Restriction Threatens N’Assembly’s Consideration of N500bn Intervention Fund


By Chuks Okocha in Abuja

The extension of the lockdown in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Ogun and Lagos states by President Muhammadu Buhari may affect the plan by the National Assembly to reconvene tomorrow to consider the president’s request for the approval of N500 billion intervention fund to cushion the effects of COVID-19, THISDAY has learnt.

The initial two-week lockdown in the affected states and FCT, which started at 11.00 p.m. on March 30, is expected to end today and had informed the decision of the Senate and the House of Representatives, now on recess, to propose to hold sessions tomorrow to consider the president’s request.

The National Assembly was initially billed to resume on April 7, but due to the lockdown, the resumption was shifted to tomorrow.

But the president on Saturday gave an indication of the extension of the lockdown when a statement from the presidency said the restriction of movements would last for as long as experts so advised.

THISDAY, however, gathered that with the possible extension, the National Assembly members, who are currently in their constituencies, may not be able to return to Abuja to reconvene as planned as all flights are still grounded.

It was learnt from the two previous meetings of the National Assembly leadership held last Wednesday and Thursday that the legislature had resolved that the request of the federal government would officially be tabled at separate sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives tomorrow.

According to a senator who is a member of the National Assembly Joint Committee on Appropriation and Finance, who spoke to THISDAY, the letter seeking approval of the N500 billion intervention fund would be read at the separate sessions of the Senate and the House and subsequently referred to the appropriate committees.

The senator said with the possible extension of the lockdown, the National Assembly leadership was in a dilemma on the issue.

He said: “Most senators and House of Representatives members are in their districts and constituencies and the airlines are not working and the directive on the lockdown is not explicit.”

The senator told THISDAY that there has not been a directive that the National Assembly would resume tomorrow as planned.

“If we don’t resume and deliberate on the letter seeking the approval of N500 billion, it could affect the eventual approval. As we talk now, we are waiting, both senators and members of the House of Representatives, because the letter from the president must be read and then committed to the respective committees,” he added.

In a bid to conquer the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, the federal government had approached the leadership of the National Assembly for the approval of the establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund.

The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, at a meeting with the lawmakers on April 4, had said the proposed fund would be dedicated to upgrading the health facilities in states.

She added that the fund, if approved, would also be deployed to take care of Special Public Work Programmes currently being implemented by the National Directorate of Employment (NDE).

She said: “What we are proposing is an establishment of a N500 billion COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund. This fund that we are proposing will involve mopping up resources from various special accounts of the government as well as that of the federation, to pull together a sum of N500 billion. Our general view is that the crisis intervention fund will be utilised to upgrade healthcare facilities as earlier identified.”

On how the fund would be pooled, the minister said the fund would be drawn from various special accounts, grants being expected and loans from multilateral institutions.
President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, had appreciated the federal government for the palliatives being handed to Nigerians but called for more interventions apart from distributing cash.

“I think the time has come for us to redefine the implementation of the Social Intervention Programme probably. Going out to communities to give them N20,000 per person might not be the best way to go. It is still an effort, but I think we need a better approach that will be more efficient. The federal government also needs to be in a position to improve health care facilities not only in the states but to provide intervention to the states.

“We know that there will be a need for the parliament to agree and approve the taking of loans from these special accounts and we will be coming back with a proposed bill in that regard that will define what the fund will be used for,” he had said.