At last the National Assembly has endorsed death penalty for perpetrators of terror acts in Nigeria. With the development, the lawmakers have upped the ante on the fight against terrorists.
Both chambers also passed the N161billion supplementary budget requested by President Goodluck Jonathan to pay off outstanding fuel subsidy money and to avert fuel scarcity during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
Also, soldiers were said to have arrested about 63 suspects in connection with the kidnapping of Mrs. Kanene Okonjo, mother of finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.
The legislators' resolution of death sentence for terrorists was contained in the conference committee report of both chambers of the National Assembly, which harmonised a Bill for an Act to amend the Terrorism (prevention) Act 2011 and for other related matters.
In the report read on the Senate floor, chairman of the conference committee, Sen. Mohammed Magoro, said that "Clause 2 amends Section 1 of the principal Act which deals with "prohibition of acts of terrorism" in general. The senate version prescribed life imprisonment for offences under this clause while the House version prescribed death penalty. After deliberations, the House version was adopted by the conference committee."
"Equally, in Clause 2, a new section - 1A, was inserted immediately after Section 1 of the principal Act. This new provision deals with national coordinating bodies in counter-terrorism offences and designates specific institutions, and vests specific powers and functions; that is, the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and relevant law enforcement and security agencies.
"The Conference Committee considered in detail the new provision vis-a-vis other extant laws in force with regard to national security and prevention of terrorism and adopted the house version".
The committee further substituted the words 'national security adviser', 'inspector-general of police', and the 'president,' replacing them with the clause: "attorney-general shall apply for the forfeiture of any funds or property seized under this Act."
The report was, however, not adopted yesterday by the Senate because the signatures of some members of the conference committee, including that of the House Committee chairman, were not in the report.
Senate President David Mark, however, instructed the committee chairman to get the report signed by all members of the committee for proper documentation.
NASS approves Jonathan's N161bn supplementary budget Request
Both chambers also passed the N161.6billion supplementary budget requested by President Goodluck Jonathan to pay off outstanding fuel subsidy money and to avert fuel scarcity during the Christmas and New Year celebrations.
In a letter Tuesday to both chambers, Jonathan premised his reasons for the additional budget on the report of a forensic audit which revealed that the N888.1 billion initially provide for fuel subsidy in the 2012 budget was underestimated.
In the Senate, though the bill was passed swiftly, a majority of the senators expressed strong reservations, with most of querying why details of the forensic report were not made available to the Senate.
Other senators, especially those from the opposition party, who lamented that they were being 'blackmailed' to pass the request considering its timing, said that they were caught between alleviating the pain of the masses and ensuring proper scrutiny of the request, in view of the ongoing investigation of fraudulent dealings in the subsidy regime.
In his remark, however, Senate President David Mark expressed worry at the poor planning by the economic team, especially for not identifying such a shortfall while presenting the initial budget.
Mark, who bemoaned the level corruption in the subsidy regime, also stated that the decision on whether or not to stop subsidy payments should be left to Nigerians.
According to him, "All the arguments by senators were very valid and nobody went off the track. I think everybody spoke their mind as they were. It is not a secret anymore to say there is a lot of corruption in the fuel subsidy administration, in whatever system they are adopting; and I think the nation must make a decision now whether to continue this or to stop it. If we can't eliminate and stop the corruption in the industry, then the other alternative will be to stop the whole exercise of fuel subsidy and we will take the one that is easier and the one that will bring less pain to Nigerians. The reason why we are here in the chambers is to work for the welfare of our people, and anything we can to alleviate their sufferings, we will continue to do.
"The nation, in my candid opinion, must make that decision sooner than later, because we cannot carry on this way. Obviously, they should have anticipated that there was going to be shortfall when they first made this presentation at the beginning of the year. That did not happen; and we are now shouldered with the responsibility of this additional approval, and we have done so in the best interest of this country," he said.
In his summation, Deputy Senate Leader Abdul Ningi, appealed to his colleagues to act like statesmanship and pass the bill, adding that its passage will help the country to move forward.
House of Representatives queries forensic audit
In the House of Representatives, the legislators queried the forensic audit which the presidency cited in arriving at an additional N161,617,364,911 billion over and above the N888.1 billion approved for payment of fuel subsidy this year.
House members accused President Goodluck Jonathan of attempting to blackmail them in assenting the proposed supplementary budget which, if approved, will bring the total fuel subsidy budget for 2012 to N1,041,881,608,594 trillion, just 18 days to the end of the 2012 fiscal year.
Deliberating on Jonathan's request at yesterday's plenary, the Chairmen of the House Committees on Petroleum Resources (Upstream), Dakuku Peterside (River/PDP); Petroleum Resources (Downstream), Ajibola Muraina (Oyo/PDP), and Appropriation, John Enoh (Cross River/PDP) chorused that an attempt to reach a decision at yesterday's plenary would be rushed and that the matter would be better handled at committee level.
