There was a disagreement among members of the House of Representatives Committee on Internally Displaced Persons on Tuesday, during the 2021 budget defense session of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs.
Some lawmakers were worried about the extra-budgetary spending of the ministry and incomplete budget documents submitted by the Minister, Sadiya Umar Farouk.
“I don’t think that the document conclusively and comprehensively the challenges of our office. Engaging with these documents will mean that we are taking just a fraction of our responsibility,” a committee member, Awaji-Inombek Abiante, said.
Subsequently, voices were raised as the defense was ongoing and one of the lawmakers, Fatuhu Mohammed, accused members of the committee of harassing the minister after which he stormed out of the meeting.
According to him, rather than focusing on the main issues of the day, they were accusing the minister of not sharing food items and palliatives which were stored up in warehouses, resulting in the series of lootings that took place across the country.
Speaking further, another lawmaker noted that it was unheard of that an expenditure was defined as non-budgetary. But in defense, the minister explained that it was a special intervention fund by President Buhari – under the Conditional Cash Transfer programme.
She, however, maintained that apart from the budget, her ministry had never received money from anywhere.
The minister’s claim comes months after the country had received cash donations running into billions for the fight against COVID-19.
The donations were also meant to help cushion the effect of the pandemic on Nigerians, especially those considered to be poor and vulnerable.
A chunk of the donations had come from the Nigeria Private Sector Coalition Against COVID-19 (CACOVID).
The budget defence session of the House of Representatives took a dramatic turn on Wednesday, as members of the Committee on Electoral Matters disagreed with their chairman on the modality she employed in engaging the Chairman of the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Mahmud Yakubu concerning the performance of his commissions 2020 budget.
The committee also curiously asked out all National Commissioners of INEC on the entourage their Chairman, Prof. Yakubu, as it opted to meet with only the Chairman in a closed-door session.
Chairperson of the committee, Rep. Aishatu Jibril Dukku had after making her opening remarks called on Yakubu to give an appraisal of the Commission’s 2020 budget performance, as well as make a presentation of the 2021 estimates, but was immediately challenged by one of her colleagues, Hon. Solomon Bob from Rivers State, to the effect that “the committee did not carry out any oversight on the commission in the year, but here are we, being called upon to superintendent over another budget”.
Repeated attempts by Dukku to explain that 2020 was ruptured by the lockdown occasioned by the outbreak of the Covid-19 could not stop Bob, who insisted that he must be allowed to land. “Honourable colleague, I rule you out of order”, a visibly angry Dukku told the man and hit the gavel, urging Yakubu to commence his presentation.
As a result, the committee was forced to move into a closed-door session, after the INEC Chairman ended his appraisal of the Commission’s 2020 budget performance, following a suggestion to that effect on the 2020 budget by Hon. Uzoma Nkem-Abonta, (PDP, Abia), which was immediately supported by Hon. Tajudeen Yusuf, (PDP, Kogi).
“The executive session is very important because 2020 is where the issues are. The budget has been implemented so that we don’t have to be asking the Chairman (Yakubu) subjective questions on the issue raised”, Yusuf said.
One of the National Commissioners who were asked to stay outside, Mr. Festus Okoye, however, told journalists that there was nothing strange about the committee opting to meet with only Yakubu behind closed doors.
“They have their own rules, they set their own rules so we have to comply. They can invite only the chairman for a meeting, so there is nothing strange in what is happening now”, he said.
The INEC boss earlier informed the panel that the Commission had to revert to its special fund, created under section three of the Electoral Act, in order to meet its mandates, due to a drastic reduction of its budget after the review.
According to him, its initial budget of N40 billion was reduced to N36 billion, when the Commission was already in the middle of implementation, and so had to draw N5.2 billion from the INEC Fund in order to deliver on its mandate.
The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation on Monday asked the Federal Government to suspend plans for the concession of four of the nation’s airports.
The Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Nnolim Nnaji who gave the directive, on Monday, at a meeting between the committee and officials of the Federal Ministry of Aviation said this is pending the resolution of all contentious issues.
Nnaji said a halt in the planned concession is imperative, so as to avoid an industrial dispute in the aviation sector, which would not be in the overall interest of the country.
The committee also said the concerns raised by labour unions and workers form part of the reason for the call to suspend the concession plan of the Federal Government.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila says he will not sign the 2021 budget if provisions are not made to compensate the families of victims of police brutality in the last decade.
He disclosed this on Tuesday during the House Plenary Session which held in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
“I will not sign off on a 2021 budget that does not have adequate provisions to compensate those who have suffered violence from police in the last decade,” he said.
The Speaker said the Nigeria Police is not above the laws of the land, adding that they must be accountable to the citizens.
He reiterated the commitment of the National Assembly to “establish a system of citizen-led accountability for the Nigerian Police Force because in a democracy we have set out to build, the police are not above the citizenry.”
