The Senate has passed the National Electoral Offences Commission Bill which if assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari, will be charged with investigating electoral offences and prosecuting electoral offenders.
The bill which came up for the third reading during Tuesday’s plenary session will ensure that when established, the National Electoral Offences Commission, shall have the power to appoint and maintain investigators, prosecutors and experts to prosecute electoral offenders.
The Chairman of the Committee on INEC, Senator Kabiru Gaya said the creation of the commission is critical because the Independent National Electoral Commission clearly lacks the needed human capacity to prosecute electoral offences committed across Nigeria’s 119,973 polling units.
“No doubt, electoral offences remain a significant threat to credible, free and fair elections in Nigeria, where elections heighten political tension and trigger violence,” he said.
“It is also a decisive deterrence through efficient criminal prosecutions in the strategy for defecting electoral offenders.
“The above underscores the necessity of an active justice system for the prosecution of electoral offenders, which remains critical in ensuring a decrease in the level of electoral impunity and a reversal in the persistent trend of electoral offences.”
President Muhammadu Buhari will meet with the 109 senators of the National Assembly.
The scheduled meeting between members of the upper chamber and President Buhari was conveyed in a letter received from the State House and read during plenary by President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan.
“I write to inform the Distinguished President of the Senate, that President Muhammadu Buhari will host a dinner of Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on Tuesday, 13th July 2021, at 8 pm 20:00 hrs,” the letter read, adding that “The venue is at the State House Banquet Hall, Presidential Villa, Abuja.”
The Senate on April 27 reached a resolution for the leadership of the upper chamber to schedule a meeting with the President to enable all 109 Senators to meet with him to discuss the issue of insecurity in the country.
Although the details of the meeting is still sketchy, it is coming at a time when the lawmakers rejected the nomination of Lauretta Onochie as an Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) National Commissioner.
Onochie serves as a presidential aide on Social Media and was nominated by President Buhari in October 2020 to represent Delta State in the electoral umpire.
Her rejection on Tuesday followed the massive outcry that has trailed her nomination, especially from members of the opposition and civil society organisations who claim she is a card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
The Senate on Tuesday explained why it rejected Lauretta Onochie as an INEC Commissioner for Delta State.
President Muhammadu Buhari had nominated Ms Onochie in October 2020 but many Nigerians criticised the move.
According to critics, Ms Onochie was a member of the All Progressives Congress and an aide to President Buhari.
In its decision to reject Onochie’s nomination, the Senators said it had received several petitions against Onochie.
Also, nominating her would contravene the Federal Character Principle, the Senators said, according to a statement signed by Ezrel Tabiowo, a spokesperson to the Senate President.
Meanwhile, the Senate confirmed five other nominees as INEC Commissioners.
Those confirmed include Professor Abdullahi Abdu Zuru (North-West), Prof. Muhammad Sani Kallah (Katsina), Prof. Kunle Cornelius Ajayi (Ekiti), Dr. Baba Bila (North-East), and Saidu Babura Ahmad (Jigawa).
The nomination of Lauretta Onochie who currently serves as Senior Special Assistant on New Media to President Buhari has elicited public criticism from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and civil society organizations who are against her nomination on the grounds that she is an alleged card-carrying member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and is not proper to be appointed as an election officer.
In her introductory remarks, Onochie said she is not partisan. She admitted that she had seen the petitions against her which are not only from the opposition but also from people in the APC. She said the opposition to her candidacy is because she is known to be non-partisan and someone who insists on due process and the right thing to be done.
However, Committee members questioned her stance on non-partisanship.
Senator Istifanus Gyang queried that one of the petitions against her has an affidavit affirming her membership of the APC.
Senator Ike Ekweremadu in his contribution said he is worried that her nomination is flouting the principle of Federal character.
He explained that there is a nominee already from Delta State whose tenure will soon expire and Lauretta is being nominated for the second slot for the South-South which should go round the southern states, however, the nomination means that for a second time the position is going again to Delta State to the exclusion of the other Niger Delta states.
Ekweremadu advised her to withdraw her nomination to preserve the integrity of President Buhari.
However, Senator Lawal Gumau said there is nothing wrong with her nomination and maintained that all the petitions against her are sentiments.
In her response, Onochie explained that the INEC National Commissioner who Senator Ekweremadu made reference is May Agbamuche Mgbu.
