Contrary to widespread expectation, there were no anxious moments yesterday at the National Assembly as members resumed from their long vacation.
Following the acrimonious long adjournment of the federal legislature and the move by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to remove the presiding officers, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara, there had been speculations that yesterday’s resumption would be tense and rancorous.
But the plenary of both the Senate and the House of Representatives were calm as members emerged from separate executive sessions to unveil an agenda for peace, committing to cooperate to carry on with legislative business without further quarrels and scheming.
In the Senate yesterday members were told of an executive communication from President Muhammadu Buhari, asking the National Assembly to issue $2.786 billion for partial financing of the 2018 budget’s fiscal deficit.
And in the House of Representatives, where the same communication was also received, the speaker committed to speedy passage of the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
But not long into plenary, both chambers adjourned again in honour of a House member, Hon. Funke Adedoyin, who died recently. Resumption is today.
The senators had gone into an executive session that lasted for 20 minutes from 11.05 am to 11.25 am.
It was learnt from reliable sources that during the session the senators were frank in their discussions about recent developments in the Senate in particular and the National Assembly at large.
They were said to have agreed to give peace a chance with all members having fruitful discussions about the future of the Eighth Senate as it goes into its last stage.
Other resolutions include that senators agreed to give peace a chance and avoid allowing the Red Chamber to degenerate into an arena of conflict over partisan and personal issues.
The APC Senate Caucus leadership headed by Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, it was further gathered, also extracted a promise from the Senate president that national interest would continue to take precedent over any other consideration in the activities of the Senate.
The senators during the plenary were reported to have unanimously agreed not to allow external forces and influence to cause disaffection, disturbance or crisis within the legislature.
After the session, Saraki read to them the executive communication from Buhari for the issuance of $2.78 10bn Eurobond to finance the 2018 federal budget’s fiscal deficit.
Buhari in the letter dated July 23 explained that he was requesting for the distinct and specific resolutions of the National Assembly for the $2.786 10bn Eurobond in line with Sections 21(1) and 27(1) of the Debt Management Office, DMO.
The President in another letter presented the N693.026 billion 2018 Statutory Budget Proposal of Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to the Senate for passage in line with the NDDC (Establishment) Act.
The 2018 budget proposed by President Buhari for NDDC is far less than the N729.016 billion budget approved by the Senate for the commission in 2017.
Buhari also requested for the confirmation of the appointment of Olanipekun Olukoyede by the Senate as the Secretary of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
In the letter dated September 10 and read at plenary by Saraki, Buhari said he was nominating Olukoyede in compliance with the provision of Section 2(3) of the EFCC Act 2010.
Other letters from President Buhari that were also read on the floor of the Senate by Saraki included Buhari’s declining assent to 10 bills namely Institute of Entrepreneurship (Establishment) Bill 2018, Stamp Duties(Amendment) Bill 2018, Electoral (Amendment) Bill 2018, Industrial Development (Income Tax Relief)(Amendment) Bill 2018 and The Advanced Fee Fraud And Other Related Offences (Amendment) Bill 2017.
Others are National Institute Of Hospitality and Tourism (Establishment) Bill 2018, Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (Amendment) Bill 2017, The Subsidiary Legislation ( Legislative Scrutiny) Bill 2018, Agricultural Seeds Council Bill 2018 and National Research and Innovation Council(Establishment) Bill 2017.
The Senate President said the Senate will study all the Bills that President Buhari refused to assent to with a view to knowing all the issues involved, adding that “we have set up a technical committee to look into the reasons for the President’s refusal of assent to them. “
Saraki also formally announced the death of a member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Funke Adedoyin, and requested for a minute silence in her honour.
At this point, Senate Leader, Senator Ahmad Lawan, raised a point of order stating that with the demise of the House of Representatives member and going by the tradition of the National Assembly the Senate should suspend any further debate and therefore moved a motion for adjournment to today.
This was seconded by the Minority Leader, Senator Biodun Olujinmi.
The House of Representatives which also reconvened yesterday immediately adjourned till today in honour of one of their own, Hon. Funke Adedoyin, who died on September 28, 2018.