“They are servants of the people. The police are not above the law, they are its guardians. As we endeavour to hold our nation’s police to higher standards of professional conducts, we must also make sure we provide for the welfare of the men and women in uniform,” he added.
Gbajabiamila also appealing to #EndSARS protesters not to allow the protests to be hijacked by unscrupulous elements seeking to cause chaos in the country.
While noting that the protesters have raised their voices for a righteous cause which has been heard, he called for discussions on the way forward.
He promised some measures to address the problem of police brutality in the country which includes drafting new legislation that enables a system to hold erring police officers to account for their conduct in the performance of their duties.
According to Gbajabiamila, the draft legislation which will be enacted in collaboration with the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) will be ready for consideration within 30 days.
He noted that the National Assembly would work to ensure that the abuses of the past never reoccur.
Federal lawmaker, Mark Gbillah, on Monday, alleged that the suspension of House Committee activities may derail the fact-finding investigations being embarked on.
The House of Representatives, on August 19, suspended all investigations, public hearings, and committee meetings as well as activities of standing and ad hoc committees until September in order to observe its annual recess.
However, Hon. Gbillah, who spoke while making an appearance on Sunrise Daily, said the suspension of committee meetings would negatively impact on the work of Committees, especially those investigating corruption and impropriety within the Executive.
“It will impair the investigations significantly,” he said. “We are still in the realm of allegations and speculations, but when a three-week break has been allowed, compromises can be made; people can be appealed to, offers, overtures can be made to those carrying out those investigations. This is Nigeria.”
However, federal lawmaker, Akin Alabi, who also appeared on Sunrise Daily, rubbished Gbillah’s allegations as “purely politics.”
While Gbillah is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Alabi Egbeda/Ona-Ara Federal Constituency under the aegis of the All Progressives Congress.
Hon. Gbillah started his faulting of the recess on Monday by saying the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, has no power to suspend the work of a House Committee.
“There are no provisions in our law that give the Speaker that power to suspend the work of a committee,” he said.
“People have complied with it in the spirit of oneness and progress, but it is not out of place for those who espouse the rule of law to question that decision.
“The Speaker is given the power, in consultation with the principal officers, to remove Chairmen. Obviously, some Chairmen will be cautious in going against the order.”
Hon. Alabi disagreed with his colleague’s remarks.
“That’s false,” he said. “It is the tradition of the house not to have Committee meetings during the recess. And that is what’s obtainable in Congresses all over the world.
“The wisest thing is to pause. We will get back to the House in a couple of weeks, in September. Everybody knew the day of recess for about a month before we went on recess.
However, Hon. Gbillah maintained there was no law giving such powers to the Speaker.
“It is the first time in the history of the National Assembly that I am aware of as a ranking member that, by fiat, the leadership of the House is stopping the statutory activities of Committees,” Gbillah said. “And these activities are backed by a resolution of the House.
“And I personally believe that for any action to rescind the activities of those committees to be tenable, it should come by a resolution of the same House, not by fiat.”
Hon. Alabi noted that there was no need for a special law for the Speaker to be able to suspend a Committee.
“If the Committee Chairman has the power to put a committee on recess, the Speaker, who is the Chairman of all Committees in the House definitely has the power to order all committees on recess.”
House Committees have been at the centre of recent open questioning of public officials, including Federal Ministers.
Last week, in a televised public hearing, Minister of Transporation, Rotimi Amaechi, engaged in heated conversations over details of Nigeria’s financial engagements with the Chinese government.
A House Committee has also been in the middle of investigating financial misappropriation at the Niger-Delta Development Commission.
Hon. Gbillah on Monday suggested that suspending the work of committees could have been motivated by ulterior motives.
“This is a defining moment in the history of this ninth assembly, considering the altercations that the committees, especially of the House of Representatives, have been having with the Executive,” he said.
“This obviously has given credence to the allusions by Nigerians that this is a lame-duck legislature. It now behooves on the leadership to show that it is not a lame-duck leadership.”
Meanwhile, Hon. Alabi insisted that the Speaker has the power to set up committees, dissolve them, or pause their activities.
“There is no need for a special law to say that the Speaker has the power to pause their activities,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be stated in toto.
“This is pure politics. People are trying to destabilise the sanity of the House.”
— Speaker of the House of Representatives (@SpeakerGbaja) July 25, 2020
The House came up with its initial Legislative Agenda about a year ago but did not envisage “that the world will soon change drastically, and with consequences beyond our wildest imagination,” the speaker said.
“Before now, the extent of our difficulties was well known to us,” he added. “We have population growth that far outpaces the rate of economic growth. Insecurity has made vast swathes of our country uninhabitable for citizens and unattractive to investment.”
The new agenda, according to him, seeks to tackle the issues of education, insurgency, and others.
