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Issues As Senate Resumes

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After two months of recess, the Nigerian Senate will begin plenary on Tuesday with insecurity, economy and 2020 budget topping its Agenda, writes SUNDAY ISUWA.

The Senate upon resumption this week, will most likely, not ignore the issue of the planned spending of about N5.5 billion for the purchase of vehicles for the lawmakers.

Even though they might have discussed it covertly, a court case instituted against the National Assembly by some Civil Society Organizations will make the issue interesting.

The Senate through its spokesman, Adedayo Adeyeye said earlier he was not aware that such amount of money would be used for purchase of vehicles. He however insisted that it will be legitimate if the said amount was budgeted for that purpose.

The Senate leader, Yahaya Abdullahi had also said, just like ministers, that the lawmakers need vehicles to work.

While some Nigerian have criticised the action saying such an amount of money can help in fixing the health and the education sectors in the country, the lawmakers have defended the proposal, insisting that if ministers need vehicles to work, they also need same.

The controversy has led to a legal action instituted by some Civil Society Organisations. The spokesman of the Senate however dismissed the legal action as fruitless.

The lawsuit, filed by Kolawole Oluwadare and supported by an affidavit of urgency, was marked  FHC/L/CS/1511/2019 and  filed penulmate Friday at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi Lagos.

The plaintiffs argued that,  “Spending a huge sum of N5.550 billion to buy luxury cars for principal members of the ninth Senate is unjust and unfair.”

They said,  “It negates the constitutional oath of office made by members to perform their functions in the interest of the well-being and prosperity of Nigeria and its citizens, as contained in the Seventh Schedule of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended).”

The plaintiffs further argued that, “the proposed spending by the 9th Senate raises pertinent questions: What is the economic value and contribution of the vehicles sought to be purchased to the grand scheme of Nigeria’s economy?

“What are the parameters used to arrive at cost efficiency and value for money in the decision to purchase the vehicles? Where are the vehicles purchased by the eighth Senate?”

The 6,721 concerned Nigerians who joined the suit as co-plaintiffs with SERAP, BudgIT and EiE include: Bring Back Our Girls’ co-conveners, Oby Ezekwesili and Aisha Yesufu; Jibrin Ibrahim; Edetaen Ojo; Abiola Akiyode-Afolabi, and Deji Adeyanju.

The plaintiffs said, “The failure or refusal by the Senate to comply with legal and constitutional provisions is nothing but an act of arbitrariness.“The money could be better allocated to more important sectors of the National Assembly expenditure – like constituency projects and National Assembly-endowed educational scholarships.”

But this won’t attract much of the attention of the Senate since it’s already in court. The first issue or point of order that would be raised by some of the Senators will be the issue of the cashless policy the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) is trying to introduce.

The economy is in a bad shape just as inflation looms. More jobs are being lost while entrepreneurs find it difficult to run their businesses. Even though the president said he is determined to provide thousands of jobs to Nigerians, just like the position of the house of Representatives, it is expected that Senators will raise a motion on the cashless policy, deliberate on it and reject it. A committee might be setup to liaise with the apex bank and come up with a better solution.

Another issue that is expected to be on their agenda when they return on Tuesday is insecurity.

It was one of the daily discussions during the 8th Assembly but insecurity kept escalating on a daily basis. While the security agencies are claiming they have an upper hand in the fight against insurgents in the North East, kidnapping and banditry is on the increase – making more Nigerian families poorer while the unlucky ones are killed.

Some governors in the North West have been making efforts in tackling insecurity in their domain but it seems not to be enough as the rate of banditry and kidnapping continues to rise.

Between Abuja – Kaduna, motorists feel uncomfortable plying the road for fear of kidnappers. It was gathered that senior security officers have also abandoned the road for the railway, an alternative means of transportation for the poor which has now become a place for the survival of the fittest.

Because of the massive insecurity, people stand for hours at the train station to get a two-hour journey standing ticket.

The officials at the train station won’t sell to people who queue until some of their staff separates the tickets they will sell at high prices outside the building to very important persons  or others that can afford the exobitant prices.

A ticket of N1200 – N1500 are usually hiked  to N3000-N5000 in the black market. This is in spite of high demand for tickets for those who opt to stand for the two hour trip because of the insecurity on the roads.

Many believe that the Senate will raise issues concerning the high level of insecurity especially sharing boundaries with the FCT, the seat of power.

Although measures are already on to tackle the xenophobic attacks against Nigerians in South Africa it is expected that the Senate will make an input in the matter.

At the heat of the attacks early this month, it would seem like the House of Representatives were more forceful in their response as they declared that they would cut short their recess over the matter.

The Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, announced on his verified Twitter handle, @femigbaja, saying the lower chamber of the National Assembly might reconvene for a one-day session to address the attacks.

The House was to resume plenary on September 14.

The Speaker tweeted, “(I) Will be cutting short my trip to Tanzania for the 50th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference @CPA Secretariat and will be leaving today, for the leadership of the @HouseNGR to consider cutting short the recess and reconvening for one day to address the killing of Nigerians in SA.”

It was learnt that several members of the House mounted pressure on the leadership to take a decisive action on the attacks.

In a rather measured reaction to the killings, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, in a statement said,  “Nigeria has had enough of its citizens being targets of these attacks and will no longer tolerate hate crimes in any form against its citizens who are doing legitimate business in that country.