According to Onochie, Mgbu was nominated under her husband’s state – Cross River and not Delta State. She explained that since President Buhari won his second term, she has removed herself from all things political.
She maintained that from 2019 till date she has not had anything to do with any political organisation and did not partake in APC’s validation exercise.
The Senate has approved the Federal Government’s request for a $6.1 billion (N2.343 trillion) loan request.
The Senate gave the approval on Wednesday after it considered a report from its Committee on Local and Foreign Debt which it earlier directed to work on the loan request.
Presenting the report on the floor during plenary, the Chairman of the committee, Senator Clifford Ordia said the request is not new as it was approved in the borrowing plan when the National Assembly passed the 2021 budget noting that it would be used to fund the budget deficit.
President Muhammadu Buhari had earlier in May asked the National Assembly to approve the loan request, saying it would be raised from multilateral and bilateral tenders as well as the international capital market.
The Committee recommended that the Senate approves Buhari’s request for the issuance of $3,000,000,000 but not more than $6,183,081,643.40 Eurobond in the International Capital Market.
The External Borrowing of N2,343,387,942,848, according to the panel, should be for the financing of part of the deficit authorised in the 2021 Appropriation Act.
The Committee also recommended that the Senate should approve that the amount authorised may be raised from multiple sources such as the International Capital Market and any other Multilateral or Bilateral sources as may be available.
The Senate on Wednesday passed into law a supplementary budget of N895 billion of which N173 billion is for recurrent expenditure and N722 billion will be for contribution to a development fund for capital expenditure for the year ending 31st December 2021.
This supplementary budget is intended to equip the military in fighting insurgency, covid 19 vaccination, and also funding for the management of HIV.
Its passage comes after a satisfactory report by Senator Jibrin Barau, Senate Committee Chairman on Appropriation, where he explained that the supplementary budget would augment the effort of various government agencies to discharge their responsibilities.
Senator Barau further noted that security agencies will be able to procure arms and equipment as they continue to contain the security threats posed in various regions of the country.
Approved by FEC
President Muhammadu Buhari on the 22nd of June transmitted the supplementary budget of N895.8 billion to the Senate for approval.
The president’s request comes about two weeks after the Federal Executive Council approved the budget.
According to the Federal Government, the budget is specifically meant to enhance the capacity of the military and para-military agencies to tackle the various security challenges in the country.
“The total of this expenditure is made up of N83.56 billion for COVID-19 vaccine programme, covering 30 billion vaccines from Johnson and Johnson vaccines and the logistics cost related to the deployment of that vaccine,” the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, had said on June 9.
“It also contains the sum of N1.69 billion for the Nigerian Comprehensive AIDS programme currently operating in the States and an additional contingency provision of N40 billion under the public service-wide wage adjustments to take care of the needs for allowances to the health and education sectors and other wage-related issues.”
She said the Council also approved an aggregate sum of N770.60 billion to further enhance the capacity of the defence and security agencies to address current and emerging security challenges in our country.
The Senate has condemned the unlawful encroachment and arrest of Nigerians by the authorities of the Republic of Benin.
This stance by the upper chamber followed a motion by Senator Tolu Odebiyi during the plenary on Tuesday.
The lawmaker drew the attention of lawmakers to reports of encroachments into Nigeria’s territory by authorities of the Republic of Benin.
He quoted a report from Channels Television dated July 2nd, 2021 where it was reported that gendarmes from the Republic of Benin crossed illegally into Nigeria to arrest one Pastor Kunle Garb and Benjamin Amosu his interpreter who are residents of Igbokofi village in Yewa North Local Government Area of Ogun State for demanding the reversal of the land encryption by the government of the Republic of Benin.
Odebiyi noted that the arrest of these Nigerians is based on the allegation that they are resisting encroachment into Nigerian land through Igbokofi village in Yewa North LGA of Ogun State.
The Senate consequently asked its committees on Foreign Affairs and Justice to engage with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Justice, and National border commission to investigate the incident and find solutions to the problem.
Abduction Of An Activist
The arrested person, Pastor Garb, is an activist, who has consistently campaigned against the incessant harassment of Nigerians by the Beninese in attempts to forcefully annex the Nigerian territory.
He was taken away in a Gestapo manner by the armed security agents from the neighbouring country.