“We are at war, fighting insurgents in the North East who want to remake our world in the image of a medieval theocracy,” he said.
The lawmaker decried the fact that schools do not teach the realities of the modern world as it pertains to our reality, noting that “we are producing graduates who cannot compete in the 21st-century knowledge economy.”
Security presence was increased at the National Assembly on Monday ahead of the appearance of Senator Godswill Akpabio before the House of Representatives committee on Nigeria Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
The committee is probing alleged financial misappropriation at the development agency.
Akpabio, who is the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, has been accused, by former acting Managing Director of the NDDC, Joy Nunieh, of corruption and sexual harassment.
He has denied the accusations.
Nunieh appeared before the Reps committee on Friday via teleconferencing.
A judge of the Federal High Court Abuja, Justice Taiwo Taiwo, has excused himself from the hearing of a suit filed by the Action Peoples Party challenging the proposed passage of the Infectious Disease Bill pending before the House of Representatives over what he describes as misrepresentation of facts in the matter.
After expressing his displeasure, he withdrew from the matter and returned the case file to the chief judge for re-assignment.
Following the rising cases of sexual violence in Nigeria, the lawmakers also asked the Inspector General of Police to immediately commence an investigation into the cases of Uwa Omozuwa, Tina Ezekwe, the reported rape of a minor in Jigawa state, as well as all other reported cases of violence against women.
Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, described the rise in these cases as sick, despicable and an ungodly act which cuts across all gender.
The House was reacting to a motion of urgent public importance by Representative Rotimi Agunsoye, on the need to condemn the rising cases of sexual violence and other social vices against women and police brutality.
The lawmakers also urged the Federal Government to launch a more effective campaign against rape and other violence against women and girls.
The Director-General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu, has asked the House of Representatives not to suspend plenary over coronavirus.
Lawmakers on Tuesday, passed a resolution to suspend plenary for two weeks to enable the management of the National Assembly, put measures in place against the spread of coronavirus in the country.
The NCDC boss stressed that the time hasn’t come for such because it will create panic amongst Nigerians.
Dr Ihekweazu who was on Channels Television Sunrise Daily urged the lawmakers to support the efforts of experts by providing a budget that is sustainable in curtailing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“I have a lot of respect for the honourable members of the House of Representatives, but I think the time now hasn’t come, if they respond in a way like that by suspending session, everyone else will ask if they should close their businesses, office or schools and it is disproportionate at this time.
“They should support the work experts are doing; give us a sustainable budget so that we can develop the expertise.”
The House of Representatives has clarified the controversy on the planned suspension of plenary over coronavirus.
In a statement on Tuesday, the spokesman for the House, Benjamin Kalu, said the lawmakers have yet to proceed with the decision to suspend plenary.
He explained that the lawmakers, during plenary, considered a motion on the urgent need for emergency response and need to contain the deadly virus in the country.
According to Kalu, the motion was thoroughly debated and passed while some of the prayers included the need for the leadership of the National Assembly to set up an ad-hoc committee to liaise with the relevant health agencies to ensure efforts to combat the virus were intensified.
He said the House also called for a better orientation of the disease by the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, through relevant media outfits to keep Nigerians abreast of the situation.
“An amendment to the prayers of the motion calling on the House to suspend plenary for two weeks to work and contribute its legislative efforts by helping to sensitise constituents on the coronavirus and how it is being handled was also adopted,” the lawmaker revealed.
He added, “The amendment also urged the management of the National Assembly to put measures in place to ensure the virus does not find a place to fester in the National Assembly.
“It is, however, necessary to clarify that the two weeks suspension of plenary has not commenced and is subject to reconsideration by the House.”
Kalu said the leadership of the House would meet and consider the arrangement necessary before a date would be fixed for the sensitisation of constituents by their respective lawmakers.
He noted that the business of law making would continue on Wednesday.
He also noted that the government is making efforts to ensure that all out-of-school children return to school, stressing that it is not a privilege but a right that the government owes them.
“These out-of-school children are our responsibility. We owe them, because it is not a privilege, it is their right to be in school. We shouldn’t allow them to continue to stray in the street.
“Whether we call them Almajiri or not, these are the leaders of tomorrow and there is going to be a widening gap if such people are left uneducated. They will also contribute security challenge to us if they have not already,” Lawan said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has expressed its readiness to partner with Google global services to educate 56 million out-of-school children in Nigeria.
Also, as part of efforts to consolidate the free and compulsory primary and secondary school education policy, the Kano State Government has banned street begging by Almajiri children in the state.
Governor Abdullahi Ganduje gave the order on Tuesday, February 25, during the launch of the Basic Education Service Delivery for All (BESDA) and the Distribution of Offer of Appointment to 7,500 volunteer teachers, held at the Sani Abacha Stadium, Kofar Mata.
He also stressed that parents or guardians of children still found out-of-school, would be taken to court.