Senate Moves Against TSA

The Senate on Wednesday asked the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to terminate forthwith the 2013 e-payment contract renewal with SystemSpecs.

The upper chamber also ordered the CBN to disregard the one per cent charge provided in the contract agreement with SystemSpecs.

As part of its contract with SystemSpecs, the apex bank agreed on the deduction of one per cent charge on all e-collections by SystemSpecs operator of REMITA Platform.

This is part of 11- point recommendations made by the Senate Joint Committee on Finance, Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions and Public Accounts.

The Senate in plenary adopted the recommendations as presented by Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator John Owan Enoh.

The submission of the committee was however not debated as Senate President, Bukola Saraki, ruled that only the recommendations of the committee would be considered.

The Senate had, during its sitting on November 11, 2015, debated a motion on alleged “abuse and mismanagement of the Treasury Single Account (TSA).

The upper chamber resolved to, among others, mandate its Joint committee on Finance, Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions and Public Accounts to conduct holistic investigation on the matter.

It specifically mandated the committee to investigate the alleged abuse of the TSA and deduction of N25 billion from accounts of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) under the e-payment.

The Nation

Suspend Saraki, Not Marafa! Protesters Urge Senators

Hundreds of protesters Tuesday morning stormed the National Assembly asking the senate to suspend embattled Senate President Bukola Saraki, over his corruption trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, instead of following through with the planned suspension of Senator Kabiru Marafa over alleged unguarded statement.

The protesters acting under the aegis of open Society Coalition carried placards bearing various inscriptions. Some of the inscriptions seen with the protesters at the entrance of NASS read: “‎Suspend Saraki not Marafa”; “Stop suspending members, leave the Senate and face CCT”; “NASS centre of Democracy not Facist centre‎” among others.

It could be recalled that the ethics committee of the senate began sitting Monday to probe allegations against Marafa.

The embattled senator from Zamfara snubbed the committee only for his supporters to turn the heat on Saraki today.

Leader of the protesting group Mr. Emeka Ude, stated that “We are here to protest because it was lawful for the likes of Senator Marafa to express his views and where that was considered as undermining the integrity of the Senate as was the case to the extent that they were considering suspension of Marafa was rather unfortunate.”

He added: “Several Senators have made unpalatable comments on issues in the past and none was suspended for such. Was it because this one bothers on Car purchase which was meant to service their ego rather than National development?,” he asked.

Meanwhile the Chairman, Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Samuel Anyanwu earlier submitted the report on Marafa during plenary. This follows the motion moved by Deputy Leader of the Senate, Bala Ibn ‘N’allah and the motion was seconded by Senator David Umaru representing Niger East Senatorial District.

With the submission of Samuel Anyanwu’s report, the issue has now been set to be discussed by the Committee of the whole at any other plenary against the expectation that the Committee might have recommended his expulsion which should be pronounced today.

Senate Others NERC To Halt Increase In Electricity Tariffs

The Senate today directed the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) to immediately suspend the February 1st, 2016 tariff hikes, which are estimated to be upwards of 40 per cent.

The senate said the move was necessary because any increase in cost, without the necessary improvement in service delivery by the power companies is unacceptable.

In a statement posted on Senate President Bukola Saraki’s Facebook page, Senator Saraki stated that the “power distribution companies must work to ensure that every establishment in Nigeria is provided with capabilities for metered billing.”

“Doing this would end the sharp practice of arbitrary billing, which estimates the power consumption of Nigerians in the generation of their monthly bills.” The statement revealed.

Sen. Marafa’s Interview Causing Ripples In Saraki’s Camp

Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Identity and National Population, Sen. Kabiru Marafa, in this interview with TOBI AWORINDE, backs former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s call for transparency in the National Assembly

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo recently wrote a letter to Senate President Bukola Saraki, accusing the National Assembly of corruption. Do you agree with him?

Did he say the 8th Senate?

He said the National Assembly…

I remember, I saw the excerpts of the letter and he was talking about laying bare the budgets of 2000, 2005 and 2015. He was not particular about the 8th Senate, I think.

According to Obasanjo, the National Assembly illegally augmented salaries and allowances above the approved template of the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. Is this true?

I have not seen the letter written by Obasanjo, I only read it on the pages of newspapers. I learnt it was addressed to the Senate President and the Speaker (of the House of Representatives), and the Senate President did not read it on the floor of the Senate and he didn’t make it obtainable to all senators. I cannot really comment on the content; I don’t like speculation. But, I saw the response of the Senate President and he said very soon he would reply the former President. Part of what I read is that he wants the National Assembly to lay bare its budget and I think that is a genuine call. The Senate President equally agreed with the former President that we would take steps to do that in the near future.

