27 January 2013

Nigeria: Week of Directives, Threats, Warnings, Confirmations in Senate

Last week, the Senate dwelt on issues ranging from confirmation of two ministerial nominees to warning the executive against spending public funds on the proposed celebration of the nation's centenary.

On Tuesday, the Senate decried the plight of Nigerians abroad. Senators, while contributing to a motion sponsored by the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Senator Mathew Ifeanyi Nwagwu (PDP, Imo North) on "The Incessant Unfair Treatment and Harassment of Nigerians in Foreign Countries", unanimously insisted that innocent Nigerians abroad be protected against all forms of injustice.

Nwagwu had told the chamber that his committee recently discovered that 776 Nigerians were serving jail terms in seven foreign nations.

According to him, 395 Nigerians are currently in prisons in Spain, 126 in Gabon, 91 in Thailand, 62 in the United States of America (USA), 43 in Malaysia, 30 in Niger Republic and 29 in Cameroon.

Expressing concern over "the intimidation, arrests, detention, torture, deportation and occasional deaths" of Nigerians abroad, Nwagwu noted that 14 of the 27 Nigerians recently deported from Spain were found not to be culpable for the offences for which they were deported after thorough investigation by the combined team of officers from the police, NDLEA, the SSS and the Nigerian Immigration Service.

The Senate therefore urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to strengthen Nigerian consular services in foreign missions with a view to increasing their capacity to protect Nigerians in distress and providing prompt legal advice to them where necessary.

It also urged the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian embassies across the world to be more proactive on matters affecting Nigerians in such countries whenever they are in distress.

It also urged the relevant Nigerian authorities to press for redress and restitution on behalf of the 14 deportees who were found not culpable out of the 27 deported from Spain recently; and the relevant government agencies to step up enlightenment to educate Nigerians who must travel to do so properly and conduct themselves orderly manner while in such countries.

The proposed Nigeria's centenary celebration took the centre stage during an interactive session with the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Anyim Pius Anyim, who was in the National Assembly to brief the lawmakers on the arrangements for the programme.

Senate President David Mark warned the executive against spending public funds on the celebration. Reacting to Anyim's disclosure that all the programmes slated for the centenary celebration were private-sector driven, Mark said: "The government is not committing a dime to the centenary celebrations and that is my understanding so far. The government has no commitment at all except for the land in exchange or the swop, whatever the arrangement is. Truly, then we have no reason for this briefing because where do we participate and how do we come in?

"I agree with you that it is an entirely a private sector commercial exercise or business. If the idea is just to keep us abreast of what government is doing then, there is no need for question and answer or further discussion. My worry is, let it not appear that somewhere along the line, we (the country) have been committed and then there is financial involvement. I've looked at some of the programmes and realised that you're going to move youths from all over the country and bring them to Abuja here for celebration. Just as a basic question: who is going to pay those youths and who is going to look after them?

"I agree entirely with you and I believe you that it is a whole private sector driven exercise and we've heard it. There is very little that we can do because if you call a businessman and ask him to put a national and ultra modern national conference centre in Lokoja and he says yes, historically that is good, but that is not his commercial concept or interest, then you can't do anything.

"So, I'm just worried that if truly it is private sector driven, then we will conclude this briefing as quickly as possible, but if there are suggestions that we want to make, then we can get a committee and they can make suggestions and give to the businessmen if they are interested they buy. If they are not interested, they don't buy. It is just my simple contribution".

For Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, the executive ought to disclose how much the celebration would gulp "at least for comparative analyses and historical records. Nigerians would like to know what is going to be the cost of this, irrespective of who is sponsoring it."

Anyim earlier told the senators that: "Every aspect of the programme will be private-driven. There is nothing about this in the budget and we don't intend to bring government funds. At no time will government funds go into it".

Senators Atai Aidoko (ANPP, Kogi East) and Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi West) said it was unfair of the government to have passively mentioned Lokoja in the centenary celebration since the amalgamation of the Northern and Southern Protectorates took place there. They argued that the main activities of the celebration should hold in Lokoja.

Senator Ahmed Lawan (ANPP, Yobe North) wondered why the executive would involve states in the programme, noting that his own state, Yobe, already had issues of security to spend its limited financial resources on; while Senator James Manager (PDP, Delta South) said the executive had already concluded its proposal for the programme and was trying to foist it on the legislature as no lawmaker was part of the planning committee.

Also on Tuesday, the Red Chamber sought the powers to compel the president to appear before the National Assembly for the state of the nation address.

This was sequel to the second reading of "a Bill for an Act to Prescribe an Annual State of the Nation Address and Other Matters Concerned Thereto". The bill was sponsored by Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu.

The bill passed second reading and was referred to the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs for further legislative action within two weeks.

Ekweremadu, in his leading debate, noted that the bill, which he had sponsored in the 6th Senate, was passed by the House of Representatives was also one of the numerous bills that could not receive presidential assent.

"Section 81 (1) of the 1999 Constitution simply provides that the president shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year, estimates of the revenues and expenditure of the federation for the next financial year...Without prejudice to the budget presentation, this bill seeks to provide for a formal and mandatory platform where the President will lay the account of his or her stewardship, assessment of the polity and the policy thrusts of his or her administration from the economy to politics, foreign policy, security and other aspects of our national life on the table for public scrutiny.

"The good thing about this bill is that when passed into law, the cost of operating it will only involve recurrent expenses such as preparation of the address and fuelling the presidential fleet from the State House to the National Assembly. And to cap it up, it will not be surprising if some Presidents prefer to walk the distance since we are close neighbours. And as earlier mentioned, the benefits of more accountable, open, and participatory governance which this Bill intends to enthrone to our quest for national development cannot be over-emphasised".

On Tuesday also, the Senate Joint Committee on Federal Character and Inter-Governmental Affairs, Labour and Productivity, mandated to investigate the alleged recruitment racketeering in government agencies, had its inaugural sitting. The panel, through its chairman, Senator Dahiru Awaisu Kuta (PDP, Niger East) threatened to arrest any government officials who shuns its investigative hearing.

"In this assignment, we'll invoke the power conferred on the National Assembly Section 89(1d) of the amended 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. We'll summon and if need be, issue warrant of arrest of anybody who refuses to attend the hearing to offer clarification on specific issues.

"We appeal for the cooperation of individuals, stakeholders, the press and the Nigerian public during this assignment. We'll launch a full scale investigation into cases of non-compliance with the federal character principles resulting in marginalization of different sections of this country, particularly as it affects recent employment into the various Federal Government establishments."

On Wednesday, the Senate,

confirmed the nominations of Mr Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (Kebbi State) and Professor Chinedu Nebo (Enugu) as ministers of the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

President Goodluck Jonathan had a fortnight ago forwarded their names to the Senate for confirmation.

Announcing the confirmation of the nominees' appointments, Senate President David Mark admitted that they frankly answered questions from senators.

He, however, charged them to match their words with actions in order to perform well when given portfolios.

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