Saraki and Dogara at a joint session of the National Assembly

Disturbing situations across the country formed the fulcrum of discussions as the National Assembly resumed after its recess last week. Damilola Oyedele and James Emejo write

 

As Nigerians ushered in the New Year with fireworks and cheers, tears accompanied the birth of 2018 in parts of Benue and Rivers States.

In Rivers, about 21 persons were murdered in Omoku, on their way back from church, where they had gone to pray into the New Year as customary with many Christians.

In Guma and Logo Local government Areas of Benue State, anguish and unimaginable pain were their lot, when killer herdsmen attacked their villages and left at least 73 persons dead. Scores were injured with homes, properties and barns destroyed. The attacks left about 80,000 persons displaced, with about 60,000 of them now inhabiting in camps meant for Internally Displaced Persons.

The attacks, while not necessarily shocking in a country, where murders and other crimes have continued to rise and gone unresolved, the audacity and brazenness of the attacks, particularly in Benue, again called to question the capacity of the government to protect its citizens.

As expected, Nigerians rose in unison to condemn the killings and called for the arrest as well as prosecution of the killers of the Benue attacks (the alleged perpetrators of Omoku killings were killed by soldiers a week after). Of much more concern to citizens, however, is the fact that wanton killings, kidnappings, robberies and other vices are becoming a recurring decimal with the police seemingly becoming ineffectual in handling the situation.

In Benue and other states along the Middle Belt line, calls for the deployment of soldiers have been intensified, indicating a lack of confidence in the ability of the police to guarantee civil policing.

Expectedly, therefore, the security situation topped discourse at the National Assembly, when lawmakers resumed from their recess. Before embarking on recess, the Senate already constituted an ad hoc committee on security to meet with stakeholders in the sector to review the current security architecture.

Tuesday and Wednesday were dedicated to the discussions where from submissions of lawmakers, it became apparent that the crises were being exacerbated along ethnic and religious lines. With the volatility and sentiments for which several have not been able to put on the bipartisan toga, Nigeria’s unity and national cohesion is gradually becoming threatened.

More worrisome is that the killings are increasing just ahead of the 2019 polls, with fears that existing tensions might be exploited by unscrupulous politicians to cause further mayhem in the land.

During senate plenary, many spoke boldly while some chose to remain bound by same primordial sentiments fanning the embers of discord. Some however stood out.

Senator Shehu Sani said the fear of not being re-elected has cowed many of his colleagues from speaking out in an unbiased manner. He faulted the references in the report of the ad hoc committee headed by Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, who appears to be protecting the executive and its policies.

Sani observed that the report referred to the federal government seven times in its recommendations, instead of directly referring to President Muhammadu Buhari, who as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, is saddled with the responsibility of providing security.

“You see some form of cowardice, escapism, and people try to water down the truth. In the report that was presented before us, federal government was mentioned about seven times and we are all part of the federal government. The security of the country is under the control of the Commander-in-Chief. Why are you shying away? We are calling on the President to wake up and stand up and protect this country.

“It has reached a point today that people have lost hope in the government. We are here trying to massage the ego than tell the truth. We don’t want to confront the presidency and the president because people want to come back to the 9th Senate. They do not want to lose their ticket and people are killed in this country,” the lawmaker added.

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, in his contribution urged the government to declare a State of Emergency (SoE) in the country to allow for extraordinary measures to be taken to safeguard the country.

Ekweremadu pointed out that due to increased insecurity in the country, intelligence and international communities are of the view that war is ‘coming to Nigeria’ and therefore urged that SoE be invoked to temporarily close the borders, for about 12 months,  to put the proper apparatus in place to address insecurity.

Deputy Minority Leader, Senator Emmanuel Bwacha, in his contribution on the second day of the debate, said the new strategy adopted by fleeing Boko Haram insurgents was to attack communities under the guise of herdsmen.

“People are supporting them unknowingly, because they whip up primordial sentiments. When you say Fulani herdsmen, the average Fulani man is offended. Even in this chamber, people would get up to support them, because it is about their people,” he said.

Bwacha, however, warned that unless the situation is tackled decisively in a bipartisan manner, it would gradually consume Nigeria as the killer herdsmen are gradually decimating the country.

“When insurgents started, they said they wanted to kill Christians, they ended up killing more Muslims, “Bwacha said.

Senator Olusola Adeyeye’s warning that countries have never been disintegrated by external aggression but internal contradictions is enough word for a wise executive.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, in ruling that a security summit be conducted this week, said it was time to look for implementable solutions before the crisis consumes the nation.

The lawmakers also issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr. Ibrahim Idris, to apprehend the perpetrators of the killings in Benue State, and hand them over to the Attorney General of the state for prosecution.

At the Senate, the debate threw up calls for the declaration of killer herdsmen as terrorists, so they could be appropriately dealt with by the armed forces, and also featured a sharp divide on the proposed establishment of cattle colonies for nomadic Fulani herdsman to resolve the constant clashes with farmers.

