Dele Ogbodo relives the intense debate that greeted the Anti-Terrorism Bill on the floor of the Senate last week
The Senate was filled with a flurry of robust legislative activities, leading to sharp differences among the lawmakers. The Bill for an Act to Amend the Terrorism (Prevention) Act, 2011 and other Related Matters, which every Nigerian is waiting for to help checkmate all acts of terrorism and terrorist activities in the country, provided the platform for the senators to express their divergent views on the floor of the Red Chamber.
As the debate got intense, the lawmakers broke into camps on the contentious issue in the bill bothering on the propriety of appointment of the National Security Adviser (NSA) Coordinators and his role and duties as enshrined in the combined harmonized report of Senate and House of Representatives members.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Mohammed Magoro, representing Kebbi South Senatorial district was on the final presentation of the harmonized report when Senator Ita Enang, raised a point of objection on the report.
The lawmaker averred that Clause 2, new Section 1A, which was inserted after section 1 of the principal Act, would have problem of far reaching consequences if allowed to go. According to Enang, the insertion of this clause in the bill is totally wrong.
The clause reads: “This new provision deals with National Coordinating Bodies in counter terrorism offences and designates specific institutions and vest sspecific powers and functions, that is-the office of the NSA, the Attorney-General of the Federation and the relevant law enforcement and security agencies.”
The bill suffered a major setback and had to be suspended indefinitely, following the inability of the leadership of the Senate to reach a consensus on the controversial clause.
Senate President David Mark made spirited efforts to save the bill to no avail. Mark while responding earlier to Enang’s objection noted that “the problem you have Senator Enang, which I’m sure you will appreciate is that this is a conference report of both Houses, it was not brought here for us to begin a new report.”
Enang who held tenaciously to his point, on why the bill must not be allowed to scale through said: “I want to make an appeal that the legislature cannot make an appointment for the President, secondly that the office of the NSA does not exist in law, the office of NSA is one of the 17 offices that we approved for Mr. President and 20 advisers that we approved for the President and the legislature cannot assigned duties to any of them.
“I refer to Section 251 of the constitution. “It says that the President may appoint any person as his Special Adviser to assist him in the performance of his function, the number of such advisers and their remuneration are as prescribed by law by a resolution of the National Assembly. Any appointment made in pursuance of this section shall be at the pleasure of the President.’’
The lawmaker, however, stressed that the office of the NSA is an advisory one to the President, and therefore the office or any of his adviser is not known to law or established by it and as such there is no law that says this law shall exist, adding that being so, since the legislature did not establish that office, the legislature cannot confer duty on that office.
“I make a reference Mr. President to the National Security Agency Act CAP N74 2011 Section 4 which says Coordinator of the NSA for the purpose of coordinating the intelligence activities of NSA shall be appointed by the President as Coordinator on national security.
“Mr. President I want to submit that if an Act like this one that was made in 1986 commenced in June 1986 and is still in operation therefore this law says that it is the President that shall appoint a coordinator and we cannot by law by this amendment say that there shall be the NSA which shall appoint the coordinator because we have given power to the President to appoint a coordinator by this Act” Enang averred.
He argued that the bill the Senate is seeking to amend, does not make any reference to the National Security Act which abolished Nigeria Security Organization (NSO) Act, adding that it was the House of Representatives version that was adopted by the joint conference committee.
While pointing out that the development has become a legal question which can be revisited because the Senate is the highest law making body in the country, Enang also noted that any mistake made will set a dangerous legislative precedent. “Mr. President I pray that this section be rejected and the recommendation should not be adopted.” he said.
Following the inability of the lawmakers to reach consensus on the bill the senators agreed that the bill be stood down until further notice.
End of Discussion!
After making waves with its Prelude, Bluebird, Accord and City models, Japanese automobile giant Honda rolled out one super luxury piece branded - End of Discussion! This tag must have come out of the sheer creativity of its brand managers but it was essentially an apt description of the product and the company’s journey through the years.
Make no mistake; this piece is really not about automobiles, but what happened in the National Assembly last week with respect to the oil price benchmark, external borrowing plan, supplementary subsidy provision and budget 2013 proposals could be likened to the end of a long discussion.
The executive and the legislature have been at daggers drawn on these issues for several months.
The Ever-Increasing Subsidy Bill
In the last couple of weeks, the House of Representatives had remained opposed to President Jonathan’s request for the sum of N162 billion for the payment of subsidy on petroleum products.
The lawmakers had picked holes in the proposal, describing it as bloated and lacking in transparency.
However, during the week, they saw reasons to do the bidding of the executive following series of interactions between the legislators and agencies such as the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) and Budget Office of the Federation.
The interface revealed that the N888 billion earlier budgeted for fuel subsidy was inclusive of the sum of N232 billion earmarked for the payment of arrears arising from 2011 subsidy claims, leaving a difference of N650 billion for 2012 claims.
