Fred Itua, Abuja
The revised 2020 budget forwarded to the Senate by President Muhammadu Buhari a fortnight ago suffered a setback on the floor of the upper legislative chamber, yesterday.
Chairman, Senate Appropriations Committee, Barau Jibrin, said the senate had issues with the executive for failing to include about N186 billion meant for COVID-19 emergency response in the budget.
He said though the amount was included in the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), the Budget Office excluded it from the Appropriations Bill. He said the omission had forced the budget which ought to have been considered and passed into law to be deferred.
“The N500 billion earmarked for COVID-19 emergency was fully captured in the MTEF. But in the budget, about N186 billion was omitted and that’s supposed to be for the health sector. We drew the attention of the Budget Office to it and we even invited the Director General.
“We put a call across to the minister of finance and she promised to send a letter, requesting that we include the amount. As I speak, they’re yet to send that letter. We maybe tempted to go ahead and if they want us to do that, it will come as a supplementary budget,” he said.
However, President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, disagreed with Jibrin saying the adjusted 2020 Appropriation Bill (budget) must be passed into law by tomorrow. He stated this despite appeals from some lawmakers to stay action pending the inclusion of some of the missing components.
“You did the right thing by insisting that they send a letter to include the money in the budget. If we go ahead and put the figure, they will accuse us of budget padding. Nigerians will begin to castigate us and no one will understand why we did that. So, go ahead and print copies of the budget today. We will distribute it to senators tomorrow (today) and the budget will be passed on Thursday (tomorrow) without any further delay. Some people are supposed to do their work, but they’re not doing that. We can’t wait because of that,” Lawan said.
Meanwhile, the Senate has vowed to go ahead with the probe of alleged misappropriation of N40 billion in three months by the Interim Management Committee (IMC) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
It also hit those making accusations and counter-accusations on alleged financial impropriety in the NDDC, triggered by its planned probe, saying no amount of blackmail or distraction will stop the audit.
The red chamber issued the warning following a request by Olubunmi Adetunbi, Chairman of the Ad-hoc Committee mandated to carry out the investigation, asking for more time.
Adetunbi had, while making the request anchored on order 43 of the senate standing rule complained that due to COVID-19 pandemic and attendant lockdowns, many of the stakeholders invited by the committee did not respond on time.
Ruling on the request, Lawan said six weeks was too long and approved four weeks instead.
“So many side attractions, detractions and disruptions pro or against the planned investigation are being carried out by people or groups. Part of the distractions are series of write-ups in the media by vested groups almost on daily basis, but unfortunately all these cannot stop the senate from forging ahead with an assignment backed by resolution and firmly within the ambit of its constitutional responsibilities. So, in their own interest, the earlier they stop the distractions the better, because our committee will forge ahead with the assignment,” he said.
Considers bill to tackle erosion in South-East
The senate also considered a bill to address the problem of erosion in Nigeria, with special focus on the South-East geo-political zone.
The bill which scaled the second reading seeks to establish the Erosion Control and Prevention Commission.
Ifeanyi Ubah, (YPP– Anambra South), who sponsored the bill, said the establishment of a commission for the purpose of erosion control and prevention had become imperative given the catastrophic impact of erosion in several parts of the country.
“Almost every part of the country is characterised by one environmental problem or the other. However, the menace of erosion is unarguably the severest in terms of devastation and destruction.
“For instance, the 2012 flooding in Ibadan, Oyo State, the coastal erosion in Lagos, Bayelsa and Rivers States and almost all parts of Anambra State.
“It is also important to note that gully erosion is almost taking over the entire landmass of the South-East and South-South.
“The problem of erosion is catastrophic in the southern part of Nigeria, while desertification is in the North but with the enactment of the Green Wall Act by the National Assembly, the issue of desertification was laid to rest.
“In the southern part of the country, erosion is responsible for the widespread destruction of transportation and communication systems, degradation of arable land, contamination of water supply, isolation of settlements and migration of communities.
“From available statistics, more than 3,500 gullies occurred in the South-East states alone. These gullies are formed by surface runoff from localized rainfall of high intensity in the fine-to coarse-grained sand and sandstones,” Ubah said.
Also citing a World Bank survey carried out on Nigeria in 1990, the lawmaker stressed that “erosion is one of the three main environmental problems facing Nigeria.”
According to him, the study notes that gully erosion causes damage with an annual cost to the nation, estimated at N800 billion naira.
Ajayi Boroffice (APC – Ondo North), in his contribution, kicked against the establishment of a commission for the purpose of erosion control in the South-East.
Boroffice, who is the Deputy Senate Leader, said an amendment of the Ecological Fund to accommodate the erosion problems in the South-East would address all challenges faced by the zone.
Rochas Okorocha (APC – Imo West), said the commission when established, would not only address the erosion challenges faced by the South-East but also every other part of the country affected adversely by such environmental challenge.
Ibrahim Gobir (APC – Sokoto East), argued that creating a commission would be a burden on government, particularly at a time government was trying to cut down cost.
Gobir advocated the need for the adoption of preventive measures through the introduction of legislation by the National Assembly.
Senate President Ahmad Lawan, said, “the debate tended to sway whether we need a commission or not but the fact is we have to address the ecological challenges we have in the country.
“If we have gully erosion that is destroying lands in various parts of the country, especially in the South-East, then we have to do something, whether it is a commission or not. I believe that there are ecological challenges in other parts of the country.
“Coastal erosion is also a strong challenge in the Nigerian coastal environment, just as desertification is a big problem in the northern part of the country.
“I want to say that the Green Wall Project actually is not desertification control. It is simply afforestation. Desertification control should be much more comprehensive than that.
“Similarly, when we have gully erosion, it is just not about stopping the erosion. There are other things that need to be done beyond stopping it because communities’ livelihoods are affected. So, you need to have something comprehensive.
“As representatives of the people, we should be looking at how we really deal with these issues.
“The ecological fund office is there. Do we transform through legislation the ecological fund office, instead of just leaving money there? Sometimes, we know where the money goes, which is to non-ecological issues.
“Can we make the ecological fund office to be responsible for all ecological issues and then take it as one institution that will address desertification and other ecological problems like gully erosion and so on. Can we do that in the light of the arguments of our colleagues or do we need separate agencies to address the various issues.
“We must ensure that government attends to these ecological problems because people are affected. Like Rochas Okorocha said, people lose their lands, properties and villages and this is not something that we should be arguing about as to whether we need a commission or not.
“How do we address the problems as quickly as possible to safeguard our communities?,” Lawan asked.
The bill after scaling second reading was referred by the senate president to the Committee on Environment.