…Concerns from the House

For the House of Representatives, so much had happened during the break. From the frustrating impact of the fuel scarcity, which sent pump price skyrocketing with the attendant untold hardship on commuters to  the deadly attacks carried out by herdsmen across parts of the country particularly, Benue State, where about 80 people were murdered, the last few weeks have not been quite interesting.

There were also issues around the resurgence of the fuel subsidy regime, which appeared to have been undertaken without parliament’s approval, a development which lawmakers said was a clear breach of the constitution. The leadership of the House consequently vowed to investigate the new subsidy regime.

Dogara’s Reaction

Reacting to the spate of killing in Benue and elsewhere, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara, said there were no sanctuaries anywhere in the country for killers and other hardened criminals, who feed on the blood of people.

According to him, the solution to the mindless killings and bloodletting lies in the ability to shun buck-passing, while the government lives up to its responsibility of providing security for the lives of every Nigerian, irrespective of where they live. Dogara further warned of the consequences.

He said: “On behalf of the House of Representatives, I wish to convey our heartfelt condolences to the governments, people, and especially families of those who have lost loved ones in these primitive, mindless and despicable rounds of bloodletting across our dear country.

“At these moments of intense outpouring of grief across the nation, it is important that we shun buck-passing and accept responsibility for these wanton killings without which we will never find a solution to this evil. We cannot afford to fold our hands and pretend that all is well with our country. We cannot throw up our hands in defeat.”

Dogara further promised to unravel the alleged reintroduction of fuel subsidy and scarcity of the product and charged the relevant committees of the House to determine the causes and claims, stressing that except the executive adduces compelling reasons why the reverse is the case, it would amount to a betrayal to still pay subsidies after they had been assured that it had been ended.

However, on Wednesday, the House passed a motion to set up a high-powered ad hoc committee to interface with security chiefs over the spate of deadly attacks by suspected herdsmen across the country. While condemning the attacks and killings in all ramifications, particularly in Benue State, the lower chamber observed a minute silence in honour of the departed souls.

The committee is expected to call for a public hearing of stakeholders and even summon President Muhammadu Buhari to brief the House on the deteriorating security situation in the country if deemed necessary. It would demand measures taken by the security agencies to forestall future attacks.

The resolution of the green chamber followed a motion by Hon. Babatunde Gabriel Kolawole (APC, Ondo) on the need for the federal government to declare a state of emergency on security over the spate of deadly attacks in the country by suspected herdsmen. He noted that the orgies of bloodletting were perpetrated in violation of section 33 (1) of the 1999 constitution, which guarantees right to life to every citizen and which shall not be deprived of any citizen save in execution of the sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence of which he has been found guilty. The debate on the motion had commenced on a rather disturbing note before it was normalised as arguments appeared to be subjective and polarised rather than being objective.

Hon. Rotimi Agunsoye (APC, Lagos) had criticised the federal government for being insensitive to the attacks and wondered whether it’s compulsory to eat cows if that would resolve the issue.

Hon. Funke Adedoyin (APC, Kwara) noted that the killings and increased clashes were largely the consequences of migration, deforestation and land related tussles. She noted that the struggle to possess land had often led to communal wars, stressing that an ad hoc committee be set up to probe the root causes of the  killings, which are on the rise.

On his part, Hon. Wale Raji (APC, Lagos) said he was saddened by the issues bordering on casualties resulting from herdsmen attacks would still be debated in 2018, when the lower chamber had last year passed a motion for the Minister of Agricultural and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, to establish cattle breeding reserves across the country, but noted that no action had been taken in that regard.

He decried a situation whereby the Inspector General of Police would have to await a presidential directive to intervene in some of the killings. He said the IG ought to have tendered his resignation for failing in his duties, reiterating that in other climes, the IGP would have resigned by now for failing in his duties. He added that there appeared to be more to the attacks as reports had hinted of tribal intolerance.

Hon. Afe Olowookere (APC, Lagos) said the fact that herdsmen needed to feed their cows doesn’t give them the right to take lives, stressing that President Buhari has to take rapid steps to arrest the situation.

He said the president hasn’t helped matters and should have addressed the nation and reassure the masses over the killings.

“We would be failing in our duties if we don’t urge urgent action. Let’s set up a committee to investigate,” he said.

Hon. Sadiq Ibrahim (APC, Adamawa) said Herdsmen needed the pity of Nigerians, because they endanger their lives while other Nigerians live in their comfort. He said as long as federal government could not create an enabling environment for the herdsmen, sacrifices should be made by land owners – a reference to state governors – to volunteer grazing reserves for the animals. He said if grazing reserves had been created before now, the sad incident would have been averted.

On her part, Hon. Aisha Dukku (APC, Gombe) said questions were not being asked over the N100 billion approved by former President Goodluck Jonathan to governors for the creation of grazing reserves. She added that by default, the herdsman in fact, values the lives of the cows more than his own life, because “that’s how he’s created.”

But reacting to her submission, Hon. Hassan Saleh (APC, Benue) cautioned that there are certain things which ought not to be spoken in public especially as lawmakers.