Many Nigerians are curious as to why the National Assembly does not reveal the details of its budget. Why is it so?

I am not in the leadership, I cannot say why it is not so. But I am one of the people that believe that the National Assembly should make its budget detailed. Like I told you, the response of the Senate President seems to agree with that. This is a new government, whose purpose of existence is change — and a positive change for that matter. With the introduction of the Treasury Single Account and the introduction of the zero-based budgeting system, I think, like I always say, the National Assembly should lead by example. I believe in the call, if that is the call; I believe that is a voice of reason and the National Assembly should do the needful to make the budget available to all Nigerians to see what it is all about.

How then do you justify the N120bn to N150bn budgeted annually for the National Assembly?

That is one aspect on which I agree with Obasanjo about this budget. Sharing money should not be the basis of the performance of legislators. Maybe the less they earn the better, I don’t know. But, I think whatever he is saying is right and I support him that the National Assembly should lay bare their budget. Let everybody know what we have and what we are doing because the tragedy is that people will just look at our budget — this year, I think it is N115bn — and someone will just pick his calculator to say ‘109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members,’ punch in N115bn (divided) by these numbers and say this number of senators is getting this or that. I think that is wrong — absolutely wrong! The National Assembly is an institution; each senator and each member of the House of Representatives is entitled to about five aides, which is even too small if you are to function very well. You are expected to touch every aspect of the country. A senator or House of Representatives member is expected to be an engineer, a nurse, a doctor, everything! How many people have two or three degrees? You need to rely on some people to do some work for you; to find out some things for you, if you are to function properly. If you multiply these five aides by 109 and 360, how many people are there that they pay salaries?

Then, we have sergeant-at-arms; we have verbatim reporters, clinics, the National Institute of Legislative Studies, the Public Complaints Commission; all these are part of the National Assembly and they are being paid from those salaries. I am not defending the National Assembly but I want Nigerians to be informed so that they can ask questions like what Obasanjo asked. I think it is a step in the right direction. Bring out your budget, lay bare your budget; let us do what is the in-thing today, that is, the zero-based budgeting system. I support the zero-based budgeting system 100 per cent. Let us also key into it, so that everybody will see: Senator Marafa — this amount; senior legislative aide to Marafa is taking so-and-so amount; and the same goes for whatever I take to do my oversight work. I think the zero-based budgeting system is one of the most laudable things this administration came with and every Nigerian should support it because you can see at a glance where the problem lies and where it does not lie. The moment you look at it, you see it.

In the past, you see where a non-governmental organisation would be given about N10bn and they would just say ‘X billion naira for salary’ and you don’t know whose salary this is. Then, you have ghost workers. But with the zero-based budgeting system, you would have to come up with names. ‘I have Mr. A, he is the general manager of so-and-so place and this is his salary, all the way down to the messenger and this is the total for salaries.’ Anybody doing oversight can easily check and see who these people are. You can come and say ‘You said you have X, B, C and Y staff. Where are they? I want to see them.’ Like I said, the zero-based budgeting system is a good thing and everybody should be on board to key into it. It is very important when you compare it to what we used to have in the former envelope system. The envelope system was just an avenue to waste all of Nigeria’s money because when you need N1,000 and you are given N500, what do you do? You just end up spending it on something useless.

Is it ideal to budget N4.7bn for cars, with the economic situation that the country is facing?

(Cuts in) I have already spoken my mind on the issue of cars. I said I don’t think it is the right thing to do. We should abandon it. That is my opinion and I stand by it.

But is the National Assembly doing enough on austerity measures?

I think this is the problem with Nigerians; we tend to just say things without properly looking at the implications of everything. If you want me to function, you have to equip me very well. It is just like what we are saying about the military now: You want to send them to Sambisa (Forest); you want them to fight and you talk of austerity measures. You say you cannot buy this type of gun or that type of armoured car or that type of jet fighter and you want them to fight. You cannot have your cake and eat it. If you want the legislature to work properly, you have to equip it very well; know what you are supposed to give it and what you are supposed to deny it. I went for a course in the International Law Institute in Washington DC and one of the resource persons — a senator of about 36 years who had finished his service and was delivering lectures — told us that the chairman of the defence (committee) is entitled to 12-24 aides and eight of them are entitled to consultants of PhD level. You know the US is involved in so many military operations all over the world, and as the chairman of that committee the two of them are the ones that oversee everything the military does everywhere. For you to carry out your job properly, don’t forget that the parliament is the holder of the money; they (the lawmakers) are the ones that control the money. You will need to be well informed. You cannot do the job alone, for God’s sake!

