Senate Approves Jonathan's $1bn Loan Request
… As APC Senators Kick
The Senate on Thursday approved President Goodluck Jonathan's request for an external borrowing of $1billion to tackle the frightening security challenges in the country.
The approval was however preceded by some hot exchanges between some senators of the opposition All Progressive Congress (APC) and the Senate President, which almost ignited a rowdy session.
They had questioned the constitutionality of the loan, but were rebuffed by the leadership.
President Jonathan had last July sent a request to the National Assembly seeking $1billion to help fortify the military in the fight against the insurgency ravaging the North East region of the country.
Chairman, Senate Committee On Finance, Senator Ahmed Makarfi, while presenting the report, declared that the security situation in the North east states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe has continued to deteriorate despite the imposition of state of emergency in the three states.
According to him, the insurgents claimed to have carved out some local governments in Borno and Adamawa States and declared same as caliphate under their control as if it were no longer part of the territory of Nigeria.
He emphasised the need to upgrade the equipment, training and logistics of the Armed Forces and security services to enable them move forcefully to confront the serious security threat.
Senator Makarfi also observed that the loan facility request is not a cash loan but supply of military hardware to be paid for over seven years.
“Accordingly, terms such as interest rate cannot be indicated, however, it is therefore in our interest to take up the opportunity and not allow it slip away,” he said.
He also argued that the committee findings observed that helicopters are crucial for decisive victory over the war against terror, adding that quick victory cannot be accomplished without helicopters because of the terrain and the nature of the operations to be undertaken.
“The number of helicopters in the fleet of the Nigeria Air Force is inadequate for effective deployment. The following factors contribute to this; lack of adequate funds for maintenance, recent burning of two helicopters by the insurgents at Maiduguri and no new helicopter had been added to the fleet since 1998.”
Nonetheless, drama ensued when Senator Olubunmi Adetumbi (APC, Ekiti) coming through a point of order, questioned the constitutionality of the request on the grounds that it contravenes the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
“Mr. President, permit me to refer us to Section 81 (a) and (b) of the constitution. Section 81, sub-section 4 reads: 'If in respect of any financial year, it is found that the amount appropriated by the Appropriation Act for any purpose is insufficient, or a need has arisen for expenditure for a purpose for which no amount has been appropriated in the Act, a supplementary estimate showing the sum required shall be laid before each House of the National Assembly and the head of any such expenditure shall be included in a supplementary appropriation bill. Mr. President, Section 83 of the constitution says the National Assembly may by law, make provision for the establishment of a contingency funds of the federation and for authorising the president if satisfied.
“Finally, Section 44, (1), (2) and (3) of that same Act says: 'Any government of the federation or its agencies or corporation desirous of borrowing shall specify the purpose for which the borrowing is intended and present a cost analysis detailing the economic and social benefit for the purpose for which the intended borrowing is to be applied. Without prejudice to sub-section 1 of this section, each borrowing shall comply with the following conditions: (1), exercise of prior authorisation in the appropriation or other acts or law for the purpose for which the borrowing is to be utilised. (b) Such borrowing shall solely be applied towards long-term capital expenditure.'
However, Markafi in a swift reaction, dismissed all the arguments of Senator Adetumbi as irrelevant to the issues on ground, adding that the request is in compliance with the Public Procurement Act.
Then the hot exchange went thus;
Mark: The question you ask is whether Adetunmbi is right in what he said or not and the simple answer is no, he is not right. So please, merely quoting the constitution does not make him to be right. Because he is quoting the constitution doesn't mean he is right. Please, I want us to address the issue properly, I know he quoted the constitution and he quoted from our Standing Order but that is not what makes him to be right. I will take few comments and I will put the question because this is democracy. I am not a lawyer and so I can't say that these are legal issues and if they are legal issues, they have to be addressed separately. Our understanding here is not exactly like in the court of law.
Ekweremadu: Your Excellency, very distinguished colleagues, I will still come to the issue of the constitution but I would like to join the Senate President in our dealing that we do not go through any debate on this matter, because I am too worried about the character of the debate. I don't want a situation where if we leave this chamber, and the public will believe that one political party is supporting a fight against insurgency and another political party is not supporting it. I am only asking for caution especially as it concerns the political party we belong so that Nigerians do not misunderstand us.
“Now, looking at the constitution sir, I agree that we must have to follow our constitution in what we do here but regrettably, sections 80 and 81 that were cited have absolutely nothing to do with what we are doing here. Those points are only there in respect of appropriation. Borrowing is guided by a different legal framework, a different legislation, which is in the Fiscal Responsibility Act and as far as I am concerned, even in regard to what he read, we are in full compliance, both this parliament and the president. In simple tense, what the law required for borrowing is that the president and the governor as the case may be, will have to table the request for the borrowing before the appropriate parliament.
“In case of the Federal Government and the National Assembly, now that it has been tabled before us, what is left for us to do is for us to approve or otherwise. So the argument should be on whether to approve it or not but I believe that as I have sincerely said so, we are in full compliance with the law in this subject. So, I would like to appeal as I said earlier that we should not bring partisan politics into this matter.
Ojudu: Point of order, Mr. President.
Mark: All the points we are discussing are points of order and so you are not going to add anything extra. It is the point of order that we are still discussing.
Ojudu: Distinguished colleagues, Order 53 (7) and (8). Order 7 says it shall be out of order to use offensive and insulting language and Order 8 says no senator shall input improper motive to any other senator. Mr. President sir, we are discussing a very important issue, there is no single Nigerian, not to talk of a senator that is not concerned about the security of this country. All we are saying is that this money should be done properly in a manner that all of us can go out of here and defend.
Mark: Ojudu, who has inputted improper motive, please distinguished colleagues, who has inputted improper motive here? I said so because I want to rule on it.
Ojudu: I use to understand English sufficiently, sir.
Mark: I think all of us here do, so let's not…., please. Ojudu, all of us here understand English, nobody is speaking any other language here. Make your point of order so that I can rule on it. Please, Ojudu, what the deputy Senate President said is that we should not make this debate appear as if one party is supporting the fight against insurgency and the other party is not.
EMMA UCHE, ABUJA.