What would have been a big row on the floor of the House of Representatives between two lawmakers from Anambra State was averted recently through the quick intervention of the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor.
Hon Obinna Chidoka representing Idemili North and South Federal Constituency would have squared up against his counterpart, Hon Lynda Ikpeazu of the nearby Onitsha North and South Federal constituency, but for the intervention of Ogor. The bone of contention was a motion on the status of Onitsha Inland Port.
Chidoka in a motion on the need “to investigate the abandonment of Onitsha Inland Port” had contended that the port was abandoned by government, a position Ikpeazu disagreed with.
Indications that the issue would get contentious emerged shortly before Chidoka moved the motion. Speaker Yakubu Dogara had asked him if he had met with Ikpeazu for both of them to harmonise their positions on the motion, noting that the motion could be stepped down, if he had not done that; so that the duo could discuss it, before presentation.
But the lawmaker, who said he had not harmonised position with his colleague on the motion, insisted on going ahead with the motion, stating that nothing was wrong with it. Chidoka said if the Onitsha North/South representative had anything against the motion, she could say so on the floor.
But determined to air her view, Ikpeazu raised hand, indicating the intention to speak on the matter. It was at this point that Ogor and other concerned lawmakers quickly moved to her seat and persuaded her not to speak. Thereafter, she put down her hand.
In the motion, Chidoka explained that the Onitsha Port was conceptualised during the administration of President Shehu Shagari in the Second republic; as a port of origin and final destination for cargoes, in order to ease the perennial congestion of the Lagos ports.
The lawmaker added that the port was abandoned when the military overthrew the regime of Shagari in 1984. He noted that it was only in 2009 that the government of President Umaru Yar’Adua took interest in the port and awarded a contract valued at N4.182 billion to rehabilitate the facility.
Chidoka argued that the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan completed the rehabilitation of the port and commissioned it in 2012 as bonded wharf where the Nigeria Customs Service and other agencies would generate revenues through export and import of cargoes.
However, he lamented that despite the huge resources spent on the seaport, it is allowed to deteriorate while other ports, particularly the Lagos port is congested with goods largely imported by businesses situated close to Onitsha port.
After adopting the motion, the House mandated its Committee on Ports, Habour and Waterways to investigate why the Onitsha Inland Port is not operational, five years after it was commissioned.
The committee was given four weeks to report back to the House for further legislative action. The House also directed the Federal Ministry of Transportation and the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) to undertake the dredging of River Niger to facilitate the passage of vessels and badges from the sea to the Onitsha Inland Port facility. But Ikpeazu told Daily Sun that the Onitsha seaport was not abandoned.
According to the lawmaker, the government had mandated NIWA to get consultants to do Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and social report on the seaport, noting that it was unfair for anyone to say that it was abandoned.
According to her, “Once, they are doing that (EIA), the Minister of Finance will now go to FEC and get approval. It is also important to know that the Minister of Finance had already gotten World Bank loan, not specific for this, but this inclusive. “It is a process that has already started. So, it is unfair to say that it has been abandoned. If the issue was raised some years back, one would be okay to say that it was abandoned. It is not abandoned.”
As a reporter, I was heavily disappointed when Ogor and co prevailed on Ikpeazu not to speak, having already cast my headline for a big story, when I sensed the controversy about the motion. Nevertheless, as a citizen, it was also good that she didn’t speak. One of the things I have learnt in my few months of covering the parliament is that all it takes for an otherwise good motion to be thrown out is just a” harmless” objection to the title. From there, opponents, who may not have been paying attention to the motion in the first instance, will wake up from their slumber. Pronto, the motion would be shot down.
One thing I have also observed is that there is this unnecessary rivalry among some lawmakers. It could more be noticed among lawmakers from the same area or those whose committee duties overlap. But that should not be the case.
Suffice it to say that the controversy about whether or not the Onitsha Inland Port was abandoned was not necessary in the first place. The bottom line is that the port is not functioning, so for me, the most important thing is how to make it work and soon too. Even as the House eventually decided to wade into the matter, it must not stop there. This must not be another motion passed just for the fun of it, though motions are merely persuasive, lacking the force of law.
It is, therefore, a challenge to the House, especially the South East legislators to see that this motion on the Onitsha Port bears the desired fruit. There is need for them to lobby extensively for this project. They must lobby the House leadership, the relevant House Committees, the executive arm of government. In fact, lobby anyone who could help in facilitating the quick take off of the port.
I expect Chidoka and Ikpeazu to lead this initiative. From my findings, both lawmakers are very passionate about the project; so, they must find a meeting point to work together on the port issue. The truth is that if the Onitsha Port becomes functional, it is not the people of Onitsha or Anambra State alone that will benefit; the entire South East and indeed Nigeria as a whole will benefit from it too.
Point of Order…
Last week, the House of Representatives passed for second reading a bill seeking to amend the Currency Offences Act. The bill which has as its short title “ Currency Offences (Amendment)Bill 2017 is sponsored by Hon Uchechukwu Nnam-Obi.
The proposed amendment prescribes a fine of N200,000 for anyone found hawking the naira, and other actions tending to depreciate the national currency. The existing act prescribes N1000 for abuse of the naira.
According to Nnam-Obi, the abuse of the naira is on the increase, as the currency is being hawked in the open market like every other commodity, and sprayed with reckless abandon in parties. I agree with the lawmaker that the abuse of the national currency is on the increase. However, I do not agree that increasing the penalty from N1000 to N200000 will be a deterrent. I must point out that majority of Nigerians are guilty when it comes to the abuse of the naira. From the poor hawker to members of the upper class, who take pride in spraying crisp naira notes at event, all have sinned.