He was allegedly charged to a court and remanded under inhuman conditions in the Benin Republic and prevented from having access to his lawyers, doctors, and members of his family.
The Petroleum Industry Bill moved one step closer to becoming law after Senators on Thursday began to consider its provisions after a committee report.
Senator Sabo Mohammed (Jigawa South-West) who chairs the Joint Committee on Petroleum (Downstream); Petroleum (Upstream) and Gas Resources presented the report of the committee.
He said the PIB is designed to update and replace the outdated provisions with a more comprehensive and current petroleum industry law that aligns with global standards.
He added that it also seeks to empower institutions and not individuals, remove bad governance which leads to inefficiency and corruption in the country’s petroleum industry.
Speaking on the PIB, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege said the bill will create an enabling environment for investors to come in and invest in Nigeria’s oil sector.
He, however, appealed that the contribution of companies to a Host Communities Trust Fund be increased.
The committee had recommended that five percent of the actual annual operating expenditure of the proceeding financial year in the upstream petroleum operations should go to the Fund.
On gas flaring, Senator Omo-Agege was opposed to the use of penalty funds in development of frontier gas basins. He said such funds should be channeled into developing affected communities.
According to him, the communities are the ones affected by gas flaring, and therefore whatever funds are raised from penalizing companies involved in gas flaring should be used for remediation purpose in affected communities by providing them hospitals and roads, among other basic amenities.
The Senator representing Niger East, Senator Sani Musa, however deferred on the observations made by Senator Omo-Agege, and appealed to the lawmakers to desist from rancour so as not to impede the passage of the PIB.
Below are some key points in the report of the Senate committee:
1. Report prescribes amendments to a total of 752 provisions out of which about 56 are substantial amendments as recommended by stakeholders during public hearing
2. The Committee recommends funding mechanism of 30% of NNPC Limited’s profit oil and profit gas as in the production sharing, profit sharing, and risk contracts to fund exploration of frontier basins. The Frontier Basins are to take advantage of the foreseeable threats to the funding of fossil fuel projects across the world due to speedy shift from fossil fuel to alternative energy sources.
3. The Committee recommends 5% of the actual annual operating expenditure of the proceeding financial year in the upstream petroleum operations affecting the host communities for funding of the Host Communities Trust Fund. (This is however a drop of 5% compared to the 10% recommended in the previous PIB submitted to President Muhammadu Buhari by the 8th Assembly which was not assented to)
4. The Committee recommends 96 amendments to Chapter Four of the Bill for better and attractive tax incentives to achieve the goal of attracting the over 100Bn Dollars capital investment inflow into Africa’s oil and gas industry.
The Senate and the House of Representatives are to consider the report on the Petroleum Industry Bill, 2021 on Thursday.
Senate President, Ahmed Lawan announced this during the plenary on Wednesday saying the Senate has invited the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mele Kyari for a closed session to explain the technical, financial, and other details contained in the bill.
Senator Lawan said all committee activities have also been adjusted to enable all Senators to participate fully in considering the report.
The Senate has threatened to publish the names of government Ministries, Departments and Agencies who failed to appear before its public accounts committee to defend queries issued by the Auditor-General of the Federation.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan issued the threat on Wednesday after the Chairman of the public accounts committee submitted the annual report of the Auditor-General of the Federation on the accounts of the federation for the year ended 31st December 2015.
According to the report, the agencies which did not respond to the committee are the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria Police Force, Federal Fire Service, Ahmadu Bello University Teaching Hospital Zaria, Ministry of Police Affairs and Federal Ministry of Information.
Some of the infractions in the report observed by the committee include withdrawal of funds from the executive from special fund accounts for purposes other than the objectives for which the funds were created, the prevalence of unwholesome financial practices by some principal revenue-generating agencies, deliberate delay in the submission of financial transcripts by the Accountant General of the Federation to the Auditor-General of the Federation and habitual late or non-submission of financial reports to the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation by MDA’s.
The Senate has directed its Committee on Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to screen and confirm the appointment of one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s media aides Lauretta Onochie, and five others as INEC commissioners.
The directive comes after President Buhari on October 13, 2020, wrote to the Senate to confirm Ms. Onochie who is currently his Special Assistant on Social Media.
There had been opposition and criticisms of her nomination especially from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).