THE HOUSELAST WEEK WITH ONWUKANZESHI
The week again ended on a controversial note for the Green Chamber. The House announced its inability to conclude work on the 2013-2015 Medium Term Expenditure Frame Work and Fiscal Strategy Paper. The situation is further compounded by a second decision to suspend plenary throughout next week to enable its committees embark on physical oversight of Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in order to verify the level of implementation of the 2012 Budget.
The implication of all these is that the earlier request by President Jonathan to present the 2013 Appropriation Bill next week ( October 4) has been put in abeyance. Chairman, House Committee on Finance, Hon Abdulmumin Jibrin, had during Thursday's plenary briefed the House on the level of work done on the MTEF document and the need for the relevant committees to be given more time to complete the assignment.
Jibrin suggested that the House may have to write to the President to intimate him of the situation in the House and prevail on him to shelve the presentation of the new budget. But House Speaker Aminu Tambuwal argued that the letter to the President might not be necessary in the circumstance since the passage of the MTEF document was a legal and constitutional prerequisite to the presentation of a new budget.
Under the Fiscal Responsibility. Act 2007, the MTEF is expected to be presented to the National Assembly at the end of the third quarter of the year while the budget is presented after the National Assembly might have scrutinised and passed the MTEF document. The decision of the House sounds logical but also threatens to delay the budget process.
The Flood Menace
A plague of floods has hit Nigeria and there seems to be no dry land anywhere in the country. From the flood prone areas to even the heart of the dry desert, the story is the same - roads and bridges have been submerged; homes and farmlands have been swept away and the victims are left in the cold. During the week, the House of Representatives had more than a handful of motions seeking government's intervention.
It got to a ridiculous level that almost every lawmaker came to the chamber clutching a motion on flood. Worse still, they all wanted their voices heard one after the other. Trust politicians! They would always want to score cheap political points even during difficult times. As usual, they beckoned on the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to send relief materials to victims of the flood in their respective constituencies.
But wise counsel soon prevailed and the House opted not to debate the motions any more but to simply refer them to the Committee on National Emergency and Disaster Preparedness as well as the Committee on Environment for consolidation of all the requests.
Chairman, House Committee on Environment, Hon. Uche Ekwunife, expressed discomfort with the situation and rose to confront the old order. Ekwunife argued that the flood disaster had become so widespread that the idea of asking NEMA to send bags of rice, garri, beans and sugar to embattled communities was no longer tenable. She proposed that the time had come for the executive arm of government to consider sending a supplementary budget to the National Assembly to tackle the massive flood disaster ravaging the country.
According to her, what was happening was also an indication that the environment was endangered and more disasters were on their way unless the government changed its approach to handling issues of the environment. There were attempts to situate the trouble at the door step of the Ecological Fund Office but Ekwunife argued that the structure and operations of the Ecological Fund were too complex and controversial for the nation to rely on the Fund.
She claimed the Ministry of Environment had been grossly under- funded over the years hence it had not been able to respond adequately to the challenges of the moment. The best option in the present circumstance, she insisted, was a supplementary budget specially devoted to tackling the current challenge posed by flood in various parts of the country.
But, wait a minute! How come all the problems are laid on the door step of the Federal Government and its agencies? Don't we have states and local governments to respond to some of these disasters? The last time I checked, there were 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja in Nigeria and each of these has a share of the Ecological Fund and almost all have ministries, departments and agencies designed to protect the environment. Could all these be decorations or mere avenues to draw funds from the budget of the federation?
Again, The Bakassi Issue
The House has also renewed its clamour for the Federal Government of Nigeria to approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a review of the 2002 judgement ceding Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Justice and Special Duties mandated the previous week to look at the issue presented its report. For the umpteenth time, the House observed that Article 61 of the Statute of the ICJ clearly makes provision for a review of its judgements.
The statute also defined the procedure for the review as well as the time-frame within which the process must commence. The House Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs had penultimate week met with some stakeholders to discuss the future of Bakassi.
The report of that discourse recommended that the Nigerian Government should proceed immediately to file for a review of the judgement based on the fresh evidence available on the boundary dispute. It, however, warned that the review must be filed before October 10, this year which will mark the tenth anniversary of the 2002 ruling.
According to the report, the Green Tree Agreement entered into by the governments of Nigeria and Cameroon following the ICJ ruling and which culminated in the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon was a violation of Section 12 (1) of the 1999 Constitution. The section states that: "No treaty between the Federation and any other country shall have the force of law except to the extent to which that treaty has been enacted into law by the National Assembly."
The report also noted the increasing security challenges and the threats to Nigeria's territorial integrity as a result of the ceding of Bakassi to Cameroon and the withdrawal of Nigerian security forces from the territory.
"It was noted that there is decreased piracy activity in the Somalia/Eritrea region due to heavy UN presence on those waters and the transfer of the nefarious activities to the waters surrounding Nigeria as a result of skeletal (if any) presence of the Nigerian Navy on the waters of Bakassi. The vulnerability of the Bakassi waterways pose a huge security challenge as we battle insecurity on land and we are faced with insecurity on water.
"The Nigerian government must realise that self determination is a fundamental right to which the Bakassi people can avail themselves of especially where a sovereign state abdicates her responsibility towards a constituent part of her territory. We must therefore do everything within our powers to ensure that the people of Bakassi continue to feel that they are part and parcel of their homeland," the report said.
The dilemma of the Federal Government on the issue has been fuelled by the views of some so-called experts who believe that seeking a review of this judgement would be a waste of time. It will certainly be an act of cowardice and a grave injustice if Nigeria failed to use this last window of opportunity to rescue Bakassi. The clock is ticking away and we have just ten days.
Whither Diaspora Commission?
The Presidency and the House Committee on Diaspora Affairs reached a new accord during the week. The two parties agreed to establish a Diaspora Centre in Abuja as one of the ways of attracting investments to the economy from Nigerians living abroad. The Diaspora Centre will serve as a convergence unit for all ideas on how to harness the potentials of our citizens living outside the country. Secretary to the Government of the Federation(SGF) Senator Anyim Pius Anyim pledged the intention of the government to work with the parliament on the initiative when the Chairman, House Committee on Diaspora Affairs, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, paid a visit to the SGF.
As a further demonstration of commitment to Diaspora Matters, we learnt President Jonathan would soon appoint a new Special Advisor on Diaspora Affairs. But the question begging for answer is where does that leave the earlier move by the parliament to enact a legislation establishing a Nigeria Diaspora Commission? Dabiri-Erewa, the arrow head of the agitation for the proposed commission, appears to have settled for the Diaspora Centre because the commission isn't forthcoming.
In the midst of all these, she still bemoans the lack of a policy on Diaspora. According to Dabiri-Erewa, it is a big setback for Nigeria and an embarrassment to her image on the world stage. Nigeria, she said, remains one of the few countries without a Diaspora Policy.