The lawmaker representing Esan North-East/Esan South-East Federal Constituency in Edo State at the House of Representatives, Sergius Ogun, explains to LEKE BAIYEWU why indiscriminate borrowing by a president and excess public debt should be an impeachable offence
Your bill seeking to amend the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007, and prescribe punishments for breaching the law has passed second reading. Why did you sponsor it?
It is for compliance with the Act. The section in question is Section 41. Subsection 1 says, “The framework for debt management during the financial year shall be based on the following rules: (a) Government at all tiers shall only borrow for capital expenditure and human development, provided that, such borrowing shall be on concessional terms with low interest rate and with a reasonably long amortisation period subject to the approval of the appropriate legislative body where necessary; and (b) Government shall ensure that the level of public debt as a proportion of national income is held at a sustainable level as prescribed by the National Assembly from time to time on the advice of the minister. (2) Notwithstanding the provisions of Subsection 1(a) of this section and subject to the approval of the National Assembly, the Federal Government may borrow from the capital market. (3) Non-compliance with the provisions of this section shall make the action taken an offence.”
So, we have said all the nice things—how you should borrow it, how you should use it, and all that—and that if you deviate from the session, Subsection 3 says it should be an offence. What we have done is seek an amendment to have a new Subsection 3 to prescribe the offence. That is just it.
What are the sanctions you have proposed?
We have said it should be an impeachable offence. The new Subsection 3 that we have sought says, “(3) Non-compliance with the provisions of this section shall make the action taken an impeachable offence and the offender shall be liable on conviction to a fine of N500,000,000 (five hundred million) or imprisonment for a term of three years, or to both such a fine and imprisonment.”
In a political system where it is almost impossible to impeach a sitting president, will this proposal have any effect if the law cannot be enforced against a president who is found guilty of the offence?
It will, because it is one thing to know it is an offence and quite another to say it is an offence with no prescribed penalties—no sanctions.
It is one thing to believe that a president or a governor can be in romance with the legislative arm (of the government) but if something happens, they can swing the other way. I am sure you have been following up that the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (Godwin Emefiele) went to see the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) about extending the deadline for exchanging old Naira notes for redesigned notes over the weekend.
The House (of Representatives) had ruled, and the Speaker (Femi Gbajabiamila) spoke on it; that if the CBN governor did not present himself, he would sign a warrant for his arrest. People were saying the Executive…is the Inspector-General of Police not reporting to the President?
Of course, there is a law. We have always touted this romance between the current 9th National Assembly and the Executive, but because there is a law that empowers the Speaker to do that, he latched onto that. Irrespective of the fact that the CBN governor and the President are on the same page on this; despite the fact that the CBN governor went to extract a commitment from the President, the Speaker was still holding on to this (provision of the law).
The fact that the CBN governor appeared and made himself available to be questioned by the committee is no longer breaking news to you.
Also, because in the CBN Act, Section 20(3), it talks about the period for the use and return of the old note, even though it is no longer a legal tender, the CBN governor acknowledged that. Why? It is because it is a law. If you say that the CBN governor is independent and he reports (only) to the president and you don’t put these laws in place, two of them could have met and just decided, and that would have been the end of it.
So, just because you are not able to do something today, that does not mean that you are not going to do it tomorrow.
I will give you an example: if tomorrow you elect a Peter Obi of the Labour Party (as president) and he is not in control of the National Assembly, and you don’t have laws like these and he is spending recklessly, how do you call him to order? So don’t bother to look at what is happening today in Nigeria. When we make laws, it is not for today. These might be laws that our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren will implement.
As a result, laws are rarely enacted on the spur of the moment. If you look at the laws we have made, like the Electoral Act, what if we had neglected them? So, we make laws not just for a time; there are so many things that are taken into consideration. If we have a president who might not have this kind of relationship that the 9th Assembly has (with the incumbent president) and he or she is reckless, of course, you can pull out this law.
Does this not also mean that where the president or the executive, by extension, and the legislature belong to the same political family, this law might remain in abeyance?
Not necessarily, if you recall, the last time we had Yakubu Dogara and Bukola Saraki (as Speaker of the House and President of the Senate, respectively), they were members of the All Progressives Congress, but they just couldn’t stomach some of the President’s (Buhari’s) reckless — if I can use the word “reckless” — attitude.
And they took him up on some of those things, like the payment (of almost $500m) for the (12 units of A-29) Super Tucano jets. He did not get the approval of the National Assembly to pay, but those (United States Government) that were selling to us got the approval of Congress to sell. And you cannot pay. I am talking about Sections 80 to 84 of the Constitution, which talk about how money can be released from the Consolidated Revenue Account of the government.
So, that was an infraction. I tell you that I was a member of that parliament (8th Assembly), and we took signatures to impeach the president. It is just the politics of Nigeria; that is why we did not scale through. So, it is always good to make laws because if there are infractions, they can be committed by members of the same political party, but you may just have somebody that will say, “This is the right thing to do, and we must do it this way.”
Section 41 of the Act which you want amended talks about reckless borrowing and excess public debt. Did you see the current Buhari-led regime breaching this part of the law?
Of course! It has been breached. That is why we have proposed this amendment.
Now, if you say it is an offence to do it this way, it is an infraction. So, what? Where is the law that says that I will be punished? So, we are letting them know that whoever succeeds this President and says President Buhari did that, President (Goodluck) Jonathan did it, and President (Umaru) Yar’Adua did that, and that the ones after the law came into effect did not obey it, does not mean that we should leave it like that. That is why we have a proactive National Assembly.
The current regime is known for its endless borrowing, with the national debt consequently growing. Do you see Buhari appending his signature to this bill if the National Assembly passes it?
