An interesting scenario unfolded on the floor of the House last week as the National Symbols Bill 2012 got to the Second Reading stage. The bill sought to repeal the Flags and Coat of Arms Act, which was enacted at independence in 1960. The primary objective of the amendment bill was to prohibit states from creating their own flags and anthems.
The bill was hinged on the premise that the current trend where some state governments have created their own flags and anthems was a potential danger to the corporate existence of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Proponents of the bill claimed that no fewer than twelve states in Nigeria including Osun, Bayelsa and Kwara now have flags, anthems and other emblems exclusive to them. These states are considered “rebels” and accused of relegating the national symbols to the background.
The purpose of the bill as canvassed was that states must not have separate flags and anthems as the trend could become a recipe for the disintegration of the federation.
But the opponents of the bill argued that states needed to create their own identities using symbols consistent with their beliefs, customs and peculiar worldview.
Tempers flared and emotions ran high as the debate became a fierce contest between lawmakers who believe in the concept of true federalism and those comfortable with the unitary type federal system, introduced into the system during the advent of military rule.
It is amazing how our political elite treats the issue of federalism and its inherent principle of autonomy. Elsewhere the component units of a federation are allowed some measure of freedom but in Nigeria, politicians prefer the brand of federalism that stifles freedom, discourages innovation and keeps every one in one box under a big centre. What is wrong in state flags used side by side with the national flag? What is wrong if these state emblems inspire the citizens of a state to think outside the box and advance the patriotic cause of their own people? The lawmakers always refer us to the United States when concerns are raised about the cost of running a presidential federal system but they are not always ready to allow the practice of true federalism.
States in the United States have their own flags and constitutions and it has not led to the break-up of that country. It does seem that proponents of this bill are afflicted with a disease I can call Biafraphobia, which is an endemic ailment in Nigeria.
The debate almost degenerated to a shouting match when the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon Leo Ogor, attempted to stop the Minority Leader of the House, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, who was not only kicking against the bill but was accusing the House of defacing the flag they claim to protect.
The apparent digression became significant because in reality the flag in the Green Chamber was not the national flag. Although it had the Green-White-Green colours vertically separated, the coat of arms embossed on the white section of the flag makes it not the authentic national flag recognised by the constitution. The sad truth is that the flag hanging behind the hot seat in the parliament might appear more colourful but it is certainly not the national flag of Nigeria.
Once again, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has incurred the wrath of the House of Representatives. Sanusi had at a public event suggested that the National Assembly was too large and too much of a money-guzzling institution. It was not the first time he had done this and this might not be the last.
Last Thursday, the House responded in a like manner and accused Sanusi of being a worse culprit in the sin of public finance wastage.
Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs Victor Ogene simply asked Sanusi to first remove the log in his own eyes before helping others.
“I would rather say physician heal thyself. As at yesterday, November 28, 2012, when I checked the staff strength of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) stood at 6,015 employees. When Governor Lamido Sanusi came on board in June 2009, the staff strength of the CBN was 5,022 people. So if we are talking about reducing the cost of governance within three years he has employed about 1000 people instead of prunning down the number. I don’t want to accuse him of nepotism but I also read the story in the Vanguard of November 20 where they highlighted the acrimony that has attended appointments and promotions in the Central Bank of Nigeria. With over 20 directors, I wonder why he should be the one advising other agencies and arms of government to prune down,” Ogene said.
The CBN Governor was also accused of insincerity on the issue of transparency in the budget of the government agencies. He said that while the National Assembly had a budget of N150 billion in 2012, the budget of the CBN has remained a secret, amidst speculations that the apex bank had expended over N300 billion in the same fiscal year.
The House challenged Sanusi to demonstrate the accountability and transparency, which he professes by opening the apex bank to legislative oversight rather than hiding under the autonomy clause enshrined in the CBN Act to evade scrutiny of its operations. The lawmaker said that rather than proferring solutions to the economic challenges in Nigeria, Sanusi has suggested a mass sack of civil servants, a recipe likely to compound the unemployment situation, worsen the level of insecurity and increase Nigeria’s economic woes. The response of the House was not unexpected given the running battle it had had with Sanusi over time.
The House has adjourned plenary sittings for another one week. The recess is to enable all the Standing Committees conclude their interface with the various MDAs on the 2013 Appropriation Bill. The House will resume plenary on Tuesday, December 11, 2012. This is the second break since the budgeting process began and it is hoped that this would be the last. All the committees must concentrate on the budget and not succumb to the usual distractions any more.
Chairmen of all the committees have been directed to ensure the conclusion of their budget defense assignments and submit their reports to the House Committee on Appropriation on or before the resumptiondate.
There are indications that the budget might be passed before the lawmakers embark on their Christmas and New Year holidays. We hope things work according to plans.
But the House is not yet done with the 2012 budget. The lawmakers have expressed fears about the fate of the 2012 Appropriation Act in the face of alleged delays in the release of the fourth quarter capital votes to Ministries, Departments and Agencies. The House claimed that one month after the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, announced the release of N300 billion for the fourth quarter, the releases were yet to be cash-backed nineteen days to the end of the fiscal year.
They said the situation might lead to the non-implementation of the capital projects scheduled to be executed in the last lap of the budget year.
“About a month ago, the Minister of Finance announced the release of the fourth quarter capital allocation of N300 billion. If we add that to the earlier sums released that would mean N1.1trillion released, leaving a balance of N200billion, which is 75 per cent release of capital allocation for 2012.
“However, more than one month after, that sum has not been cash-backed as we discovered during our interface with the various MDAs. This means that they are still left with the third quarter releases, which were made late in October. With 19 working days left in the fiscal year, that will slow the momentum of project execution and as representatives of the Nigerian people we feel sufficiently alarmed over it.
“We do not think that it should take one month for fund to hit the different accounts of the MDAs if those funds were really available,” the House said on Thursday.