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Senate In Rowdy Session As Jonathan’s $1 Billion External Loan Request Is Approved

Ayodele Afolabi, Abuja

The Nigerian Senate was thrown into a rowdy session Thursday over approval of the $1billion external loan request forwarded to it by President Goodluck Jonathan in July this year.

Jonathan claimed the loan request was to further fortify the nation’s Armed Forces in the ongoing war against Boko Haram insurgents.

The loan though eventually approved by the Senate after heated debates on it for and against, by Senators belonging to the ruling party, the Peoples Democratic Party(PDP) and the main opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Trouble over approval of the loan started immediately after the Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance, Senator Ahmed Markafi (PDP Kaduna North), requested the Senate to approve the loan as contained in the report his Committee and the one on Local and Foreign Debt presented to the Senate.

Markafi had in the presented report, reminded the Senate that the security issues in the North East states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe have continued to deteriorate despite the imposition of State of Emergency in the said states,He added that the insurgents are purported to have carved out some Local Governments in the three states and declaring same as Caliphate under their control as if it were no longer part of the territory of Nigeria.

He emphasised what was stated in the external loan request letter by President Jonathan, saying, “the urgent need to upgrade the equipment , training and logistics of our Armed Forces and Security Services to enable them move forcefully to confront this serious security threat cannot be over – emphasized” , and thus, the need for urgent approval of the loan by the Senate.

Markafi argues further that the loan as observed by the joint committee, is not a cash loan but loan facility request for supply of military hardware to be repaid within a period of seven years.

He emphatically stated that “It is therefore in our interest to take up the opportunity and not allow it to slip away”, disclosing that since 1998, no single Helicopter had been added to the fleet of the Nigeria Air Force which even recently had two, out of the very few it has , burnt by the insurgents recently.

But Senator Olubunmi Adetunbi (APC Ekiti North ) through a constitutional point of order, rose against Markafi’s submission on alleged grounds of the request not following the normal procedure stipulated by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 and relevant provisions of the 1999 constitution as amended.

He said:”Mr President, this request to the best of my ability, and with the assistance of this constitution, has consequences for the existing Appropriation Act.

“We do not question the right of Mr President to ask for money or ask to borrow money but there is a process that needs to be followed and the provision of the constitution for this process is what I just read. ” Also, section 41 (a) and (b), 42 (1) and (8), section 44 (1), (2) and (3) of the Fiscal Responsibility Act give us a clear guidelines of the procedures for borrowing and the management of such borrowing under this kind of circumstances.

“Mr President, I raise this issue not to question the right to address the issue for which this request is being made, I am drawing attention to procedures that are stipulated in the constitution and the act of this parliament for a subject of this nature and the process and the guidelines are there but the letter that came to us is a letter requesting for authority to borrow.

“The borrowing plan of this country is contained in our Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF. We want to know whether this borrowing is within this MTEF framework that we have or whether the MTEF needed to have been amended and a supplementary appropriation for purposes of security be brought to this parliament so that a supplementary appropriation can be so approved for Mr President to undertake his constitutional responsibility as a chief security officer of this country. I rest my case”.

Markafi countered Adetunbi by describing all his arguments as irrelevant to the issue on ground.

Besides, he said the executive request as far as the loan was concerned, is in compliance with provisions of the Public Procurement Act , saying “the loan is in kind, there is no cash outflow and repayment will be so appropriated and will only be made subject to the approval of the National Assembly.

His words:”Mr President, distinguished colleagues, with due respect, all the issues raised are not relevant to the issue we are considering now. The National Assembly will have to appropriate the payment; the executive cannot just go outrightly and pay. And what is required is in compliance with the Public Procurement Act which we are not required to see the compliance of that Public Procurement Act.

“The relevant committees, in doing their work, can follow up and see that there is compliance with the Public Procurement Act. The loan is in kind, there is no cash outflow and repayment will be so appropriated and will only be made subject to the approval of the National Assembly”.

The debate assumed partisan dimension when the Senate Minority Leader, George Akume (APC Benue North West), stood up to defend Adetunbi ‘s submission urging the senate not to approve the loan request yet until the normal processes as enunciated by Adetunbi are followed.

“Senator Adetunbi has raised fundamental issues about the external loan request backed with relevant provisions of the constitution and the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 which I think should be considered by taking another look on the way this request is being made because the fundamental law of the country must be respected and obeyed.

“This is not politics , we are tailing law, if they want to borrow, let them follow the legal procedure of making request in that respect and why can’t the executive take the money in question from the Excess Crude Oil Account or the controversial Sovereign Wealth Fund?”, he fumed.

A submission that made the Senate President, David Mark to fire back by commenting thus:”

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 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”

But further contribution on the external loan report from the Deputy Senate President, Ike EKweremadu, eventually set the PDP and APC senators against themselves.

Ekweremadu said, ” 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” , infuriated the APC senators to the point of Senator Babafemi Ojudu ( APC Ekiti Central), raising point of Order ( Order 53 (7) and 8) to accuse him of imputing improper motive against the APC senators.Ojudu who shouted point of Order several times before the Senate President allowed him to take the floor said:

“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”.

But Mark interrupted him by asking ” who have inputted improper motive, please distinguished colleagues, who have inputted improper motive here? I said so because I want to rule on it?, a question Ojudu also countered by saying ” I use to understand English sufficiently, sir”And Mark followed by saying” I think all of us here do, so let’s not turn the debate into a partisan or trivial issue but that of national interest. 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”.

He consequently put the request to the senators to vote on, through voice votes and ruled in favour of those who shouted yes ! While those who shouted nay! , like Senator Kabiru Marafa ( APC Zamfara Central) , Babafemi Ojudu etc, disrupted the Senate’s proceedings for about fifteen minutes by engaging some of the PDP senators in a one on one altercation over the ruling.



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