This Day (Lagos)

30 November 2010

Nigeria: Senate - Sanusi, Aganga's Statements Treasonable

Abuja — Tempers rose on the floor of the Senate yesterday as senators after senators stood up in vehement condemnation of the statements credited to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga that federal lawmakers are crippling the country's economy with their outrageous pay packets.

The senators likened what they considered an attack on the federal legislature by members of the Executive arm of government to treason and "an attempt to arrest democracy".

Sanusi had alleged last weekend that 25 per cent of the nation's total recurrent expenditure is spent on the lawmakers' upkeep, while Aganga was reported to have said on Monday that the Federal Government was considering slashing the National Assembly vote.

At the end of the heated debate which was the only business undertaken by the senators having stood down other items on the order paper, the Senate resolved to summon the minister and the CBN governor to appear before four of its committees today to clarify their statements on outrageous budget allocations to the National Assembly.

Also irked by the statements, the House of Representatives has formally summoned Aganga and Sanusi to appear before it.

The two principal managers of the national economy are expected to appear before the House in plenary to confirm the veracity of their claims that the National Assembly gulps 25 per cent of the recurrent expenditure of the country.

Meanwhile, official figures released by the Federal Government showed that its total recurrent spending this year has risen above N2 trillion.

It also emerged that only about N351.59 billion out of the N749.74 billion cashed back for projects included in the 2010 budget has been utilized by ministries, departments and agencies of government (MDAs).

Also to appear along with the duo before the Senate committees is the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Mrs. Amina Azubair, who is expected to put the records straight about the award of MDG projects, which the senators said had been erroneously placed on the shoulders of the lawmakers.

Contributing to a motion on urgent public importance raised by Senator Victor Ndoma-Egba (PDP, Cross River), majority of the senators described the statements made by the two officials as a deliberate distortion of facts to bring the National Assembly into disrepute.

While the senators were unanimous on the need to summon the federal officials, there was, however, a division on whether they should appear before the relevant standing committees, those on Appropriation, Banking, Finance and MDGs, or before the plenary.

Presenting the motion, Ndoma-Egba noted that the allegation credited to the CBN governor that the National Assembly gulps 25 per cent of the national budget was false and misleading.

He said it was a calculated attempt to bring the National Assembly to disrepute.

Senator Bode Olajumoke, in his contribution, lamented that the false information published in the Nigerian media was always relayed and reviewed by international media, saying this had gone a long way to damage the integrity of members of the National Assembly, portraying them as "rogues".

In his contribution, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu blamed the misinformation on ignorance on the part of those who should be aware of the facts.

Senator Patrick Osakwe (PDP, Delta) described the allegation as an issue of "calling a dog a bad name in order to hang it".

He said Sanusi and Aganga should appear before the Senate to state the sources of their information, adding that the Senate and the National Assembly should no longer take such false allegations lightly in the future.

Senator Dahiru Umar informed his colleagues that the presentation of the news on BBC Hausa Service was severe and damaging, as some commentators called for the military to sack members of the National Assembly.

On his part, Senator Anthony Manzo said the Senate should not hesitate to sack the CBN governor if there were reasons to do so, since it has power to do so with two-thirds majority.

According to him, a situation where those who were screened and approved by the Senate were always turning round to attack it should no longer be tolerated.

Senate Spokesman, Senator Ayogu Eze, said the repeated publication of falsehood against the National Assembly was becoming embarrassing to the families of lawmakers.

He said the allegation amounted to treason, as it was calculated to bring down the National Assembly, which is the symbol of democracy.

Senate President David Mark said no lawmaker was involved in contract awards, stressing that the continued attack on members of the National Assembly would no longer be acceptable.

He said: "We have said this over and over, and yet they still keep repeating it. Once they hear it, they jump at it. I think we need to invite them to explain to us on live television."

Chairman, House Committee on Air Force, Hon. John Halims Agoda, paved the way for the decision to summon Aganga and Sanusi when he moved a motion expressing concern that the utterances of Sanusi had denigrated the National Assembly and brought the lawmakers to ridicule in the minds of the public.

Agoda said the allegations made by the CBN governor could not be substantiated both on the grounds of budgetary facts and moral inclinations of the National Assembly towards the total regeneration of the Nigerian society.

He argued that the utterances could not be swept under the carpet considering the weight of the allegations and the damage they portend for the institutional image of the National Assembly.

According to Agoda, "there are grave implications for the electoral values of members who have now been cast in the image of rapacious financial scavengers of the national treasury."

The motion was unanimously adopted with several lawmakers initially demanding the resignation of the CBN governor, while the moderates among them said they should be invited to enable the House to do a forensic analysis of their allegations.

The House resolved among other things to henceforth scrutinise the budgets of about 31 MDAs including the CBN to ensure that there were no leakages.

The N4.6 trillion 2010 budget has a capital vote of N1.7 trillion or 30 per cent of the appropriation.

The record, however, showed a sharp rise in personnel cost from N966.742 billion in 2009 to N1.1 trillion in September 2010, while overhead was estimated at N633.128 billion in 2010.

Inspection fees gulped N45.141 billion, while external debt was put at $0.462 billion by September 2010.

The 2010 utilization rate of 46.9 per cent is considered unimpressive by experts when compared to the N913.36 billion put forward in last fiscal regime.

The Accountant-General of the Federation, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwaabo, told journalists at the 2009/2010 score card on the activities of the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation (OAGF) briefing in Abuja yesterday that the low utilisation might have been caused by delays in the release of the funds to the MDAs.

He said he was hopeful that the capital budget performance would show remarkable improvements before the end of the year.

He also tied the low utilisation to the political crisis occasioned by the poor health of late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua.

The accountant-general also disclosed that the total statutory disbursement to the federal, state and local governments between 2009 and September 2010 stood at over N5.5 trillion.

This, he said, was in addition to Value Added Tax (VAT) of about N865.09 billion distributed in the period under review.

He said: "The sum of N1.19 trillion was cash backed in year 2009 of which N913.26 billion or 76.6 per cent was utilized. For 2010, the sum of N749.74 billion was cash backed of which N351.59 billion was utilized as at 30th October 2010. This translates to a capital performance of 46.9 per cent."

He said statutory allocation amounting to N2.7 trillion had so far been released between January and September 2010.

"This year is a special one in the sense that we encountered some challenges. We had a new president; the Federal Executive Council was reconstituted. But it is not too bad that we have that type of utilization rate considering the political challenges that we had," he said.

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