But listed on the order paper were three bills: one, a bill for an act to amend the National Tobacco Control Act (2015), to address the lacuna that may be easily exploited by tobacco industry in Nigeria and cure certain defects in the act, second, a bill for an act to establish the National Security Trust Fund to provide for the maintenance of a trust fund that will cater for the procurement of military security infrastructure and technology for security agencies in Nigeria and lastly, a bill for an act to amend Section 1 (3) of the Federal University of Technology Act, Cap. F23, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004, by providing for the power of the university to establish Technology Park for the conduct of intervention and innovation in technology and for related matters.
Dogara, however, assured Nigerians that members and the leadership of the lower chamber of the National Assembly were committed to ensuring the quick passage of the electoral act and the budget of the Independent National Electoral Commission.
Dogara, who spoke with journalists immediately after yesterday’s plenary, was adjourned till today at the National Assembly complex, said contrary to insinuation in some quarters; the lawmakers are committed to whatever will guarantee credible elections in Nigeria.
He said, “We are servants of the people by our calling as representatives of the people of Nigeria and we don’t have the right to put our interest forward rather than the interest of the people, so we are here to serve the public good. And these issues are outstanding, we know. It was never going to be threat in any way as insinuated. We showed that we have in the budget, the provision for service wide vote, which is about N300bn and wherever the emergency was could have been met from the service wide vote we have allocated in the budget.”
The Speaker assured Nigerians that “As we are back now we will set ourselves to accomplish whatever is there in the interest of our people and even if it means within a day or two. We have done that in the area of Ease of Doing Business. There were times, even within a week that we concluded the first, second and third reading of a bill and passed it into law just because we felt there was need for us to expand the space for participation of citizens, job creation, wealth creation and in rebuilding our economy, especially in the wake of economic recession.
“So, nothing is impossible and I can assure you that as soon as we have the report brought from the committee, hopefully within the week, in no time, we should be able to deal with these issues relating to the elections; whether it is electoral act, whether it is funding for INEC. We will ensure that the appropriate funding is approved for INEC and that the electoral act is passed in no time. Even if it involves doing it within a day.”
However, there were indications that some of the lawmakers were still on war path as some are already demanding that Saraki and Dogara should honourably step down.
Hon. Mohammed Monguno (Borno State-APC) said, “My advice is that the Senate President and the Speaker, House of Representatives should honourably resign since they have changed the party on which platform they were elected.”
He added that being opposition lawmakers and minority in the National Assembly, “It is going to affect core legislative duties because the manifesto of the party they belong to is in conflict with the ruling party and it will affect the agenda of the ruling party. And that may lead to sabotage.”
Asked if the APC is considering moving to remove the leaders, Monguno said, “If we can muster the majority we are going to move to impeach them.”
On his part, Hon. Sergius Ogun (Edo State-PDP), did not only say it is unnecessary to consider removing the National Assembly leadership, he emphasised that no party has the constitutional requirement to embark on the venture, “No party has the 210-majority needed to remove the House of Representatives leadership and that should be the last thing on anybody’s mind.”
Meanwhile, the National Assembly resumed to a protest by legislative aides who lamented over non-payment of the salaries and allowances and called on the leadership to urgently ensure their entitlements are paid.
The aides who occupied the lobby of the legislative chamber carrying placards with various inscriptions and chanting anti-National Assembly leadership songs, said most of their basic entitlements have been denied them since the inception of the Eight Assembly.
A leader of the protesters, Ofem Eko said, “Our protest is to call on the leadership of the National Assembly to make sure our money is paid on time. The last time we were paid salary was August 15 and yet we have bills to pay. We have not received Duty Tour Allowance for three years. Since we resumed we have not been trained. Many times, we call on management they will say they are working on it. If we go to the Clerk of the National Assembly he will refer us to the Senate President, if we go to the Senate President he will refer us to the Clerk.”
The protesters said there are 3,000 of their members who are experiencing hardships over non-payment of money due to them by the National Assembly leadership.