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Knotty issues as reps reconvene

In the next two months, precisely on June 9, 2018, the 8th House of Representatives would have completed three legislative years out of its four year tenure. Since the next legislative year would be preoccupied with political activities, members of the lower chamber will have their hands full in trying to clear the workload on their table.

 

Some of these issues are time bound and if not handled expeditiously, may be caught in the web of electioneering campaign and politicking. In line with the House standing rules and orders, it will devote both Tuesday and Wednesday to special sessions in honour of its members who passed on during the Easter holidays. However, when the House settles down, it will be confronted with the following issues:

 

 

The approval by the National Economic Council (NEC) of President Muhammadu Buhari request to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) has caused a lot of ripples in the polity since last December, when the decision was taken. The clouds hovering over the issue were further aggravated last week, when it was announced that the President has ordered the release of the money, which is meant to fight insecurity in the North-East and other parts of the country.

 

Expectedly, the House is sharply divided over this issue along party and sectional lines, a development which compelled Speaker Yakubu Dogara to refer the matter to the Committee on Finance to advise the chamber on what to do.

 

But, before mandating the House to look into the matter, the speaker had in a veiled language reminded the House that the entirety of the money coming from the ECA had been approved by the state Houses of Assembly, allowing their respective governors to give consent to the request.

 

He wondered whether the National Assembly had any significant input in the matter and ruled that the motion be stepped down until the state of the ECA was ascertained. Dogara committed the responsibility to the House Committee on Finance and gave it four weeks to conclude the assignment.

 

The House is expected to give priority attention to this matter and dispose it off as soon as possible considering the heated debate it has generated in the polity of late.

 

But before then, leader of the House, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, had declared that the National Assembly had no legal authority to query state governments on how they choose to spend their money, insisting that the money belongs to the states.

 

He noted that so long as the legality or otherwise of the controversial Excess Crude Account is yet to be decided by the courts, the ECA will remain in operation as a property of the three tiers of government.

 

Gbajabiamila argued that if state governors, being co-owners of the ECA, decided that their share should be used to prosecute the war against Boko Haram, it was not within the powers of the National Assembly to question them. He explained that the power of the National Assembly to appropriate funds was relevant so long as the money in question belonged to the Federal Government, not when it involves other tiers of government.

 

His words: “It is important that the legality of the withdrawal of $1 billion from the ECA is properly understood. The ECA, I have always maintained, is an illegal account and I instituted a court action against it during President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. Unfortunately, until a final decision has been made by the courts, the account is still operative. There is a clear misunderstanding of the powers of the National Assembly over public funds and the limitations.

 

“The National Assembly only has power of appropriation over funds belonging to the Federal Government. The ECA does not belong to the Federal Government but to the three tiers of government. The National Assembly cannot query how the states decide to spend their money.

 

The only institution that can query this is the states Assembly.” Spokesman for the House, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, in his reaction, also applauded the decision of the governors to withdraw $1 billion from the ECA, saying it “was in national interest.”

 

Namda maintained that fighting insecurity and insurgency was not cheap, adding that the fund, if judiciously spent, will help to end the insurgency war. He said: “It is a right step in the right direction.

 

People are looking at it from the point that the government earlier said that Boko Haram had been ‘technically defeated.’ That is not the issue here.

 

The issue is that the insurgents are still carrying out attacks, killing people and rendering more people homeless. If the defeat must be total, then the government must spend heavily on weaponry, training and the welfare of our military personnel.” It would be recalled that there was a heated debate on February 21, when the matter was eventually tabled for deliberations.

 

A motion sponsored by Hon. Ken Chikere (PDP, Rivers) on the Need to deduct 13 per cent Derivation from the $1 billion approved by the National Economic Council (NEC) to fight Boko Haram Insurgency caused ripples in the lower chamber.

 

Chikere had in the motion canvassed that if 13 per cent derivation was not deducted from the fund and paid to oil-producing states; it would amount to double contribution by the states.

 

He added that it will also be a breach of section 16 (2) of the 1999 Constitution and Section 1 of the Al location of Revenue (Federation Account, etc) Act, Cap.A15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014.

 

But, Hon. Shehu Garba (APC, Kaduna) in his response opposed the motion, saying that the fight against Boko Haram insurgency should be seen as a national challenge than a sectional issue. He said that debating the issue will open up “a Pandora box” that may apparently heat up the polity. According to him, “we do understand the reason behind this motion.

 

Another contentious issue, which the House will seek to resolve, is the amendment to the Electoral Act to pave way for a reordered election sequence. Before proceeding on the Easter break, the House had represented the rejected amendment and passes it through first and second reading.

 

Consequently, Speaker Dogara ordered that the bill should be prepared and sent to the committee of the whole for eventual considerations and passage. In the new amendment, the House is insisting that the National Assembly election takes place first, while the presidential election comes last.

 

There are feelers from the Rules and Business Committee headed by Hon. Emmanuel Orker-Jev (APC, Benue) that work on the contentious amendment would be completed and sent to the President before the end of the month.

 

A member of the committee, who disclosed this to New Telegraph, said the lawmakers are conscious of the time frame within which the Electoral Act could be amended and are therefore not taking chances.

 

He explained that the amendment is not targeted at anybody, but meant to provide a level playing field for all candidates in the general elections, as well as to strengthen the leadership recruitment process in the country.

 

Since the nation is approaching an election year, the passage of the 2018 budget is of utmost importance.

 

As such, both chambers of the National Assembly had agreed to pass the budget on April 24. It is expected that the report of the committee on appropriation will be tabled for consideration on April 19, while the budget will be passed on April 24.

 

This budget is very important to the lawmakers and indeed the executive because it will serve as indices for measuring the performance of the APCled federal government.

 

Apart from these, there are very many other issues, such as the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIGB) and the amendment of the constitution, which could also dominate deliberations in the next two months

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