- Urge N’Assembly to stop infectious diseases bill
Chuks Okocha, Deji Elumoye, Udora Orizu in Abuja
Governors have raised concerns over the ownership and distribution of recovered looted funds as a first-line charge from the Federation Account.
They also urged the National Assembly to step down the controversial Infectious Diseases Control Bill to give room for consultations with states and other stakeholders.
However, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Senator Ajibola Basiru, told THISDAY that rather than seeking suspension of further legislative action on the contentious bill, each governor should dialogue with his senators on the objection to the bill.
In a communiqué issued Thursday after a virtual meeting held on Wednesday, the governors, under the auspices of Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), said the arrangement of all federation-funded investments should recognise state governments as shareholders in the distribution of proceeds and decision-making.
It stated: “Members also raised concern about the ownership and distribution of proceeds from recovered looted funds and accounts or investments funded as first line charge from the Federation Account.
“The forum agreed to engage with the federal government to ensure that the governance arrangement of all federation-funded investments recognise state governments as shareholders in the distribution of proceeds and decision making.”
The governors also asked the National Assembly to halt debates on the controversial Infectious Diseases Control Bill and raised a committee to interface with the leadership of the federal legislature, while also calling for more consultations and the need for a public hearing on the bill after the interface.
The communiqué, signed by the NGF Chairman and Ekiti State Governor, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, noted that following an update from the vice-chairman of the forum and Sokoto State Governor, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal, on the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020 introduced by the House of Representatives, the governors raised concerns over the lack of consultations with state governments that are at the forefront of the pandemic.
It stated further: “The forum resolved that the bill should be stepped down until an appropriate consultative process is held, including a public hearing to gather public opinion and concerns.
“In the light of this, the forum established a committee comprising the governors of Katsina, Sokoto and Plateau States to lead a consultative meeting with the leadership of the National Assembly on the proposed Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020.
“The NGF Secretariat was also mandated to comprehensively review the bill and its implication on states.”
The governors also expressed worry over the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
They said: “The worrying trend urgently calls for additional measures by state governors to ramp up capacity for testing, increase the availability of isolation beds to at least 300 per state, accelerate the procurement of additional personal protective equipment (PPE) and training for health workers, as well as the continued enforcement of interstate restriction of movement.”
They added that they have intensified public-private collaboration for the delivery of palliatives from the private sector, and would provide warehouses for the delivery of the palliatives.
According to the governors, they have also appointed state coordinators to receive and distribute palliatives to vulnerable persons.
The governors said they had followed with interest, the development of the 12-month Economic Sustainability Plan by the federal government, which is designed to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 crisis.
“In the spirit of developing a truly coordinated national response to the crisis, governors expressed the importance of greater consultation and collaboration between the federal and state governments on development planning,” they added.
The governors also raised a committee to interface with the federal government on the next Medium-term National Development Plan.
The committee comprises governors of Bauchi, Plateau, Kebbi, Akwa Ibom, Abia, and Ekiti States.
The governors also received a briefing from the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Malam Mele Kyari, on the Oil and Gas Industry Intervention Initiative on COVID-19, set up by oil and gas operators to provide medical consumables to states.
They also received an update from the Governor of Edo State, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, on the operation of the World Bank’s States Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability (SFTAS) project, which is supporting a strong pro-poor fiscal response to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“State governors agreed to take additional measures to strengthen their public financial management systems, including a revision of their 2020 budgets and the amendment of state procurement guidelines to support e-procurement and the participation of small and medium-sized enterprises,” they stated.
The governors resolved that “to fast-track the deployment of e-procurement across the states, the forum will be adopting a Software as a Service (SaaS) model with the Kaduna State Government providing the framework agreement that other states can leverage on.”
The NGF also set up a second committee, comprising the governors of Gombe, Nasarawa, Delta, Ebonyi, Oyo and Kaduna States to steer the activities of the NGF-Nigeria Economic Summit Group (NESG) Economic Roundtable (NNER) – a sub-national platform of the NGF and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group created to promote sub-national competitiveness through public-private collaboration.
The governors congratulated Professor Ibrahim Gambari on his new job as the chief of staff to President Muhammadu Buhari.
Govs Should Dialogue with their Senators, Says Senate Spokesman
Reacting to the position of the governors on the Infectious Diseases Control Bill, the Senate spokesman, Basiru, told THISDAY that it would be ideal for each governor to dialogue with senators from his state on the objection to the bill.
He, however, added that he could not predict the disposition of most senators to the governors’ position.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Chukwuka Utazi, told THISDAY that the decision on whether or not to suspend deliberations on the bill was not within his purview.
“I think the governors may need to engage the senators in their respective states on whatever objections they have on the bill so that it may be taken up on their behalf by the senators from their states during the second reading,” Basiru said.
According to him, the bill is yet to be read the second time “at which stage, by Senate Orders, the principles of the bill will be discussed and a decision taken on whether the bill should proceed for further legislative processes.”
He, however, did not rule out the possibility of the Senate looking into any official communication on the bill from the governors in line with its procedure.
“When, and if communication is received by the Senate from the appropriate channel, it will be considered democratically in accordance with the procedure of the Senate and a decision taken by the majority as is expected in a democracy.
“So I cannot predict what will be the disposition of the majority of the Senate to the governors’ advice you referred to,” he said.
Utazi, who chairs the Senate Committee on Primary Healthcare and Communicable Diseases, said only the leadership of the National Assembly could decide on the governors’ request.
He, however, said it would be a welcome development if suspending the bill would afford the governors an opportunity to have input into the bill.
We Don’t Legislate for States, House Replies Govs
Also, in its reaction, the House of Representatives told the governors that federal legislators legislate for the country and not states.
The House in a statement signed by its spokesperson, Hon. Benjamin Kalu, argued that the legislators were independent of the control of any state governor or former speaker, saying that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) was only recognised by members of the House as leading lights in the task of nation building.
The Green Chamber said it was rather surprising that the NGF, in arriving at its decision, relied on “an update from the Governor of Sokoto State,” who was a former speaker and an ex-ranking member of the House, who should know better and guide the forum accordingly.
It, however, expressed readiness to work with the committee raised by the NGF to meet its members on the Bill.
The House called on the NGF to review the membership of the consultative committee so as to achieve the desired objectives with unbiased members during their engagement with the leadership of the House.
The statement read in part, “It has come to the attention of the House of Representatives that the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF) has, through a communiqué at the end of its virtual meeting held on Wednesday, May 13, 2020, asked the House to step down the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill, 2020, which public hearing is already scheduled.”
“Against the impression given in the NGF’s communiqué, the House has since last week resolved to subject the Control of Infectious Diseases Bill to a public hearing where Nigerians from all walks of life will have the opportunity to make their inputs towards the draft legislation. The NGF’s position is coming rather belatedly. However, the House wishes to state clearly that whilst it legislates for the Federal Republic of Nigeria, including being the Parliament for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja only.”