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Lawmakers kick as Senate shifts debate on $1b fund


Members of the Nigerian Senate PHOTO: TWITTER/ NIGERIAN SENATE

• Motion sponsor absent, reappears after adjournment
• Governor Udom seeks review of NEC’s approval
• Ogoni cleanup also deserves priority, say activists

Senators yesterday expressed disappointment over the failure by the leadership of the Senate to open a debate on the contentious plan by government to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to fund its war against insurgency in the North East.

Senate President Bukola Saraki had an uphill task trying to persuade his colleagues the matter should be debated upon resumption from the Christmas and New Year recess. His appeals were repeatedly rejected as lawmakers voiced their disapproval.

Trouble started when Deputy President Ike Ekweremadu drew attention to the fact that yesterday’s Senate Order Paper was silent on the matter despite the fact that the upper legislative chamber had on Wednesday agreed to debate it yesterday.

Senator Sam Anyanwu (PDP, Imo State) had on Wednesday notified his colleagues that the planned withdrawal was a matter of urgent national importance, demanding serious examination by the chamber. He had therefore asked the Senate to allow him sponsor a motion for a debate the following day yesterday.

Shortly after Ekweremadu raised the issue, many of his colleagues became agitated and sought a positive response from Saraki, who noticing the mood of the chamber painstakingly explained why the motion could not be taken.Saraki did not explain why the motion was not on the Order Paper, but stated that Anyanwu’s absence from the chamber made it difficult for the debate to commence.

His explanation, however, failed to pacify the chamber, as the murmurs intensified. Following this, he lightheartedly remarked that his political party would not agree that money be spent without due process, and assured that a debate would be opened immediately the Senate returns from the holiday.”This matter should have come up today (yesterday) but Senator Sam Anyanwu was not able to present his paper today. He sought more time and I agreed with him that it will be taken care of in the next legislative day,” Saraki said to jeers and laughter by senators.

“Our party does not do things like that. We will not spend money that does not follow due process. I am assuring you that that money will not be spent until we come back here and debate it,” he added.But shortly after the Senate adjourned till January 16, 2018, Anyanwu resurfaced for a committee meeting without muttering a word on why he stayed away from the chamber to present his motion.

The proposed anti-insurgency fund drew criticism from the Akwa Ibom State governor, Mr. Emmanuel Udom, yesterday. He faulted its approval by the National Economic Council, asking why such a huge amount had not been made to address insecurity in the Niger Delta. The governor also contended that he was not at the meeting where the decision was taken.

“We are not too comfortable with the decision to part with $1 billion that is supposed to support development by states and local government areas. I am not speaking for anybody. I am speaking for myself. As at today, I am being owed almost N140 billion on federal roads. I have generated electricity and sold it to the national grid and I have not been paid for it.

“So, when we are discussing security, it’s not just one aspect. Let’s look at it in a holistic manner; what actually constitute security threats to the whole country,” he told journalists at the Ibom International Airport. Udom noted that since some governors especially those from the South South region were not at the meeting, there was the need for a review of the matter.

Environmental activists in the Niger Delta meanwhile have described the delay in the release of funds for the cleanup of Ogoniland as insensitive. Speaking under the aegis of the Civil Society for Environment Sustainability (CISOC), they decried the approval given to the Federal Government to spend $1 billion on terrorism while the cleanup remained neglected.

The group’s chairman, Mr. Young Kigbara, said it was frustrating living in a country of double standards where authorities react to issues on the basis of sectional or primordial sentiments.

“We are afraid and saddened that this laudable intent (cleanup) of the Federal Government might be undermined by apparent non-existence of any sense of urgency and the relapse into needless inertia of relevant agencies of government, particularly the Ministries of Environment on the release of funds for earnest takeoff of the project,” he said at the end of the group’s emergency meeting in Port Harcourt.

He added: “We call, therefore, on the Federal Government, in the spirit of the urgency of the situation, to direct the immediate release of funds to the Hydrocarbon Pollution Remediation Project (HYPREP) for quick action on the implementation of emergency measures.”

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