Even at that, the 2011 subsidy arrears later rose to N451billion leaving behind the sum of N437 billion only for 2012 payments.
At the moment, the N605 billion subsidy claims have been processed and awaiting payment. It became obvious that the available funds for subsidy was grossly inadequate and the oil marketing firms were already gearing up to engage the government in a show of strength.
The implication is that if the parliament had remained adamant the result would have been long queues at fuel stations and the desire of the government to have a free flow of petroleum products during the yuletide season would have been thwarted to the detriment of the people.
The oil benchmark war also came to an end during the week after a prolonged debate and threats by the House not to consider the 2013 budget unless the executive saw the need to review its proposal.
The issue became even more complicated when each chamber of the parliament prescribed different benchmark prices.
It is, however, a big relief that at last, the House and the Senate have harmonised their divergent positions and adopted $79 per barrel as the recommended oil benchmark for the 2013-2015 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper.
President Jonathan had predicated the 2013 -2015 MTEF and Fiscal Strategy Paper on an oil benchmark of $75.
The executive arm of government also built the 2013 Appropriation Bill on the basis of this benchmark but controversy arose when the House and the Senate adopted $80 per barrel and $78 per barrel respectively during the consideration of the proposals in their separate chambers. It was a triumphant outing for the legislature. It started a crusade on this matter and saw it to the end. All things being equal, the additional funds arising from the $4 per barrel increase over and above the $75 proposed by the executive will be used to reduce domestic borrowing, budget deficit as well as funding critical infrastructure projects.
The House of Representatives also succeeded in tackling the challenge of rising foreign loans in the country. The Green Chamber considered the report of its Committee on Debts, Loans and Aids on external loans and recommended $7.3 billion as the ceiling for the External Borrowing Plan under the 2012-2014 MTEF. It also recommended the inclusion of the second tranche of $200 million World Bank loan for Lagos State in the plan.
President Jonathan had in line with the Fiscal Responsibility Act proposed to the National Assembly the sum of $7.905 billion in respect of its External Borrowing Plan. The executive arm of government later made an upward review of the plan, bringing the amount to $9.205 billion. The lawmakers have, however, slashed it to a total of $7.356 billion comprising $6.2 billion for federal and states loans; $1billion for the continuation of the issuance of the Eurobond and $0.1billion for the proposed Diaspora Bond.
The passage of the N4.987 trillion 2013 Appropriation Bill is undoubtedly the icing on the cake of resolutions reached on issues that threatened the polity in recent months.
The approved budget is N63 billion over and above the N4.924 trillion earlier proposed by the executive arm of government.
Apart from this difference, which arose out of the change in the oil benchmark from $75 to $79, there were no major changes in terms of sectoral allocations between what President Jonathan proposed and what has been approved by the parliament.
A harmonised version of the budget was passed by the House and Senate in their separate chambers. This is a plus in all its ramifications as it eliminates the old practice of each chamber doing its own thing and coming back later to seek common grounds. No doubt, this new spirit of cooperation in the parliament saves time and is highly commendable.
Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Joy Emodi, has described the swift passage of the 2013 budget as a product of the growing understanding and mutual respect between the Presidency and National Assembly.
Exchanging views with the National Assembly correspondents after the passage of the 2013 Appropriation Bill, Emodi said the lawmakers had reciprocated the gesture, initiative and desire of President Jonathan for an early presentation and passage of budgets in Nigeria.
“This is a pivotal moment in our nation’s history as it is the first time since 1999 that the budget of a succeeding year has been passed in the preceding year. This is traceable to the leadership shown by Mr. President through dialogue, early presentation as well as the hardwork, commitment and team spirit shown by the leadership and entire members of the National Assembly.
“The budget is a government’s most important economic policy tool. By the early passage of this budget, the Executive and Legislature have indeed made a joint statement that they are truly partners in governance and are increasingly taking steps to place Nigeria on a path to economic growth and prosperity.
“This development is a confirmation of my position that harmonious working relationship exists between both arms of government and has put paid to speculations that there is a rift in their relationship,” Emodi said.
At the risk of over heating the polity, the National Assembly has fought relentlessly for the greater part of this year to assert its constitutional powers on appropriation. It has fought a good fight sometimes at the risk of over heating the polity but it all seems to have ended well.
But is the “discussion” really ended? I cannot answer in the affirmative because just as Honda has not stopped its production lines after crafting its world class model, our legislative and executive arms still have some jobs to do. For now we await the assent of President Jonathan on the budget, judicious deployment of resources for the implementation of the budget as well as a genuine and patriotic oversight of the budget by the parliament.
The Nigerian economy would only attain the “End of Discussion” status when every stakeholder does the right thing at the right time and for the right reasons!