According to him, not even 10 billion cows are worth a life, adding that some comments by his colleagues, particularly those from the northern part of the country, were rather insulting and demeaning to the people of Benue State.

His response followed repeated argument by some lawmakers, who suggested that the killings in Benue may largely have to do with tribal intolerance.

He said: “We shouldn’t inflate the polity. It’s failure on part of government. Security agencies can’t provide security. We expect Buhari to intervene because we don’t want war, otherwise, you’ll see anarchy as we move forward. Nobody is a coward and you can’t use people’s land for cow business for free.”

In his argument, Hon. Mark Gbillah (APC, Benue) said it would be wrong to adhere to existing grazing laws, which are largely and in need of fine-tuning to current realities.

He argued that ranching appeared to be the only solution to the menace of herdsmen, noting that this practice is currently “done everywhere in the world.”

He insisted that the Buhari administration has failed the Benue people on security, adding that the sanctity of human life is not taken seriously. He explained why the president could choose to commission rail project in Kaduna instead of being in Benue to mourn the victims.

Hon. Mohammed Monguno (APC, Borno) said while herdsmen may not have the capacity to acquire ranches to rear their cattle, government should provide enabling environment for herders. He added that the creation of cattle colonies was the right way forward.

Contributing, Hon. Oker-jev Emmanuel (APC, Benue) said there’s no political will on the part of Buhari to tackle the issue.

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) said under no circumstance should a human being be killed, stressing that the ECOWAS treaty which allows for free migration needed to be revisited to ascertain whether it still favoured the country in the current circumstance. He said there’s also the need to address the issue of arms proliferation from Libya, as recent killings had been carried out with the use of guns.

According to him, the current effort by the federal government required that state governments donate lands for grazing activities, but noted that only 16 governors had so far complied. He said the creation of cattle colonies might be preferable to ranches since existing ones have proven to be ineffective.

A Summon for Kachiku, Baru

Barely 48 hours after Dogara vowed to investigate the resurgence of fuel subsidy payments by the federal government, the lower chamber, on Wednesday passed a motion mandating the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Mr. Ibe Kachiku and the Group Managing Director, Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Maikanti Baru, to appear before the House Committee on Finance and Petroleum Downstream to explain the current subsidy payment by the corporation.

It further resolved that Kachiku and Baru as well as the Executive Secretary, Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency must appear before the committee to account for the monies spent on subsidy payment since January 2017 to date and the current petrol pricing regime.

The lower chamber, further urged the federal executive to make provision for subsidy payments in the 2018 Appropriation Bill, if it found it necessary to continue subsidy payment under any guise whatsoever.

The resolution of the House was consequent upon a motion sponsored by Hon. Sunday Karimi (PDP, Kogi) on the urgent need to investigate the fuel subsidy payment by NNPC. He said such payments constitute constitutional breaches and an impeachable offence. He pointed out that the executive could not choose which aspect of the constitution to obey.

Another Probe Awaits NNPC

One of the high points of the plenary at the green chamber was the passage of a resolution to set up an ad hoc committee to among other things investigate the operations of the Production Sharing Contract (PSC) between the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and the International Oil Companies (IOCs) to determine reasons for the loss of an alleged $21 billion in oil revenues to the latter.

It further tasked the proposed committee to review the PSC and the Joint Operating Agreement and other relevant agreements with a view to regularising all the anomalies that had led to loss of revenue and make its findings and recommendations to the House within six weeks.

The resolution was sequel to a motion sponsored by Hon. Sunday Marshall Katung (PDP,  Kaduna) on the urgent need for an investigation into the loss of $21 billion (about N7.6 trillion) crude oil revenue to IOCs.

The House expressed concern over statements credited to the Minister of State for Petroleum, Dr.  Ibe Kachiku, on December 17, 2017, while briefing reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting that the Corporation had lost about $21 billion to IOCs operating in the country due to non-implementation of PSC.

House Passes PIGB

The House, on Wednesday, passed its version of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill passed last year by the Senate. It would now be harmonised with the House’s version. The Speaker said the new legislation would be transmitted to the President as soon as it is harmonised and explained that the House had to move on and pass its own version of the Bill following failure of the Executive to present a draft bill to the National Assembly

In a statement by his Special Adviser on Media & Public Affairs, Mr. Turaki Hassan, Dogara described the passage of the PIGB, as historic and landmark achievement by the 8th National Assembly after it was first introduced to the parliament by the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua in 2008.

He said with the passage of the bill, the petroleum industry would witness drastic improvement as it would attract investors and open up the sector as the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) would be unbundled with the creation of other bodies.

He noted that work would still continue on other aspects of the petroleum industry by the National Assembly in accordance with the 8th Assembly’s agenda.

The House of Representatives had passed the bill at the twilight of its tenure in 2011. The Bill was subsequently withdrawn by former President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 and a revised version was re-transmitted to the National Assembly in mid-2012.

The Report on Electoral Offences

The green chamber also considered and adopted a report of the Committee on Electoral and Political Matters on a Bill for an Act to establish the Nigerian Electoral Offences Commission and for related matters as well as approved the recommendations therein.