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Budget 2020: Senate’s secret meetings turn violent as committee chases journalists out

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The secrecy that has characterised the processing of the 2020 Budget bill in the Senate led to a mild drama yesterday at the National Assembly.

The Committee on Special Duties headed by Senator Yusuf Yusuf practically chased journalists out of a meeting with officials from the North-East Development Commission and the National Commission For Refugees.

Clerk to the Senate Committee, Kabir Yaba Umar, had yesterday morning sent an invitation to the Senate Press Centre in the Senate to invite journalists to the Committee’s budget defence session with the North-East Development Commission and the National Commission For Refugees.

He said the two events would hold at the Senate Committee Room 211 by 2.00 pm and 4.00 pm respectively.

Journalists from various media organisations got to the venue on schedule and started taking notes when Umar walked up to the reporters and ordered them to leave in the full glare of other members of the Committee including former governor of Borno State, Kashim Shettima; former governor of Yobe State, Ibrahim Geidam and the Senator representing Adamawa North, Elisha Abbo.

Umar said he was working on the directive of the Committee chairman to prevent journalists from covering the event.
The Clerk dared the reporters to write whatever they like because the committee, according to him, had the right to determine who should be allowed into the budget defence session or otherwise.

He said, “I have already told your colleagues who had been here before you that you guys are not wanted here. I have the directive of the Chairman to do what I’m doing.”

Asked if he was aware that his action was abnormal in democracy, Umar said, “Go ahead, I don’t care about what you write.”

The board and management of the NEDC and the refugee commission were expected to tell Nigerians how they hope to tackle the worsening humanitarian crises and aggravated malnutrition in the insurgency ravaged northeastern part of the country.

The Senate standing order 2015, as amended states in chapter 8(102) on rules of procedure for committees in general states:

“Each hearing inducted by each committee or sub-committee thereof shall be open to the public except when the Committee or sub-committee in an open session and with a majority present, determines, by roll call shall vote that all or part of the reminder of that hearing on that day shall be closed to the public because disclosure of testimony, evidence or other matters to be considered would endanger national security or would violate any law or rule of the Senate.”

The President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, had on Monday denied that senate committees were organising secret budget defence sessions with ministries and agencies of government.

He had said it was share misrepresentation of fact to say that journalists were not allowed to cover the budget defence sessions going on at the National Assembly.

Lawan was reacting to report published in some dailies last week that the media were shut out of the coverage of the budget defence at the various Senate committees.

“There is no shut out of the press from what we do,” Lawan said in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media, Ola Awoniyi.
“We need the press to tell Nigerians what we are doing. You (journalists) are our friends. That was a misunderstanding (of what happened),” Lawan said.

The Senate President said it should be expected that journalists, at some point, maybe excused from such meetings when sensitive issues that bother on national security are being discussed.

“I want to assure Nigerians that whatever we do in this Senate and indeed in this National Assembly is in the best interest of Nigeria. We will not compromise on anything as far as the national interest is concerned,” Lawan said.


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