Is the battle line between the National Assembly and the Executive Arm drawn with the decision of President Goodluck Jonathan to go ahead with the removal of subsidy without getting the nod from the legislators? This piece by Adesuwa Tsan explores anticipated reactions from the lawmakers as they resume on January 10.
President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday, January 1, 2012 called the bluff of Nigerians and that of the National Assembly by going ahead to announce the removal of federal government’s subsidy on Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) otherwise known as petrol.
With this decision, the stage is now set for the lawmaker to either fall in line with the policy or fall out with the presidency who have declared that the policy is here to stay, no matter how many Nigerians are in opposition. However, some members of the House of Representatives have declared that they will fight for the reversal of the policy even if it means doing so with the last drop of their blood.
As an arm of the federal government, the National Assembly has constantly declared its support for the policies of the Jonathan-led PDP administration but have also stressed that it has an even more important role of ensuring that the interest and overall wellbeing of their constituents and electorate in general is protected. That is the sole aim of electing representatives to the National Assembly in the first place.
To clarify any misconception, the legislators have categorically stated that they do not condemn the policy of removing subsidies. Rather, they say they are against the timing of the implementation of the removal which they described as premature considering that no palliatives are in place yet to cushion the adverse effects of the hike in the cost of living of the masses.
According to some lawmakers who spoke to leadership, the presidency was insensitive to the Nigerian masses by going ahead with the withdrawal of subsidy at a time when there is so much insecurity and tension in the country especially with the onslaught of killings and destruction by Boko Haram and other groups.
Also, others queried why the president had to hastily implement the policy without waiting for people to return from their trips for the yultide a clear indication that the government was not bothered about the impact of the decision on the average Nigerian.
One of the members who spoke in reaction to the development, Hon Olisa Omegwu representing Ndokwa East/Ndokwa West/ Ukwani in Delta State lamented that the move was tantamount to throwing out the baby with the bath water considering that it anchored its action on the hijacking of the subsidy by a so-called cabal.
To him, the move will not get his endorsement whenever it is raised on the floor because they are other ways that the issue should have been addressed without passing the bulk to the already suffering masses. Secondly, the channel through which the government plans to apply the proceeds from the savings accruing from subsidies, according to him, will only increase looting by governors.
In his opinion, also questionable is the “manner the proceeds from the withdrawal of the subsidy will be managed. It is equally wrong because the local government as we all know it is dysfunctional. If you channel the funds through the states and local governments, this will further over enrich governors who decide virtually everything in Nigeria”.
“All the refineries could be made to produce maximally. If Port-Harcourt can produce up to 90 percent; Warri 65 percent; Kaduna 35 percent; things will pick up”.
Hon Tajudeen Yusuf, representing Kabba/Bunu/Ijumu federal constituency in Kogi State also feels the policy should not have been implemented when the polity is tense from various attacks in some parts of the country by Boko Haram, armed robbers and other agents of destruction.
According to the lawmaker, the president’s move couldn’t have been done in a worse time. He said, “At a time when Nigerians are still mourning the victims of the serial bomb blasts across the country. By this unilateral act, federal government has shown its insensitivity to the citizenry. A responsive government should have known better.
“This government told us through the minister of Finance and supervising minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that it was still consulting with stakeholders on the issue and will not start the withdrawal of the subsidy till April. It is rather unfortunate that the same federal government has now turned around to remove the subsidy. This action, at this time when travelers are grappling with fund paucity, is very cruel, immoral and insensitive. This action may erode the trust that Nigerians have for the present administration”.
So how exactly does the House of Representatives plan to address this issue?
As the House resumes next Tuesday, it will be time to take a stand on whether to support the president’s decision or vote against it. According to the deputy chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, the House will on resumption , go straight into an exhaustive deliberation and consultation with other stakeholders on the issue.
Several issues will be brought to the front burner. First, the 2011 budget which was extended till March 2012 and it had included provision for subsidy for the next three months. What now becomes of that provision?
Secondly, the provisions of the law that before the board of Petroleum Product Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, should meet and approve increment in petroleum price increment is not known to have been convened.
When the president presented the 2012 budget estimates without provision for petroleum subsidy, the lawmakers reacted by saying that they will include it in the interest of Nigerians when they put the budget up for consideration.
In a battle cry, the deputy minority leader of the House, Hon Abdulrahman Kawu has declared that the House will put all lawful mechanisms in place to fight for the reversal of the policy by President Jonathan. He said: “We will use the law to stop this inhumane act. This will be the first issue that we will discuss when we resume on the 10th. We will not fail to salvage Nigerians from the terrorism, bondage and enslavement of Nigerians that are already impoverished. This is an act that we will not allow. ”
Another set of lawmakers have disregarded the executive fiat under which the president went ahead to implement the policy, promising that they will move to overrule it. It will be an interesting session when the issue comes up for debate because this group of lawmakers has vowed that the last has not been heard about the issue.
They even vowed to include the fuel subsidy in the 2012 budget in line with the desire of the majority of Nigerians.
“We have taken a position to reject the removal of subsidy and we will not go back on that. It is going to be an interesting battle between the executive and the legislature.
Since the president has used executive fiat, we will also invoke our powers as enshrined in sections 80, 81, 83, 88 and 89 of the 1999 constitution as amended”.
Section 80 (3 and 4) states: “No monies shall be withdrawn from any public fund of the federation other than the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, unless the issue of those monies has been authorized by an Act of the National Assembly.
Put differently, no monies shall be withdrawn from the Consolidated Revenue Fund or any other public fund of the federation except in the manner prescribed by the National Assembly.
Section 83 (1) states: “The National Assembly may by law make provisions for the establishment of a contingency fund for the federation and for authorizing the president, if satisfied that there has arisen an unforeseen need for expenditure for which no other provision exists, to make advances from the fund to meet the need”. Who blinks first?