Covid-19: An Unusual Legislative Intervention

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National Assembly members, last week, in an unusual intervention, pledged financial commitments through salary cuts to the fight against Covid-19, report Deji Elumoye and Udora Orizu

With the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and two states, namely Lagos and Ogun on two weeks total lockdown on the orders of President Muhammadu Buhari, and as corporate bodies and individuals continue to contribute to the special fund set up by government to tackle the Coronavirus pandemic, the two chambers of the National Assembly last week announced that they would be contributing part of their salaries to the National Relief Fund Account to tackle the epidemic.

It started with the Senate, which after due consultation by the leadership with individual Senators, resolved to donate half of their salaries from March 2020 to the federal government to help in the bid to fight the dreaded Coronavirus pandemic.

The move by the Red chamber was a follow up to recent resolution by the 43 Ministers that 50 per cent of their March salary would be donated to the federal government to support its drive towards curbing the global virus.

This means that the Senate will from March earn half of their salaries while the balance will be contributed to the Federal Government purse to fight the Coronavirus pandemic.

Vice Chairman of the Senate committee on media and public affairs, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, who made this public last Monday, said the Senators decided to contribute 50 per cent of their salaries to the efforts to respond to the spread and treatment of Corona virus in Nigeria.

“After due consultations following a keen review of the national efforts to contain the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, the Senate wishes to announce that from March, 2020, Distinguished Senators will be donating 50 per cent of their salaries to these efforts to stop the spread of the disease, otherwise known as COVID-19, in our country.

“This monthly contribution from the Upper Legislative Chamber will be sustained until Nigeria is declared safe from the ravages of this deadly disease.

“The Senate commends the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari and the administration towards the goal of securing our nation against this plague. The Senate is willing and ready to do whatever is required of the Legislature for the effectiveness of all the measures in place now or that may be required in the future to win the fight against this menace.

“The Senate commends all agencies of the Federal and state levels for working in collaboration to protect public health across the country. It also acknowledges the patriotic response of public-spirited individuals and organisations, who have contributed in one way or the other in support of this fight”.

On its part, the House of Representatives initially was not of the same thought as the Senate on the donation as it believes forfeiting some of the members salaries will amount to short changing the members’ constituents.

The Green Chamber had thought that asking for half of salaries of House members could shortchange their constituents from the magnanimity members want to show and were already showing.

The House spokesman, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, in an interview lamented that if only Nigerians knew their salaries, they would not be asking for half of it.

“What will the half of our salaries fetch for our constituents? That’s the easiest sacrifice to make and why Nigerians are asking for the easiest sacrifice from their representatives is what I am not aware of.

“Especially when the Representatives are willing to do more and are actually doing more than ten salaries put together. Do you know the current price of sanitisers, nose masks, gloves etc? How much do you think our salaries can fetch for our constituents?”

Kalu, however, reiterated the legislators’ commitment to wipe out the pandemic, saying the leadership of the House was in constant search for ways to assist Nigerians weather this storm and would not relent on accessing any solution that could bridge the gap created by this pandemic.

“I am very proud of the feed backs we are getting from members across the various constituencies; thousands of the essential health items have been secured for distribution by members including food items. We are passionate about our people and are making sacrifices to this effect. We should be supported and encouraged to do more,” he added.

In less than 48 hours, the House rescinded its earlier position possibly upon superior argument and resolved to donate its March and April salaries to fight COVID-19.

Speaker Femi Gbajabiamila, hinted that all the 360 members of the House would donate their two months salary towards fighting the pandemic.

The Speaker, in a video message to Nigerians, said the two-month salary donation would be independent of the contributions by individual lawmakers to alleviate the hardship that their constituents face at this time of national emergency.

According to him, the salary donation from the lawmakers would be transferred directly to the National Relief Fund account.

“We have in the House of Representatives jointly committed to contributing one hundred per cent (100%) of our salaries for the next two months to the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria.

“Our contribution will support provisions for the welfare of frontline medical professionals and health workers, and other interventions to provide for the wellbeing of all Nigerians through these trying times.

“Accordingly, I have directed the Clerk to the National Assembly to see to it that all members’ salaries are transferred to the National Relief Fund for this month and the next. This is independent of ongoing individual efforts by members to alleviate the suffering brought on by this virus and to improve the living conditions of citizens in their various constituencies,” he said.

He also assured the people that the House would exercise its oversight power to ensure faithful administration of all emergency funds and contributions made so far to ensure they serve the purpose for which they were intended.

“The House has already mandated the Committees on Health and Disaster Preparedness to diligently oversee the distribution of items donated by local and foreign donors to ensure proper management.”

Gbajabiamila said the House had urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to make cash grants to the 774 local government areas in the country to alleviate the suffering of the masses. While commending the sacrifices made by all medical professionals, he implored Nigerians to adhere strictly to the guidelines given by relevant authorities to prevent further spread of the disease.