If you look at the presidency now, Mr. President is entitled to many ministers, special advisers and so on. It is because he oversees the whole country. You cannot say because there are austerity measures, he has to now do away with two ministers or three advisers and so on. Our problem in Nigeria, honestly speaking, is not about the budgetary sums, it is the corruption that is done outside the budgetary amount; that is what Nigerians should pay attention to; that is where the problem is. It is not what you take legally. If they say ‘Pay him N10m,’ it is not the N10m that is the problem; maybe you will find out that N1bn is being misappropriated somewhere. We should pay attention to where the leakages are, not what civil servants or public servants take. What we see is not the problem. If Nigeria says ‘They should have one or two aides each,’ then, so be it. They will see the result in their performance. I think we should be bold to say that this is what we have — I am entitled to five aides and they are at different grade levels, from typist to senior legislative aide that can be an officer up to level 16. These are the people that help me to do a lot of work.

You, the press, have a lot of work to do because part of the problem is that the Nigerian public doesn’t even know the work of the legislature. It is always reduced to plenary; what is shown on the television on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. What you see in the plenary doesn’t represent (up to) 25 per cent of the work of the legislators. The bulk of the work is at committee levels — oversight, investigations, public hearings, so many things that people don’t see. But I have seen so many times when somebody would just look at the television and say if he doesn’t see so-and-so person sitting, he would say they are absent, whereas they may be doing something else somewhere.

Considering the controversy that surrounded the leadership of the 8th National Assembly, do you think the jostle for power is a justification of Obasanjo’s claims?

I don’t know but I think they are two different things when you are talking of power and budget. The jostle for power came and it ended almost immediately after the elections. What you saw recurring initially in the Senate is the constant abuse of the laws of the Senate and the laws of the country. I think, maybe, that is what you are mistaking for the jostle for power.

But there are senators and members of the House of Representatives who have been occupying seats since 1999. Shouldn’t younger people be allowed to occupy those seats?

If you look at where we borrowed this system from, like America, you have senators that have spent over 40 years occupying seats. You have members of the Congress that are occupying seats for over 40 years. The longer you stay the better. The only thing you should query is their performance and how they win elections. If they win elections freely and fairly, I don’t think there is any cause for alarm.

As our democracy takes its root, you will find out that the people that frequently change their legislators will be at the receiving end because one of the things you talked about now, which is the constant fight or jostle for power, is likely because the rules of the Senate are constantly abused. If you remember, what we said right from the beginning was that the Standing Rules were forged to pave way for the emergence of the present-day (Senate) leadership. Following that, there was an abuse in some of the rules of the Senate, which gives precedence to this issue of experience.

Seniority is an inherent thing in the legislature anywhere you go anywhere in the world —a second-timer is ahead of a first-timer; a third-timer is ahead of a second-timer — to the extent that in the United States, a new senator that comes to see a senator that is serving his 10th term — that is, in his 40th year — will not be attended to so easily. He (the new senator) will have to book an appointment. Granted, he is a colleague of the older senator, but he would have to make an appointment to see him. You don’t expect a first-timer, for instance, to be met by the Senate President, for example. The National Assembly is an institution but it is so large that you would need to know your way around it. Besides, the makers of our Constitution were not fools. They knew what they were doing when they limited the Executive arm to two terms of four years each and they didn’t put a limit on the legislature because in the legislature, you are supposed to be nurtured to mature in it to know every nook and cranny and how to go about your responsibilities.

Are you saying experienced lawmakers are better than young, new ones?

Part of what we are fighting today is the jettisoning of this issue of seniority to the advantage of newcomers, which is putting the entire Senate upside down. The issue of giving (a new set of) people the chance to (into the Assembly) come does not arise. What we should be talking about is free and fair elections. Now, if the people feel that Senator A or so-and-so member of the House of Representatives should represent them over and over again, I think that is their prerogative and they stand to benefit more. I will give you another example: let us take, for instance, Benue-South Constituency that had the Senate President. Assuming they (the constituency) bring in a new person, can that person come to become Senate President? Would you say that a constituency that has one of their own as the Senate President would not be prouder than having an ordinary senator, or maybe someone that chairs the Committee on Defence and Army or the Committee on Appropriation or the Committee on Foreign Affairs, for instance? You cannot bring in a new senator, unless there is a high rate of this attrition we are suffering now.

