As Senate Tackles Boko Haram, House of Representatives Harass Osinbajo

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Saraki and Dogara

The Senate appears concerned with the plight of soldiers fighting insurgency in the North East while the issue of June 12 resonated in the House of Representatives, Deji Elumoye and Shola Oyeyipo report

Members of the National Assembly last week deliberated on a number of bills and motions including requests by President Muhammadu Buhari for Senate to approve nominations of two women – Ronke Sokefun and Abike Dabiri-Erewa – as chairs of the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC and Nigeria Diaspora Commission, NDC, respectively.

But the high point of legislative work at the Senate was last Monday’s attack by Boko Haram insurgents on a military camp in Borno State which claimed the lives of over 40 soldiers. Senators who spoke were concerned about the killing of 44 soldiers in one fell swoop.

The lawmakers, therefore, resolved to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Monday’s killing of the soldiers. It also in adjourned plenary on Thursday in honour of the soldiers including the commandant killed by the insurgents at the 157 Task Force Battalion in Metele village, Abadam Local Government Area of the state while ordering its committees on Army and Defence to investigate the killings as well as welfare of the troops fighting the insurgents.

In the coming days, the Senate going by its resolution will visit officers and men of the Nigerian Armed Forces fighting Boko Haram insurgents at the battle field in the North East. The senators’ decision was sequel to a motion moved by the Deputy Majority Leader, Senator Bala Ibn Na’Allah, (Kebbi South) at the instance of the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki via Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules. Na’Allah in moving the motion decried the plight of military personnel fighting insurgency in the North East and lamented that the murdered commandant was his cousin. He, therefore, urged the Senate to observe a minute’s silence in honour of the slain soldiers and their commandant, pay condolence visit to the Chief of Army Staff and families of the murdered soldiers and conduct a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the killings.

Contributing, Senator Andrew Uchendu, (Rivers East) added that the Senate should “shut down’’ for one whole day, rather than observing a mere one-minute silence to which the Senate concurred to.

He said: “Mr President and dear colleagues, I have no reason to doubt the figure (of the 44 killed soldiers). But if that figure is correct, then this Senate must come out and show massive concern, not just one-minute silence. We must shut down for one whole day in honour of those fallen heroes.”

Other contributors including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, bemoaned the hazardous tasks of officers and men of the Armed Forces in fighting Boko Haram insurgency. The Senate after observing a minute silence in remembrance of the fallen gallant soldiers passed a resolution urging the federal government and military authorities to adequately equip Army formations nationwide and take proper care of the soldiers’ welfare.

Also last week, the Presidency explained the delay in the presentation of the 2019 budget estimate to the National Assembly saying it was due to some outstanding budget-related bills before the Assembly.

According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang, the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper which are to form the basis for presenting the budget which were presented by the Executive to the National Assembly are yet to be approved by the legislature.

Enang stated: “The president has transmitted to the National Assembly, the request for the approval of the MTEF and the approval of the Fiscal Strategy Paper. It is the MTEF that set out the budget parameters for the benchmark of oil, the exchange rate, the money projected to realise from solid minerals, internal revenue from oil, and borrowings. It is this that enables you to deal with budget projections. That document is pending before the legislature.”

He added that ordinarily the budget should have been presented but the presidency felt that the legislature should first pass the MTEF/FSP so that the government can use it as a benchmark. But since the legislature is still working on the document, Enang stated that the government decided to “use the parameters that were used in what we submitted as the budget benchmark of oil, exchange rate and other sources of revenue as submitted to prepare the budget”.

Enang expressed optimism that the Executive will work with the Legislature when they eventually pass the MTEF/FSP saying “that is where we are on the budget but every necessary step has been taken by the executive for the presentation of the document.”

Shedding more light on the 2019 budget, the presidential aide said: “In presenting the 2019 budget, we would have to take account of the level of the implementation of the 2018 budget so that we would know what we are going to project for next year’s budget. If the money you seek to realise to fund this year’s budget came a little bit behind the time you expected, you are expected to take care a few of these things so that you know what to project for next year.

“When President Muhammadu Buhari assented to the 2018 budget, he had reservations but after having understanding with the legislature, he sent in amendments and asked for virement. That is still being awaited, it has not been done. He has also sent in request for certain other funds for other agencies from virement which is still pending. He sent in requests for loan for approval of external finances through euro bond and other windows. That has just been approved few weeks ago. They are in the process of raising money to fund the budget.”

At the House of Representatives, the June 12 issue resonated at plenary last week with the House moving to make the date a national holiday. To this end, a bill to make June 12 a national holiday in Nigeria passed the second reading on the floor of the House of Representatives.

When passed into law, the bill, tagged: “A bill for an act to amend the Public Holidays Act, Cap. P40 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, would make the Act to recognise June 12 as Democracy Day in Nigeria. Edward Pwajok moved the motion for the second reading of the bill and it was seconded by Hon. Aminu Suleiman.

In leading the debate, Pwajok stated that parliamentary endorsement was needed for the schedule of the official public holiday document. According to him, the amendment bill is, therefore, aimed at ratifying the change of date of from May 29 to June 12 as the recognised national public holiday for Democracy Day.

Adding his voice to the debate, the Deputy Speaker, Yussuff Lasun, said the salient factor of disparity of the electoral results announced at the polling unit and the one later declared has still not been dealt with.

