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Ways And Means: How Senate Resolved To Probe Buhari

CHUKWU DAVID writes on the move by the Senate to investigate former President Muhammadu Buhari and others over the N30 trillion Ways and Means spent by his administration, as well as the red chamber’s rejection of a bill seeking to extend the retirement age of National Assembly staff

The Senate, on February 20, unanimously resolved to probe the N30 trillion Ways and Means spent by the immediate past administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, which according to the 10th Senate, was recklessly expended.

Ways and Means is a loan facility through which the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) provides short-term financing to cover the government’s budget shortfalls. The Senate passed the resolution following the consideration of the report of its Joint Committee on Banking, Insurance and other Financial Institutions, Finance, National Planning, Agriculture and Appropriations on the state of the economy, after interactive sessions with the Economic Management Team of the Federal Government.

In its consideration of the report, the Senate alleged that reckless spending of the overdraft collected from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under Godwin Emefiele as governor of the apex bank, largely accounted for the food and security crises currently bedeviling the country.

As it stands, the nation’s economy is bleeding, with attendant persistent crash of the value of the Naira to the United States Dollar at the parallel market, while inflation has taken spiral trend.

Consequently, Nigerians are paying dearly for the worrisome situation as hunger and starvation stare them in the face on a daily basis.

N30trn Ways and Means

It was against this backdrop that the Red Chamber resolved to set up an adhoc committee to carry out a comprehensive investigation on what the N30 trillion Ways and Means were spent on by the immediate past government since details of such spending were deliberately not made available to the National Assembly for scrutiny and approval.

The adhoc committee was also charged with the responsibility to also probe the N10 trillion expended on the Anchor Borrowers Scheme, the $2.4 billion forex transaction out of $7 billion obligation made for that purpose as well as other intervention programmes.

Apparently, the debate provoked serious commotion in the Senate as senators engaged in accusations and counter accusations on why and how the N22.7 trillion Ways and Means was passed by the 9th Senate in May 2023 and additional N7.2 trillion passed on December 30, 2023 by the 10th Senate.

The Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), in his contribution, blamed the Senate for approving the request without details from the then President Buhari.

“When the N22.7 trillion Ways and Means approval request was brought before the 9th Senate, I insisted that details of the spending should be provided before approval would be given but the Senate then went ahead and approve it, without the details,” he claimed.

He was, however, countered by the Deputy President of the Senate, Barau Jibrin, who said the decision taken then, was a collective one with caveat that the executive should provide details later, which was however not provided.

Although the debate over the funds had progressed seamlessly, trouble started when Ndume insisted that the Senate had acted illegally by allowing funds drawn from the CBN and already expended to be brought to the parliament for approval.

“The Ways and Means is an overdraft of funds drawn from the Central Bank of Nigeria, following emergency and contingency needs of the Federal Government. The funds having been spent would be sent to the National Assembly for approval and ratification after the funds have been expended,” he argued.

He cited relevant sections in the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended), noting that the Senate lacked powers to approve funds already spent by the executive arm of government. The altercation deepened when Senator Danjuma Goje argued that the Upper legislative Chamber has the power to approve any amount of money already spent by any agencies of government, contrary to the position maintained by Ndume.

However, Ndume insisted that he was not part of the plenary which approved the Ways and Means in advance but it was required that after funds were spent, the executive would revert to the National Assembly with details of how the funds were expended.

He noted that the report presented lacked details, saying: “Mr. President, I was not part of the plenary that gave the nod for Ways and Means but the details of funds spent were not provided. This is illegal.’’ Amid the rancorous debate, the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, insisted that details be provided.

He added that the 10th Senate would not be a rubber stamp in the course carrying out its constitutional assignments. His words: “We are where we are today as a result of illegal things done in the past and I think it is necessary that details of Ways and Means be provided.”

The Senate President noted that “as recommended by the committee and supported by most of the senators, a thorough probe must be carried out on the N22.7 trillion Ways and Means approved in May 2023 by the 9th Senate, which later increased to N30 trillion, with the passage of the N7.2 trillion accrued interest forwarded to us for passage in December last year.

“The food and security crises confronting the nation now are traceable to the way and manner the said Ways and Means were given,, collected and spent. Details of such spending must be submitted for required scrutiny and possible remedies because what Nigerians want now is food on their tables and which must be given.

“Other recommendations made by the committee on the need for thorough investigation of the N10 trillion Anchor Borrowers Programme. Other intervention programmes, running into billions of dollars must be investigated.

“But as rightly recommended by the joint committee, security agencies should as a matter of national urgency combat all forms of insecurity across the country for farmers to access their farms for required food production highly needed in the country now.”

Service Extension Bill

In another development, the Senate, on Thursday last week, stepped down the controversial Service Extension Bill, which was introduced in the National Assembly by the House of Representatives. The House had earlier passed the proposal and forwarded it to the Senate for concurrence.

However, during the presentation of the bill on the floor of the Senate by the Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, other members of the Red Chamber rose against the proposal and insisted that it must not be allowed to pass to law. Bamidele had in his lead debate on the bill, argued that extension of years of service for National Assembly staff, will strengthen the legislature as an arm of government.

He explained that extension of years of service of National Assembly staff from 35 to 40 or retirement age from 60 to 65, will help to protect institutional memory needed as far as parliamentary practices and procedures were concerned.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Sumaila Kawu (NNPP, Kano South), who supported the proposal, submitted that it will help to create a reservoir of knowledge in the the federal parliament.

Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (APGA, Abia South), however countered all submissions in favour of the bill, warning that it will portray the federal lawmakers as being biased in their judgement on what is good or bad for public servants.

He said: “All the arguments made by the leader for this bill to be concurred to by the Senate, to me, do not add up. What is special about a Director of Finance in the National Assembly from Directors of Finance in the ministries and parastatals.

“The extension of years of service done for teachers, lecturers and judicial officers through laws passed to that effect by the Senate and the House of Representatives are understandable, but that cannot be in anyway, rationalized for National Assembly staff.

“They are civil servants like those in the ministries and parastatals should not be treated outside the public service rule. I am against this bill and admonish the Senate to be cautious with the proposal.”

Also opposing the bill, the Whip of the Senate, Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South), admonished the Senate to be cautious in considering the proposal, saying: “Mr. President, if a secret ballot is to be conducted among staff of the National Assembly in the chamber with us now on the bill, many of them, will vote against it.”

Also speaking against the bill, Senator Mohammed Muntari Dandutse (APC, Katsina South), said that if passed, the proposal will further worsen the already existing problem of unemployment in the country.

He therefore urged the Senate to jettison the idea. Akpabio, who observed the intense opposition against the bill by majority of the senators, quickly intervened and ruled that the bill should be stood down.

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