If there is no old senator, then there is nothing you can do. You have to make do with what you have. But you will find out that even in the international arena, you would not be respected. If, for instance, you have a first-timer as chairman of a very big and important committee and he goes on an international assignment and he meets with his foreign counterparts. If you meet a senator from the United States, the first question he will ask you is for how long have you been in the Senate? And if you tell him that it is your first time, he will just tell you, ‘Okay, I am coming.’ The next thing will be for him to send his personal assistant to attend to you because he won’t have time for you, since you wouldn’t even know anything.

In essence, I don’t think this issue of giving some people the chance to come is the right question. What we should be asking is proper voter education and free and fair elections. If the people know what they are doing and they voted the right person, I think it is to their own advantage to maintain a good person. But if the person is not performing for whatever reason, he should be removed. That is why there is election. We don’t say you are elected once for 40 years. It is not all people that are tested; some people come in the political arena as new names; nobody knows their pedigree and there are no parameters to check their performance, experience or depth. When you (new lawmakers) come on board, people will look at you, what you have done, how much you have impacted on the lives of your constituents and the nation in general, then they see whether you measure up.

Punch

Senate Leadership To Punish Anti-Saraki Senator

The tension in the senate heightened on Tuesday when some senators commenced the process of suspending the spokesperson for the  Senate President Unity Forum, Senator Kabir Marafa,  over an interview he granted and published in the last week edition of Sunday Punch.

Marafa had in the interview, expressed support for  Former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the issues he raised in his recent  letter to both chambers of the National Assembly, especially on the need to make the annual budget of the federal parliament, transparent and accessible to Nigerians.

But at the resumption of plenary after a two-week recess on Tuesday, the Senator representing Bauchi South Senatorial District, Issa Missau, drew the attention of his colleagues to the publication, which according to him, was offensive.

Coming under matters of personal privilege, Missau, alleged that Marafa, by his comments, had infringed on his rights and that of others which should elicit an instant punishment from the Senate in order to serve as deterrent to others.

He said, “Senator Kabiru Marafa granted an interview misleading the public telling lies against this institution, the Senate. I think I have been called more than 500 times from my constituency in respect of this publication.

“I am a kind of person who struggled very hard to be here in this senate and I started this journey from 2012 when I contested on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria in 2011.

“I know how much I suffered, God in his infinite mercy granted me this privilege in 2015 and I will not allow somebody who enjoyed the 7th Senate to come and not allow us  to do our work properly here.

“Mr president I think the leadership has to do something about this, the senate should do something about this. We cannot allow one person to continue to tell lies against the Senate misleading the public.

“I think it is better we take decision so that we correct things not only Marafa, anybody that is here would not be allowed to be misleading the public. I think it is not okay Mr President”

Another senator,  Matthew Urhoghide from Edo South, seconded the motion moved by Missau and called for appropriate sanctions against the Zamfara Central senator.

Urhoghide said, “I want to lend my voice to the submission that was made by Senator Misau in respect to the publication in the Punch of the interview that was granted on Senator Kabiru Marafa.

“I want to say with every vehemence and every element of responsibility,  that publication as contained in The Punch,  smeared the integrity of this house and has totally put our reputation and of course reputations of other distinguished senators here to disrepute.

“When I got calls from a very large number of my constituents in respect of that publication I felt diminished. The leadership of this house that  I have so much reverence  had been brought to total disrepute.

“Senator Missau said it took him 11 years to get to the Senate, I want to say that it took me 23 years to come to the Senate. It is common knowledge to the people in my constituency that the first time I contested senatorial election was in 1992.

“Today I am in  the senate on the platform of the PDP after 23 years. For one other senator to think and act in a manner that will reduce my person and this institution is totally unacceptable.

“I want to say we need to take a drastic decision that will serve as a deterrent to other persons that want to act  like Marafa and will bring this distinguished Senate to disrepute.

” If anybody had bothered to read that interview, you will know that it is an issue that we must not treat with kid gloves. It is an issue that we must look at very dispassionately and this is not the time to raise unnecessary passions.”

Ruling on the motion,  Senate President referred the matter to the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, to investigate and report back next week Tuesday.

In his reaction, Marafa described the issue as a welcome development, and expressed his preparedness to appear before the panel.

Terrorism: Senate Meets With Service Chiefs

The leadership of the Senate and chairmen of committees relating to security agencies Wednesday, held a meeting with heads of the military to review the developments in the fight against insurgency in the North east zone, particularly in the wake of the recent vicious attack on Dalori town in Borno State.

At the closed door meeting which lasted for about two hours and presided by Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, several issues tailored at further empowering the security agencies to win the war against the Boko Haram insurgency were discussed in a frank and open exchange between the two sides.

The Military chiefs led by General Abayomi Olonishakin, the Chief of Defence Staff, briefed the Senators on the various challenges faced by the military, particularly the state of their equipment which they said require serious upgrading and restocking.