He decried the time lapse between these two events within which a lot of harm to the democratic process can be done, this he said can be corrected by the bill.

Also last week, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the Director-General, National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), Mr. Mustapha Maihaja, took a collective position that the House of Representatives probe of the Fund for Internally Displaced Persons in the North East has political undertone.

From every indication, the last appears not to have been heard about of the altercations between members of the House of Representatives, Vice President Osinbajo and Maihaja, over allegations bothering on illegal approval, mismanagement of funds and wastage of materials meant for Internally Displaced Persons in some states across the country.

While the lawmakers have sustained their calls for the sack of Maihaja, for alleged mismanagement and embezzlement of N33 billion, Osinbajo has been told repeatedly that he has a case to answer for the approval given for N5.8bn released for procurement of food security in the North-east.

The duo began to fight back last week. First, Osinbajo attributed the attack on his person as a calculated political strategy of the opposition. The presidential aide on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, said what he tagged deliberate attempt to smear the hard-earned reputation of the vice president will yield no fruitful result.

Ojudu said there were plots hatched at a meeting of a major political party abroad targeted at attacking Osinbajo ahead of the 2019 presidential election, saying it is a “desperate attempt to distract the administration.”

According to Ojudu, the recent NEMA probe report which social media account say may have been outlined at that meeting in a foreign country, was one of such efforts plotted to attack the Buhari administration by tarnishing the image of Osinbajo.

“We have read reports in the media that the meeting in a foreign country of the major opposition party was centred on trying to attack the Buhari administration by targeting the vice president using different tactics. It is now evident through the NEMA report, that the opposition is indeed making frantic efforts to tarnish the image of the vice president,” Ojudu said.

He explained that even after Ali Isa, the Chairman of the House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, had publicly admitted that Osinbajo was not mentioned in the report, the opposition still found it expedient to continue, baselessly, to attack the reputation of the vice president by claiming without proof that fraud was committed in the N5.8 billion Emergency Food Intervention Fund for North-East.

Ojudu further asserted that contrary to insinuations in some quarters, there were no violations in approval of N5.8 billion Emergency Food Intervention Fund for North-East and the then Acting President did no wrong in approving fund for the emergency intervention. He insisted that the presidential approvals were within the clear constitutional authority of the then acting president.

“First of all, the action was in response to the threat of hunger and starvation based on strong warning received from the United Nation World Food Programme in April, 2017. The organization had issued a warning that it would be reducing its vital support to about 1.8 million IDPs by as much as 85 percent, due to the corresponding reduction in funding by the donor countries. Around the same time, the United Nations Commission for Refugees in Geneva also warned of the growing risk of mass deaths from starvation among people living in the conflict areas.

“Secondly, it is also important to note that the procurement process was not ignored in the release of funds, as alleged. Section 43 of the Public Procurement Act makes provision for emergency procurement, in which case the procuring entity is allowed to engage in direct contracting for goods and file a report thereafter with the Bureau of Public Procurement. Also, the BPP issued a ‘certificate of no objection’ to NEMA on the emergency procurement, and this addresses all issues relating to the alleged breach of due process,” Ojudu pointed out.

The presidential aide said the action of the opposition in the ensuing political drama indicates that the NEMA probe report is being politicized and only a lame attempt at ruining the good works of the Buhari administration.

He said the vice president will, however, not be distracted by the naysayers’ actions to discourage the Buhari administration from providing for the common man or to abandon the Social Investment Programme which it has budgeted half a trillion for in the past two years.

Maihaja too has denied allegations by the House committee that he mismanaged N33 billion which should have gone into catering for IDPs and other emergency issues.

According to him, the House of Representatives shot itself in the foot by alleging the misappropriation of such fund when NEMA had never had such huge budgetary provision since he assumed office at the agency. He also denied receiving N5.8 billion from the federal government, rather, he said NEMA only got about N800 million, while some other funds were paid to the contractors.

He further explained that the agency expended N518 million on shipping and storage charges for the 271 containers donated by the Peoples’ Republic of China, as a gesture of its brotherly relations with Nigeria.

Maihaja stated: “China donated 6,779 metric tonnes of rice to Nigeria as part of its support to the North-east humanitarian efforts and this is equivalent to 135,550 units of 50kg bags of rice. In total, 271 containers arrived at Apapa Port from China in five shipments between June and October 2017. “The original shipping documents and Customs Exemption Certificates were handed over to NEMA by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning in December 2017 and January 2018. Thereafter, NEMA commenced the immediate clearing and subsequent haulage of the donated rice to Maiduguri, Damaturu, Yola, Jalingo, Gombe and Bauchi.

“Being a donated consignment, it required duty exemption and other waivers before clearing. The government had restricted the importation of rice; hence the process of getting the proper documentation also took extra time. “The total cost of shipping and storage charges for the 271 containers was N518 million. We have all the receipts to prove this. The actual cost of the donated rice is N2.24 billion (50.05 million Chinese Yuan). The invoices, by convention, bear the consignee’s name. However, NEMA, being the agency that cleared the goods, made the payments on behalf of the federal government.”

Head Media and Public Relations of NEMA, Sani Datti, accused the House of witch-hunt, saying the agency came under fire as a result of policy change in distribution of relief materials. He pointedly accused the lawmakers of “politicising the investigation,” adding that the committee ignored the testimonies and presentations made by NEMA.