Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja and Yekini Jimoh in Lokoja
The President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki, on Thursday said he remained committed to the position of the National Assembly rejecting the $29.9 billion External Borrowing Plan of President Muhammadu Buhari, explaining that as the head of the legislative arm of government, he could not compromise its stance on any national issue.
The Senate president was reacting to growing insinuations in media commentaries that his frequent visits to the presidential villa was aimed at striking a deal with the executive arm of government over the loan request.
“The National Assembly which I head as Senate president has taken a position on the issue as required of it by the laws of the land and legislative conventions,” he said in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu, explaining that he was not in a position to review the decision.
Saying the decision was made in the national interest, he added: “At every point, the present National Assembly will make decisions based on national interest and we have vowed that we will always act in the interest of our people. That is why despite the fact that members belong to different parties, when national issues come to the floor, we forget about party affiliations and act as Nigerians elected to protect the interest of Nigeria.”
The Senate and the House of Representatives had at separate sittings deliberated on the external borrowing plan, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) and struck them down on the ground that they were empty having failed to contain relevant explanatory documents that would enable the legislators to consider them for approval.
But the Senate president after the legislative disapproval of the executive’s requests had been a regular visitor at the presidential villa seat of the executive sparking off a wave of accusations that he was negotiating a deal with the president to get the deficient request passed by the legislature.
One of his high profile accusers was the Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, who suggested that Saraki’s visits to the president was more than usual.
“Feelers getting to the public suggest that the ongoing Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) trial of Saraki is being used as blackmail to get him to back the $29.96 billion loan. Instead of collaborating with the presidency to plunge Nigerians into the bondage of debt, Saraki should pitch his tent with the masses,” Fayose said in a statement by his Special Assistant on New Media, Mr. Lere Olayinka.
But Saraki, in a comprehensive rebuttal of these speculations yesterday, said they were essentially politically motivated comments that had no factual basis, adding that a matter of that magnitude was not a personal affair that could be decided between only him and the president.
“Like I once told the media, these politically-motivated commentaries are trivialising a serious national issue and presenting it as if it is a personal matter that can be decided at meetings between Saraki and President Muhammadu Buhari,” he said.
Explaining his recent visits to the president, he said: “A visit to the Presidency by the Senate president is a normal thing because we need to consult, discuss, exchange ideas and make suggestions to each other from time to time. More importantly, at this time, when the nation is facing economic crisis, there is need for frequent engagements by the Presidency and the National Assembly.”
According to him, “It is in fact very unfortunate that these empty speculations by the media are now forming the basis for commentaries by some politicians who are in a position to be better informed. Politicians should stop playing to the gallery or drawing political capital from all issues. When serious national issues are on ground, we should refrain from making statements based on mere sentiments.”
Saraki pleaded with the media to exercise restraint in their reportage and commentaries in order to properly serve the people.
“At a time when we are about to prepare a budget which is aimed at responding to the current recession and our plan is to ensure all issues concerning the budget are ironed out before the budget comes to the floor so that we will have a less tedious process than that of last year, the media should be ready to witness more of these engagements between the Presidency and the National Assembly,” he stated.
Governor Bello Drums Support for Loan
Meanwhile, the Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, yesterday urged the National Assembly to approve the proposed $29.9 billion loan by the federal government in order to help develop the nation’s infrastructure.
The governor, who spoke while addressing journalists in Lokoja, said the loan would herald a new infrastructural horizon in the country, insisting that for the nation to achieve its goals of industrialisation, infrastructure must be developed for rapid development.
“I am aware that the National Assembly is considering ironing out some grey areas in the deal. This is good for the nation,” he said, adding: “The president has done what is right by proposing such a facility to rebound the nation’s economy through infrastructural development.”
He hailed the president’s resilient efforts at driving the economy out of recession, urging Nigerians to join hands with the Buhari administration to liberate Nigeria from the effects of corruption which brought the nation to its knees.
Bello expressed confidence that with the ongoing efforts to fix the country’s infrastructural deficit and improve power, Nigeria could rise from its present position to that of respectability in the African continent.
He said the challenges faced by the nation were temporary and would soon be resolved.