Besides, it is not enough to prescribe sanctions for those who hawk the naira in the market. What about their accomplices in the banks, especially the Central Bank of Nigeria ( CBN)? What about those who patronised the naira hawkers? Those one too deserve sanctions.
Hawking in crisp naira notes is thriving across the country currently, not because the sanction is a mere N1000, but because the act prohibiting it is not enforced.
For me, the way out is a sustained public enlightenment to discourage the abuse of the naira, and not prescribing sanctions that will never be enforced.
Senate and Buhari’s Anti-graft war
Some Nigerians are quick to jump to conclusion that the Senate, indeed the National Assembly is not supporting the anti-corruption campaign of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government. In fact, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. Abubakar Malami once accused the National Assembly of not supportting the anti-corruption campaign of the present administration. But when the facts are crossed checked with what is on ground, and especially with what the Senate has done on anti corruption bills, it does not support the claim that the red chambers is sabotaging or not supporting the Federal Government crusade in tackling the monster called corruption.
The 8th Senate under the leadership of Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki has, in many ways than one supported the Buhari administration’s quest to curtail corruption. Indeed, from 1999 till date, none of the sessions of the Senate has given support to a president like the present set of Senators has done, especially on issues of corruption and fixing of the ailing economy.
One of such evidence to show that the Senate is indeed on the same page with President Buhari in the fight against corruption is last Wednesday’s passage of the Whistle Blowers Bill, which is seen as one of the potent bills aimed at curtailing and tackling corruption. The bill, when signed into law, seeks to encourage and facilitate the disclosure of improper conduct by public officers and public bodies and was presented by the Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, chaired by Senator David Umaru, the member representing Niger East District in the 8th National Assembly.
Otherwise known as “An Act to Protect Persons Making Disclosures for the Public Interest and Others from Reprisals, to Provide for the Matters Disclosed to be Properly Investigated and Dealt with and for other Purposes Related Therewith”, the Bill also seeks to ensure that persons who make disclosures and persons who may suffer reprisals in relation to such disclosures are protected under the law. The Bill also specifies who is qualified to make disclosure of improper conduct; the procedure for making disclosures; and the protection due to ‘whistleblowers.’
Under the newly passed bill, a person who makes a disclosure shall not be subject to victimization by his or her employers or by fellow employees. Additionally, a person who makes a disclosure has the right to take legal action if he or she is victimized, dismissed, suspended, declared redundant, transferred against his or her will, harassed or intimidated in any manner.
Additionally, the bill makes it a criminal offence with jail terms of not less than five years without any option of fine for any government official to under-declare any proceed of crime to the relevant authorities.
Speaking on the passage of the bill, Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki stated that: “The passage of this bill today is landmark. This is a promise kept. Today, we have passed a landmark piece of legislation to fight corruption and protect patriotic Nigerians who are fighting corruption.
“This bill will protect the lives of those who risk themselves to expose corrupt practices in Nigeria.” Still on the senate’s active suppprt to the Buhari administrarion in the fight against corruptipn, the red chamber passed the Proceeds of Crime Bill on June 4th this year. The biil is focused on recovering illegally acquired property through forfeiture, confiscation or civil recovery and provides the powers to seize, freeze, and restrain criminals from dealing with their property.
According to the Senate Committee on Human Rights and Justice, Senator Umaru Dahiru, who commended the 8th senate for the passage of this bill, also described his colleagues as patriots. He described the Proceeds of Crime Bill as a necessary legislation to move the country’s anti-graft war forward.
He said. “It is no news that the assets recovered from corrupt politicians in Nigeria cannot be accounted for. They are simply re-looted, thereby making a mess of the anti-corruption war.”, arguing that with this new bill, it will be impossible for people to enjoy the proceeds of crimes as the law will hunt them till their arrest and prosecution. . Another anti-corruptipn bill passed by the Senate is the bill for mutual assistance in criminal matters between Nigeria and other foreign countries to facilitate the identification, tracing, freezing, restraining, recovery, forfeiture and confiscation of proceeds, property and other instrumentalities of crimes.
The bill, sponsored by the executive arm, would provide a legal framework that would strengthen the fight against corruption, terrorism, economic and financial crimes, money laundering and other related offences. It would also facilitate the voluntary attendance of persons in the requesting state. It is also intended to effect the temporary transfer of persons in custody to assist in investigations or appear as witnesses, facilitate obtaining and preserving of computer data, and providing any other assistance that is not contrary to the law of the requesting state.
Before the eventual passage of this bill by the Senate, Senator David Umaru in his lead debate said that the passage of this bill is paramount to the anti-corruption drive of the government, as it seeks to eliminate territorial and jurisdictional constraints in the prosecution of cross border crimes.
He said: “The globalisation and advancement in information and communication technology have made it imperative for a legislation of this nature to be put in place in order to promote cooperation for the prosecution of cross border offenders and transnational organised crimes,” Umaru explained further that the scope of the bill has been widened from the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters in the Commonwealth (Enactment and Enforcement) Act 2004, to assume international dimensions in participation and laundering of the proceeds of crime. He, however, added that the joint committee rejected clauses that could give rise to torture (coercive investigative measures) as it is unconstitutional.
In his comment, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, said the passage of the bill would restore the confidence of foreign investors in doing business in Nigeria. With the passage of the Whistle Blowers Act, the Senate has concluded work on three anti-corruption bills. In May 2017, it passed the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, while in June 2017, it passed the Witness Protection Bill.
The Bill to establish Special Anti-Corruption Courts has been sent to the Constitution Amendment Committee. The Proceeds of Crime Bill has been sent to the Senate Joint Committee on Anti-Corruption and Judiciary.
Chuks Okocha is Special Assistant to President of the Senate