“Xenophobic violence is most condemnable anywhere; more so in South Africa, a country whose citizens benefited from the support and solidarity of Africans and freedom lovers across the world in their historic struggle against apartheid.”

But the immediate past deputy president of the Senate,  Ike Ekweremadu, called on the Federal Government to consider suspension of diplomatic ties with South Africa until things were put right.

In a statement he called on the AU to summon an emergency meeting with a view to sanctioning South Africa.

He stated, “I find the incessant xenophobic attacks on Nigerians and other African nationals in South Africa very un-African, barbaric, and unparalleled acts of ingratitude.”

Nevertheless, with the rage that trailed the killing of Nigerians, it would be expected that Senate will explore legislative options in a bid to proffer long lasting solutions to the perennial issue.

“I think the Senate and indeed the National Assembly should be able to discuss the matter expansively and factor out legislative measures that can help the executive address this matter, “ Mr Lucas Anayochukwu,  a social commentator said.

Another analyst, Makinwa Akinlabi, also believes that the Senate on resumption ought to look at the matter keenly.

“We have been having situations like this in the past and it would seem like we keep treating the matter with kid gloves. The attitude of the Nigerian legislature on the matter will be indicative of how Nigerians living in foreign countries will be addressed by their host countries,” he said.

He added,  “as much as the executive has started some action on the matter,  it is important for the National Assembly to make laws, specifically to ensure that certain line of actions will be taken when the life of Nigerians are involved outside the shores of this country.”

Another pressing issue that will be topical is the budget. With the announcement by government that it will present the 2020 budget on time, the lawmakers will also setup some machineries in motion for such process to finish on time having setup a December, 2019 target to pass the budget.

The Federal Government said it will present a proposal of N9.79 trillion as total expenditure in the 2020 budget.

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, who said at a public consultation forum with Civil Society Groups and agencies on the draft 2020-2022 Medium Term Expenditure Framework, said the amount represents an increase of 9.75 per cent over N8.916 trillion spending for 2019.

The projection includes a proposed revenue of about N7.64 trillion and a total proposed fiscal deficit component of about N2.142 trillion. She said the key assumptions of the budget were based on an oil production capacity of 2.18 million barrels per day, crude oil price of $55 per barrel, against $60 per barrel last year, and exchanged rate of N305 to the dollar.

Also, she said inflation rate for the year is projected at an average of 10.81 per cent, with nominal consumption figure of about N122.75 trillion and nominal gross domestic product of N142.96 trillion. The GDP growth rate is put at about 2.93 per cent.

On the expenditure, the Minister said debt service is projected to increase from N2.14 trillion in 2019 to about N2.45trillion; Statutory Transfer of N526.46 billion, from N502.1 billion in 2019; and sinking fund of N296 billion, from N110billion.

Reacting to when the Senators will resume plenary, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan said: “We intend to do those things that would ensure that the security situation in the country improves, and this we would with the executive arm of government, as this cannot be done alone.

“In the eight senate, we had an ad-hoc committee that I was privileged to chair, to review the security architecture of the country. We are going to look into that report, and of course in addition, other contemporary issues that affect security in the country.

“We are also going to look into the crisis that affected Nigerians living in South Africa. You recall that this issue was reviewed before we went on recess. The Senate felt as an institution that our citizens’ diplomacy must be protected where ever they go in the world. The government must be there for them, and I’m happy that after the xenophobic crisis, the federal government was able to take a position.

“We need to be much more resolute, whatever the situation is; our citizens must be protected. If someone runs foul of the laws of a country, there are processes and procedures on how such a person can be prosecuted.

“Therefore, we must try to protect our citizens. I also think we must be proactive to tell our citizens that if they choose to live in any country, they must ensure to stay within the limit of the laws of that country, just as we expect of foreigners in ours.

“We are hopeful and optimistic, as well as hungry and thirsty, to receive the 2020 appropriations bill. I am aware that the executive arm of government is working assiduously to ensure that the appropriation bill for the year 2020 is presented to the National Assembly at the end of this month. The National Assembly will work so hard to ensure that the 2020 budget is passed before we go on Christmas break.

“This is one issue that we hope to take head-on to ensure that we reverse the undesirable trend of the budget. We believe this can be achieved, as doing so would make the economy better and predictable. We also think an early passage of the 2020 appropriations bill will have a desirable impact on Nigerians.”

On MTEF, he said “I have been informed that the executive arm of government has sent the request for the MTEF to the Senate, and I’m sure that will be the first thing that would be looked into when we resume next week. We hope to take on the MTEF within the first legislative week.

“Our committee on finance will be saddled with its first major responsibility, that it works expeditiously on the FSP/MTEF request of the executive arm of government, and thereafter the budget will come after that.”

With this, the lawmakers will ensure they did not take any blame for delay in budget passage since the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan promised they won’t fail president Muhammadu Buhari.

“Nigeria’s population is on the increase and measures need to be taken for more job opportunity if not, the country will be sitting on a time bomb,” an economist, Tikikus Simon said.

On the political front, the recent Election Petition Tribunals for the National Assembly had caused some ripples with some senators on the edge of losing their seats pending the outcome of the Appeal Court on the cases.

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