From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari met on Monday with Senate President Ahmed Lawal and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila over the supplementary budget that will cover the cost of purchasing new security equipment and nationwide COVID-19 vaccinations.
No provision was made for the items in the 2021 finance bill adopted in December.
‘Both executive and legislative arms believe that we should have supplementary budget to provide for funding of the COVID-19 vaccination in Nigeria, as well as the security, providing more resources and platforms to our security agencies, Lawan said, speaking to State House Correspondents on the purpose of the meeting.
‘There are no more grave issues than COVID-19 and security situation in the country. And I want to take this opportunity to say that the security situation is gradually improving. And I’m sure that when we will give more resources to our security agencies we will see an even faster recovery of our situation.
‘As for the COVID, I believe that our country, Nigeria, should have some resources for our scientists to collaborate with other scientists from across the globe to also have our own vaccine. Because we can’t rely on what other countries are doing now; every nation to itself, that’s what is happening.
‘The US is not allowing vaccines to go out of US. EU is not allowing AstraZeneca vaccine produced in UK to be sent out of EU. India is not allowing AstraZeneca vaccine they produced to be exported out. So, where do we go from here? We will have to fall back on our own capacities and abilities. And we have great scientists in this country. We have many Nigerians outside Nigeria who are also helping developing the vaccines in other countries. So, why don’t you bring them home? Why don’t you put some resources so they will also produce ours locally here and take care of our population, and then later other African countries, especially our neighbours?
‘I believe that we had a very good discussions and interaction with Mr President along those lines,’ the Senate Preident briefed reporters.
Asked if the National Assembly will consider a request from a vaccine candidate asking for $100 million for trial, the Senate President said: ‘No, we have to have something scientifically proven. There has to be concrete system that you can channel resources into not an individual moving around talking. No, no, no, we should have everything in place. We have capable scientists, we should have that critical mass of scientists coming together to provide the environment that will guarantee and warrant deployment of public resources but just an individual saying he has a system or he has a vaccine candidate. No, I don’t think that’s the way to go.
‘We should have proper and serious engagement because vaccines developed in Nigeria will need to be applied or may be subjected to international assessments. So, it’s not going to be a vaccine for Nigeria alone. It’s supposed to be a vaccine for the entire world, but of course originated from Nigeria.
‘We want a very solid and strong platform on which our scientists will have all the opportunities and then government provides the necessary resources. But, eventually, of course, those who will manufacture these things will be private concerns.’
On the kind of intervention Nigerians should expect from the National Assembly to tackle the country’s security challenges, the Senate President said: ‘Of course, approval of funds for the purchase of platforms, weapons and equipment are essential and we have already approved so much. And that’s why we’re expecting our Tucsons to be here soon. We’re expecting some APCs from Jordan. We’re expecting some APCs from China. And we believe that we’ve not had enough, we still need to approve more resources for the purchase of weapons for our armed forces, because this is the number one priority of government or any government really, to secure the people, and of course later the welfare.
‘We believe that we will be doing the right thing, if there is a request through supplementary appropriation bill from the Presidency or executive arm of government, and then we approve. Of course, we have to have clear cut definition of how much is going for what, we’re not going to just give approval like that for a general thing. We want to see how the funds will be utilised. But it is mandatory that we provide more resources for our armed forces, and they’re doing well.’
On how soon Nigerians should expect the passing of some bills critical to the economy, like the PIB, Ahmed said: ‘Well, thank God, the two committees of the National Assembly, the joint committee in the Senate and the special ad hoc committee are doing very well, they have been working very hard, they are working jointly, both the Senate and House.
‘At the moment, I think they are about to start writing the report, which they will lay before the two chambers of the National Assembly sometimes in April, probably by the middle of next month, April. And it is our determination and plan and design that we will be able to pass the PIB by the end of April, by the grace of God or latest should anything untoward happens before the middle of May. But we are determined to pass this PIB by the end of April.
‘The PIB is one essential and probably the most essential legislation, we’ll have to pass because this is going to change the entire economic scope of Nigeria. There’ll be more resources, foreign direct investment flowing into the country and more certainty that is essential that you can come to Nigeria and invest in the oil industry, because there’s a legal framework that regulates the entire environment.
‘We are looking at the end of April, or the early part of of May,’ he stated.
Also speaking on the PIB, Speaker Gbajabiamila assured that the commitment made to Nigerians will be kept but the Easter and Ramadan might affect the date.
‘On the PIB, the Senate President has covered the ground or covered the field like we say. We made a commitment to the Nigerian people and that commitment is April, end of April. But let me just add that you know, give or take two three weeks, like he said, only because at the time the commitment was made, we didn’t take into cognizance the fact of Easter break and Ramadan is coming up as well.
‘We’re still shooting for, going for, end of April. But we’re not going to straitjacket ourselves into a particular date; when I say end of April, we are talking thereabout it may be a week after, maybe two weeks after at most; we will do our best.’
On the performance of federal security service chiefs so far, the Speaker remarked: ‘So far, so good. The new service chiefs have hit the ground running from what I can see. They were screened and they were screen very thoroughly and very vigorously. And they come with a high pedigree. And it’s not taking anything away from the old ones that left, it’s just that sometimes when things happen, you just need a breath of fresh air, you just need new ideas. And that’s what we did. And that’s what the President did as well. We’re working together.
‘As you know, if you follow the house very well, just about a week or a week and half ago, we set up a 40 man committee in the house, led by the leadership of the house or the principal officers and about 30 other members, it’s a Special Committee on Security.
‘We decided to think outside the box, knock heads together, put heads together, employ consultants and look for a way forward. Because sometimes they say there’s an adage that you can’t keep doing somethings the same way and expect a different result.
‘So, whilst our committees on defence army and the rest are still working, there’s this special committee of 40 members of the House drawn from every party, every region, to think of ideas to see how best we can move forward in terms of security. And we will present our report to Mr President, hopefully, next for four weeks.’
On if the committee recommended more spending on security, Speaker Gbajabiamila said: ‘I don’t know what the recommendation is going be because I don’t want to preempt the committee. I may lead the committee or head the committee, but there’s about 40 of us, and we’re going to have consultants far and wide. So I will not preempt. Obviously, if money is an issue or if funding is an issue which we all believe is an issue that probably will form part of the recommendations. But the recommendations may be far reaching beyond throwing money at a problem.’