Senate to Review Road Fund Bill, Passes Legislation to Protect Whistleblowers

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Damilola Oyedele in Abuja

The Senate thursday directed its Committee on Works to review its report on the proposed National Roads Fund Bill in order to remove all contentious sections, particularly the recommendation that has been misconstrued to translate to an increase in the pump prices of petroleum and diesel.

This is as the Chairman of the Committee on Petroleum (Downstream), Senator Kabiru Marafa (Zamfara Central), disclosed that the subsidy regime of the federal government has remained same as N145 per litre for petrol is not realistic.

In another development, the Senate thursday passed a bill seeking the establishment and operation of a witness protection programme to enable certain persons receive protection in relation to certain information, evidence or other assistance rendered to law enforcement agencies during inquiries, investigations or prosecutions.

The bill was sponsored by late Senator Isiaka Adeleke (Osun West) who died on April 23, 2017.

Earlier, the Senator Marafa-led Works Committee, in its report which was laid at plenary last week, had recommended a N5 fuel levy on every litre of petroleum or diesel imported into Nigeria, as part of financing for the proposed National Roads Fund. It had also recommended the deduction of 0.5 percent on fares paid by passengers travelling inter-state roads to commercial mass transit operators.

The recommendation had however drawn condemnation from various sectors of the society, causing the Senate to assure that it would reject any proposal that would cause hardship to Nigerians.

Senate President Bukola Saraki at the weekend had explained that the levy is to be accommodated within the current template of the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) which pegs the price of petrol at N145 per litre.

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Social Media, Mr. Bankole Omishore, Saraki added that the levy would therefore not place additional burden on Nigerians.

At plenary yesterday, the Chairman of the Committee on Works, Marafa, presented the report for consideration, and insisted that there was an allowance for the N5 levy in the current template. It would therefore not lead to an increase, he added.

The senators however voted to mandate the committee to review the report, and remove all controversial portions.
The senator noted that the committee on petroleum is investigating the subsidy regime.

“That price of N145 per litre is not realistic. We are investigating NNPC because they are still operating subsidy regime because nobody can import the product and sell for N145,” he said.

Marafa added that the position that the N5 levy has already been captured in the template of the PPPRA ‘does not tally.’
According to him, “The only consideration there is the fee charged for petroleum equalisation. Taking another N5 on imported fuel and taking N5 also from the locally refined products is going to add pressure to the already impoverished common man.

“We have already passed the PIGB (Petroleum Industry Governance Bill) and in the bill we have the Petroleum Equalisation Fund. We have requested for another N5 to be paid into the account so that petroleum products can sell reasonably at the same price across the nation.”

The Minority Leader, Senator Godswill Akpabio, also faulted Marafa’s argument that the N5 levy can be drawn from within the template of the PPPRA.

Presiding, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu again emphasised that the Senate does not plan to recommend an increase in the price of petroleum products.

“The Senate has no intention to increase the pump price. There is no ambiguity about this. What we are trying to do is to find alternative sources of funding for our roads,”he said.
Presenting the report yesterday, the Chairman of the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator David Umaru (Niger East), said the passage of the bill would provide the needed impetus and credence to the anti-corruption drive of the government.

He added that the witness protection programme is a universally accepted concept for the protection of witnesses, who are willing to provide information and evidence for the purpose of enhancing the justice system and to protect those whose lives are threatened as a result it.

“The bill, if enacted, will address a major lacuna in our justice system as there are no extant laws in place which are comprehensive and specific enough to address what this bill seeks to achieve,” he said.

Ekweremadu said the bill, when signed into law, would enhance the delivery of justice, and ensure the system is not encumbered in any way especially in procurement of witnesses.
“We are committed to the enhancement of our judicial process. Those in the judiciary will have it easy in securing witnesses who are now sure of protection.

“We thank the sponsor of this bill and the committee for finding it necessary to conclude the process in the honour of late Senator Adeleke. We believe this will be a permanent testament to his presence in this Senate. It is welcome development,” Ekweremadu said.
The Senate also passed the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Act to establish a legal framework to combat unfair business practices, promote competition and protect the rights of consumers.

The bill is expected to aid the nation’s economy by addressing various trade concerns and the emergence of cartels and private monopolies.