Peterside and the House Minority Leader/Leader of Opposition, Femi Gbajabiamila, insisted that the forensic audit should be presented before the House for scrutiny. Gbajabiamila said the underestimation of the 2012 fuel subsidy budget was an indictment on the Budget Office of the Federation. The duo demanded from the federal government actual consumption figures of subsidised petroleum products.
"The government needs to block leakages in the system (subsidy). We agree that subsidy is not in our best interest, but in the interim we have to live with it and make it work well," Peterside said.
Meanwhile, House Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, in an address at plenary, called for better budget tracking by House standing committees.
Tambuwal's address read in part, "Throughout this debate, issues around forensic report, actual subsidy figures, and actual requirements have been raised. We can only know this if we allow this Bill to get to the committee for them to work on it and come back with all these details that we require, either for us to pass it or to justify why their request should not be passed."
Kanene Okonjo: Soldiers arrest 63 suspects
Meanwhile, military authorities said yesterday that soldiers had arrested 63 people in Delta State during raids aimed at finding the finance minister's 82-year-old mother, Prof Kanene Okonjo, who was kidnapped from her home on Sunday.
It is not yet known whether the abduction of Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala's mother is for political or financial gain.
"Yesterday, the Four Brigade raided Ogwashi-Ukwu in search of Mama," army spokeswoman Roseline Managbe told Reuters, adding that "those arrested are being questioned."
Criminal gangs regularly kidnap people for ransom in Nigeria, but it is rare for them to target members of the political elite.
Two policemen were also arrested this week on suspicion of aiding the kidnappers of Okonjo.
Managbe said two Lebanese men working for Nigerian construction company Setraco had been abducted on Tuesday in Delta State by gunmen who killed a soldier assigned to protect them.
The finance minister, a campaigner against corruption, has received threats in the past, her special adviser Paul Nwabuikwu said on Sunday.
CP advises monarchs to fortify palaces
The commissioner of police in Delta State, Mr. Ikechukwu Aduba, yesterday advised monarchs to engage palace guards to fortify their palaces.
Aduba, who gave the advice when he paraded 25 suspected kidnapers and armed robbers in Asaba, said that the suspects were arrested this week..
He said that the kidnap of Mrs Kanene Okonjo had further reinforced the need for the monarchs to make use of their guards.
Aduba decried the situation where monarchs' palaces were easily accessed by just anybody, saying that it exposed the monarchs to risk.
According to him, "the palace should be fortified and the job of the police is to complement the security. If you have a palace, you are supposed to have your guards and not to rely solely on police security.
"Palace guards are very necessary. Security is everybody's business and if you talk about the vigilance group, they are under the monarchs."
Ahamba, Falana, others speaks on death sentence for terrorists
Prominent lawyers, Chief Mike Ahamba (SAN), Femi Falana (SAN), Dayo Akinlaja (SAN) and Alasa Ismaila yesterday gave differing opinions over the adoption of death penalty by the federal lawmakers for terror acts in the country.
In separate interviews with LEADERSHIP, some of the lawyers supported the position of the lawmakers as long as it is generally applied to all offenders, and not selectively used against perceived 'enemies' of the government in power.
Others were of the view that the National Assembly was not well informed on the world-wide clamour for the abolition of death penalty in nation's penal law.
Ahamba said, "I have never advocated for the abolition of death penalty in our penal laws; therefore I strongly support the position of the National Assembly. If I were a member of the National Assembly, I would have voted for its adoption for those convicted for terrorism acts."
Falana on his part said that while terrorism is bad and intolerable in the society, the death penalty was not an antidote to terrorism.
"It is a proven fact," he said, "that death penalty has never been able to curb violent crime in any society. It even has a way of escalating such crimes in the state. I advise President Goodluck Jonathan not to sign the bill into law because it is going to embarrass the country that has earlier given its word to the world that it would maintain moratorium on execution of death sentences in the country.
"What happens to those already in the custody or on trial? Are we going to back date the law just as was done during Buhari/Idiagbon era."
Akinlaja shares the same view with Falana. "Death penalty did not curb armed robbery in the country and it is more likely that this will do nothing to deter terrorists who are in most cases on suicide mission.
"How do you expect somebody who has made up his mind to kill people as well as himself become disturbed with death penalty in the event of being held alive? I am not sure if this will not escalate terrorism in the country," he said.
But Ismaila believes that the adoption of death penalty is justified, as long as it is not abused to settle political scores.
"I don't believe in the so-called worldwide clamour for the abolition of death penalty," he said. "It all depends on the nature of crime. Terrorism is about the highest crime all over the world against humanity. I support it provided it is not used in the long run against perceived enemies of the government in power."