His words: “Nigeria could not afford to have a large scale outbreak of the disease. This crisis has exposed in the worst possible way the evident weaknesses of our health system. After this is over and moving forward, we must do everything in our power to ensure that we will never again come upon a moment such as this, as ill-equipped as we are now.

“The transmission of this disease at a scale for which our systems are not prepared is our biggest present threat. We alleviate that threat by self-isolating.

The bad news of this disease is that everyone is a potential victim, but the good news is that everyone is a potential solution.

“Keep in mind that if we do not rigorously follow these self-isolation guidelines, all our other efforts will at the end of the day come to nothing. Let this be for all of us, a time for introspection and prayer, a time to commune with God. Let us spend time with our children. Study, write, meditate and exercise. Do whatever you must to get through this period but do it at home.

“We are at war and our mission is first to survive, and then to overcome. These objectives require that we act in unison and remain laser-focused on the challenge at hand. I ask all of you to continue to take care of yourselves. Follow the guidelines of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). Do not disseminate information of uncertain provenance.

“Do not panic but make sure that those around you understand the risks of this disease and the challenges we face and must overcome together. If we do all that we are called to do at this time, it won’t be long now before we can with joy and thanksgiving together declare mission accomplished,” he said.

Gbajabiamila further urged the governors that haven’t had any confirmed cases to proceed as if they have, by taking all precautions, and making all the same preparations as in those states where there have been established cases.

Some federal lawmakers apart from making further donations in their states and constituencies also raised issues as regards taking concrete steps aimed at combating the spread of the pandemic.

Senator Opeyemi Bamidele donated N10 million to Ekiti State government to tackle the monstrous Coronavirus pandemic.

Bamidele, representing Ekiti central senatorial district said, “The donation is my way of identifying with the state government and the people in combating the pandemic.”

The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, added that, “This patriotic zeal is an additional step after all the 109 senators had resolved to donate half of our monthly salaries to the National COVID-19 Account”

He directed that the sum of N5 million should be given to the state’s COVID-19 Committee, while another N5 million be given to the centrally coordinated COVID-19 Food Initiative in the state.

Bamidele also called on well-meaning indigenes of the state to complement the ongoing efforts of Governor Kayode Fayemi administration to curtail spread of the global threat.

“I, Senator Opeyemi Bamidele, have started by donating a sum of N10 million to fight the scourge. Other federal lawmakers from Ekiti will definitely do something in a matter of days as well.

“A sum of N5 million has been paid into the state’s COVID-19 account while the remaining N5 million will go into the centrally coordinated food drive initiative specifically targeted at the vulnerable population in the senatorial district.

“I am appealing to other illustrious leaders, sons and daughters of Ekiti to join hands with the state government by contributing sacrificially to the COVID-19 account to augment what government can mobilise.

Senator representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Senator Philip Aduda, donated 1,000 bags of 10kgs rice and 150 cartons of hand sanitisers to the Federal Capital Territory Administration to assist in the fight against the dreaded COVID-19 in the territory.

Presenting the items in Abuja, Senator Aduda explained that the donations were part of his contributions towards the success of the palliative measures being put in place by the administration in the fight against the spread of coronavirus in the FCT.

He added that although government has the responsibilities of providing the needed assistance to the citizens, such assistance is never enough, because the pandemic took the government and everybody by surprise.

Receiving the items, FCT minister, Muhammad Bello, assured that the items, including other items donated by individuals and corporate bodies to the administration would be properly utilised.

Meanwhile, Hon Bamidele Salam, representing Ede North, Ede South, Egbedore and Ejigbo federal constituency, alerted the authorities that some recent returnees from Cote d’ivoire to Ejigbo tested positive for COVID-19.

Salam, while acknowledging the good job of the Osun State government on COVID-19, which resulted in the isolation and testing of the returnees, however, expressed worries about reports that some of the persons in isolation played host to a few relatives under the cover of the night.

“If you know anyone who might have had contact with the returnees in isolation, please report same to relevant agencies and community leaders for prompt action.

“Residents of Ejigbo and other neighbouring towns are also enjoined to cooperate with all government agencies by observing health advice and directives such as regular hand washing and reasonable social distancing in order to avoid an escalation of the spread of the coronavirus,” he said.

Another House member representing Oredo federal constituency, Hon Omoregie Ogbeide-Ihama, has appealed to traders to resist the temptation to hoard and over-price essential goods during the lockdown.

Ogbeide-Ihama averred that accurate and genuine knowledge and necessary actions would be needed to defeat the Coronavirus pandemic, saying every challenge that confronts man, the solutions always come from the same knowledge and action.

“I plead with our traders and sellers to have the fear of God in their hearts and compassion towards their brothers and sisters this period by resisting the temptation to hoard and over-price essential goods. I have been shocked to see the astronomical rise in the costs of items like facemasks, hand-gloves, and hand-sanitizers. No ‘artificial-profit’ that costs lives is worth it.”