this point issues have been raised, fundamental issues have been raised, we need to be more discerning in whatever position we take, we have the window of opportunity, we have the expectations of the public and in any case all of us are aware that those in the executive never wanted this fuel subsidy, that is however not to say we should allow Nigerians or our country to be drained by those who believed that they can use the opportunity of fuel subsidy to be carting away money,” Tambuwal said.