They also complained that their vote in the 2015 supplementary budget has not been released thereby hampering their ability to fund their operations. Other issues that came up for discussion was the need to continuously increase the personnel in the three branches of the military and the hindrance posed by the procurement process which they said is very slow.

The military chiefs also canvassed the need for the review of some laws governing their operations so as to make them able to respond to emergency situations they now confront in the North-east zones as well as conform with global best practices.

The need for regional support for the fight against insurgency in the North-east by the neighbouring countries, resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) back to their traditional homes, the issue of intelligence gathering and sharing among the various agencies and mobilisation of the international community, particularly through inter-parliamentary efforts in support of the fight against terrorism in Nigeria, were also discussed.

The Senators assured the military chiefs that they will fast track the request for the review of the relevant laws being complained about  by putting them on the Priority Bills list once they were given adequate information on areas that need to be amended.

They also promised to take up the issue of release of funds raised by the military chiefs with the Ministry of Finance immediately. The committees on Defence, finance and appropriations have also been mandated to ensure that the issues raised by the service chiefs are taken care of in the budget.

The Senators noted that at this point when the nation had recorded serious gains in the fight against insurgency, all hands should be on deck to sustain the tempo against the violent groups.

The meeting was attended by Saraki, his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, Majority Whip, Francis Alimikhena, Chairman, Senate Committee on Navy, Isa Hama Misau and his colleague in the Committee on Air Force, Duro Faseyi. However, Chairman of Senate Committee on Defence, Senator Ahmed Lawan was absent.

The Chief of Defence Staff, General Olonishakin led the Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Tukur Buratai, his colleague in the navy, Vice Admiral Ibok-Ette Ibas and the Air Force, Air Marshal Sadiq Abubakar to the meeting.

2016 Budget Scale Through Second Reading At The Senate

The controversial 2016 Appropriation Bill on Wednesday scaled second reading in the Senate as Senators concluded debate on the general principles of the bill.

The Nation reports the Bill was thereafter committed to the Committee on Appropriation to coordinate budget defence by Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

Senate President, Bukola Saraki, in his concluding remarks warned senators against financial inducement in the course of budget defence by MDAs.

He said any lawmaker involved in unwholesome conduct in the course of budget defence would not be spared.

The Senate President said the Senate would not tolerate conducts capable of undermining the integrity of the Chamber.

On the general principles of the budget, Saraki said the proposal was a major departure from past budgets, particularly with regard to withdrawing focus on oil as major revenue source for funding the budget.

He said, “This to me and to all of us is the most important area of this budget in the sense that it will be a great foundation not only for today but for the future if this can be achieved.

“Also, with the pegging of capital expenditure at 30 per cent, a number of comments were made about the level of borrowing, but I think what matters is what the money is used for.

“On the percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), we are still within the limits and parameters, but what is important is to ensure that the money is judiciously used for what it is meant for.”

Saraki noted the National Assembly would take a critical look at the budgetary allocation to the agricultural and solid mineral sectors because they were potential revenue earners if effectively explored.

Saraki To Ex-legislative Aides: Payment Of Severance Allowance Will Soon Commence

Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has assured  legislative aides and members of the 7th National Assembly that the  payment of their severance allowance will soon commence.

Saraki, in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu said all efforts were being made to ensure that the former aides are paid their entitlements, and attributed the delay to the non-release of the funds by the Federal Ministry of Finance.

The National Assembly had on December 1, 2015 passed the N575 billion supplementary budget presented to it by President Muhammadu Buhari, out of which N10.6 billion was allocated for the settlement of the severance benefits of the legislative aides and members of the Seventh National Assembly. Five billion Naira is earmarked for severance allowance of ex-legislative aides

It will be recalled that the tenure of the 2015 appropriation bill has been extended till March this year by the Federal Legislature.

However, several weeks after the budget was assented to, by Buhari, the former aides were yet to be paid, a situation that prompted the aggrieved beneficiaries to stage a protest last week at the National Assembly complex.

Saraki, according to the statement assured that,”as soon as the money is released, all the beneficiaries will be paid promptly. The request has already been made by the National Assembly management.

“As Senate President and  Chairman of the National Assembly, I share in the plight of the aides of my colleagues, and I will ensure that their case is fast-tracked to ease their present difficulties,” the Senate President assured.

Both the  Chairman of the Senate Services  Committee, Senator Abdullahi Gobir and the Director of Information and Publications, Mr. Ishaku Dibal have confirmed to the Senate President that the delay in the payment was due to the non-release of the fund by the Finance Ministry, assuring that payments would  commence as soon as the money is made available.