He will because he is leaving power. If you see what happened on Tuesday; if you see the Order Paper, you will see the Ways and Means Advances. They are asking for N22.7tn. What was approved was just N1tn because we have said the executive has not engaged enough.
So we set that aside. They can be reckless, but his days in the (presidential) villa are numbered.
After the elections this month, he will be a lame-duck president. Everybody would be talking about the incoming president. He knows that if we want to start an impeachment proceeding against him, we don’t even have the number of days required. He knows that this law is not going to work against him because he is on his way out.
BREAKING NEWS: PDP’s Diri Wins Bayelsa Gov Election
The incumbent Governor of Bayelsa State and governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, Douye Diri, has been declared the winner of the State governorship election held last Saturday.
The Returning Officer, Prof Faruq Kuta, who is also the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University Of Technology, Minna, announced Diri winner of the poll at the collation centre of the election on Monday.
Diri polled 175,196 to defeat his closest rival, Timipre Sylva of the All Progressives Congress, who garnered 110,108 votes while the Labour Party polled 905 votes.
Plateau: Protesters Storm S’ Court Over Sack Of Four PDP Members From NASS
Over 1000 protesters, on Monday, besieged the Supreme Court to register their displeasure over the judgment of the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which sacked four members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Plateau State, from the National Assembly, based on a pre-election dispute.
The placard and banner-wielding groups, under the aegis of Coalition for Justice in Africa, CJA, submitted a protest letter to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Olukayode Ariwoola.
According to the protesters, the appellate court, by its judgement, thwarted the wish of electorates in Plateau state, when it declared candidates that lost the National Assembly elections that held on February 25, as winners of the legislative seats.
Speaking with newsmen shortly after the protest letter was submitted to the CJN, the National President of the CJA, Dr. Daniel Okwa, maintained that the judgement of the appellate court was capable of causing a breakdown of law and order in the state.
He said the group was at the apex court to seek the intervention of the CJN, alleging that the verdicts that removed all the PDP federal lawmakers were influenced by some chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The protest letter, which was obtained by Vanguard, read in part: “The Coalition for Truth and Justice believes that the judgment of the Appeal Court in Abuja is a case of injustice, else, how could one explain a situation where lawmakers of the All Progressive Congress (APC) would boast and predict the outcome of the Court of Appeal judgment even before the pronouncement.
“This is unacceptable and indicates that the justice regime in Nigeria has been thrown to the dogs. What happened in Plateau State is an aberration of immeasurable proportion. There is a distinction between a pre-election matter and a post-election matter.
“The Supreme Court has established this fact on several occasions. It is now a wonder why the Appeal Court would act otherwise and in a despicable manner that tends to truncate our nascent democracy.
“The Coalition for Truth and Justice entirely condemns the actions of the justices of the Appeal Court that sat in Abuja. They displayed insensitivity to the electoral choices of the people. This is a worrisome trend that the Chief Justice of Nigeria must address.
“This is on the heels that the Judiciary, the world over, is regarded as the last hope of the commoner. This presupposes that it is the only place the commoner can get justice. The function of the Judiciary is not to twist the truth or fabricate facts but to interpret the law. The consequence of the interpretation of the law is justice.
“However, what played out in Plateau state negates the Judiciary’s position as the common’s last hope. The Judiciary is for sale to the highest bidder in Nigeria, if such positions could be taken without recourse to the implication of such on the psychological state of the people.
“The Coalition for Truth and Justice is using this protest to drive the point that justice in Nigeria should not be reserved for a section of the country or any political party. What happened in Plateau should not be allowed to stand or repeat itself. The implication of such is that the reputation of the judicial arm of government would be eroded.”
It will be recalled that the appellate court had on November 7, in a unanimous decision by a three-member panel led by Justice Elfrieda Williams-Dawodu, okayed the nullification of the election of a Senator and three members of the House of Representatives in the state that emerged on the platform of the PDP.
The panel based its decision on failure of the PDP to fully comply with a court that was made in 2022, which it said directed the party to conduct congress in the 17 Local Government Areas in the state.
It, therefore, held that though the lawmakers won their respective seats during the National Assembly election that held on February 25, all the scores that were credited them, amounted to wasted votes.
It ordered that candidates that got the second majority lawful votes at the election, should be sworn in as winners of the legislative seats.
Canada’s Abuja, Lagos Visa Centres Open – High Commission
The Canadian High Commission in Nigeria has said its Abuja and Lagos visa application centres remain open for the processing of immigration, refugee and citizenship applications.
The Canadian High Commission had on Tuesday announced the suspension of operations in its Abuja office following a fire incident at its generator house, which claimed two lives on Monday.
Nigerians had expressed fear that the operations suspension would hamper visa application processes.
But in a statement posted on its X handle on Thursday, the Canadian High Commission clarified that its Abuja and Lagos visa application centres remain open and operational.
In the statement by its public affairs staff, Demilade Kosemani, the commission said, “As we continue to mourn the passing of our dear colleague from the High Commission of Canada in Abuja, please note the following information below:
“Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada clients: processing of applications continues. Regardless of the suspension of operations at the High Commission of Canada in Abuja, the Visa Application Centres in Abuja and Lagos remain open.”
Meanwhile, a travel agency, , TMT Travels and Tours Limited, has sympathised with the Canadian High Commission over the Monday tragic fire incident.
In a statement on Thursday the agency’s Chief Executive Officer, Collins Onukwubiri, said, “We at TMT Travels and Tours Limited shares in the grief and sense of loss of the Canadian embassy in Abuja. The partial burning of the Canadian embassy in Abuja and the death of two workers there was most unfortunate.
“Canada, as a major player in the Nigeria’s travel and tours business, is an integral player in Nigeria’s economy. We know how devastating this unfortunate incident is to them but we want to say that we stand with them in this time and always. We specially condole with the families of the two persons who died in the process.”