26 C002D5556 Sunday 08 April 2018 AssemblyWatch From the Red Chamber With OWEDE AGBAJILEKE Barring any unforeseen circumstances Senate will resume from Easter break on Tuesday, April 10 as governance will be relegated to the back stage while politics occupies centre stage. Consequently, senators in the All Progressives Congress (APC) caucus who are loyal to President Muhammadu Buhari and are bent on defending him on the controversial amendment to the Electoral Act, will spoil for war with Pro-Saraki lawmakers. Attention will shift to the Samuel Anyanwu-led Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, which is expected to submit four reports on various allegations levelled against Pro-Buhari senators. These include: As pro-Buhari, pro-Saraki senators spoil for war alleged defamation of the Red Chamber by Ovie Omo- Agege (APC, Delta State), plot by the sacked Chairman, Northern Senators Forum, Abdullahi Adamu (APC, Nasarawa State) and other Pro-Buhari senators to destabilize the Senate leadership, alleged attempts to compromise lawmakers to abandon plans to override President Muhammadu Buhari’s veto of the Electoral Act Amendment Bill and another probe into the activities of Parliamentary Support Group for President Buhari (Senate). However, feelers from the National Assembly indicate that the panel may not be in a hurry to submit its report after all. For the Saraki-led Senate, referring the cases to the committee was strategic, as it was meant to weaken and reduce the support base of the Pro-Buhari senators and portray them in bad light. For Saraki, this is a battle for political survival. Should Pro-Buhari senators succeed in galvanising support amongst their colleagues to stop moves to override the president’s veto, then he should kiss the nation’s Number Three position goodbye as this would serve as a launch pad to impeach him. Meanwhile, death has not been kind to the Pro-Buhari senators. This followed the demise of yet another of their member, Bukar Mustapha, last week, barely two weeks after the Chairman Senate Committee on Poverty Alleviation and Social Welfare, Ali Wakili, passed on. The 63-year-old All Progressives Congress (APC) senator who represented President Muhammadu Buhari’s Senatorial District of Katsina North, died after a brief illness. Until his demise, he chaired the Senate Committee on Capital Market. Coincidentally, his predecessor, Isiaka Adeleke, also died in the same capacity last year. The development brings to four the number of lawmakers that have passed on in the Eighth Senate; the first being Ahmed Zanna. Again, they were all elected under the platform of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC). In line with parliamentary practice, the upper legislative chamber is expected to suspend plenary on Tuesday, April 10, and hold a valedictory session in Mustapha’s honour on Wednesday April 11. Another issue that will top agenda is President Buhari’s approval for the release of $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account (ECA) to fight the rising spate of insecurity across the country. Recall that in December 2017 when the National Economic Council (NEC) authorized the Federal Government to withdraw $1 billion from the Excess Crude Account to tackle security challenges in the country, Saraki had assured that the money would not be withdrawn without National Assembly approval. He also promised that the issue would be treated as a matter of priority upon resumption in January 2018. But that did not happen, as the issue was swept under the carpet. “Our party will not spend money that did not follow due process. I am assuring you that the money will not be spent until we come here and debate on it,” Saraki told the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu who observed that deliberation on the matter was not listed on the Order Paper. As they resume, lawmakers, especially those elected on the platform of the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) are expected to bring the issue to the front burner. They will use their numerical strength of 41 members (representing 38 percent) in the Senate to make their position known. On its part, the party has urged the National Assembly to commence appropriate constitutional legislative actions against the government for unilaterally approving the release of the fund without allowing application of legislative instrument. It also called on Nigerians to reject the approval, saying it was a renewed attempt to use the money to finance the All Progressives Congress’s national convention and 2019 campaigns. While calling for an independent investigation into the processes of release and utilisation of all special funds for war against insurgency in the last three years, it expressed concerns that the same administration that claimed to have technically defeated the insurgents still approved such amount to fight insurgency. NASS Open week timely but should include spiritual cleansing From the Green House With I was privileged to witness the recent inauguration of the Committee saddled with the responsibility of National Assembly Open Week, which coincides with the commemoration of the 3rd year anniversary of 8th Assembly. The Committee is chaired by someone I hold so much in high esteem, Distinguished Senator Ahmad Ibrahim Lawan (APC-Yobe), who doubles as the Leader of the Senate. Haven reeled out the terms of reference for the Open Week, I wish to acknowledge that the exercise is well-conceived and timely, especially with the level of disenchantment between the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary arms of government. Going by Senator Lawan’s pedigree during the investigation into the operations of Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) through which he resisted all forms of interference and scandal, he can raise his shoulder high in steering the affairs of the National Assembly Open Week committee. Of course, there are issues that should be addressed during the week-long programme, including how best to address series of scandal hanging on the neck of the Legislature, ranging from the $50,000 and $30,000 bribes allegedly received by some Senators and members of the House to alter the Electoral Act Amendment Bill; and the recent report about the four Senators and four members of the House involved in the $96,350 foreign training scandal, sponsored by Nigeria Bulk Electricity Trading Plc (NBET) in November 2017 to attend the 43rd international training programme on utility regulation and strategy, though cancelled for undisclosed reasons. According to the report, each of the four Senators and four Members would have pocketed the sum of $9,500 (N3.420 million) and $9,000 (N3.240 million at N360/$) for 10 days. Some have insinuated that these and other unexplained reasons were responsible for the resentment by some Ministers and Heads of agencies to appear before the Standing Committees to defend their budgets and even appear at either investigative public hearings and honour invitations. The general public including the Media should be educated and convinced public on the justifications for such sponsorship and draw lines on issues of conflict of interests. We can never forget in a hurry, the issues surrounding budget padding and accusation and counter-accusation over insertion of some bogus amounts in the federal budget. While I align absolutely with the National Assembly that the power of the purse belongs to the Legislature, but the leadership of the National Assembly which stands as the symbol of democracy should take the bull by the horn and fearlessly ensure that we get value for tax payers’ fund. I’m still at loss over what the trillions of naira expended yearly on various projects are used for? Even if the Executive arm which gets approximately N8.350 billion out of the N8.6 trillion of the entire 2018 proposed budget fail to be prudent in its implementation, the onus is on the National Assembly to demand for accountability and transparency in the course of the oversight and bring it to public glare without any element of compromise and gratification. But what do we see for all of these? Soiled hands everywhere! The time is now to restore public confidence and trust! Drawn from Speaker Yakubu Dogara’s submission at the joint public hearing on the 2018 budget estimate, Nigerians should “demand strict accountability from all elected officials on this matter. Jacob Lew captured the issue succinctly when he said, ‘The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.’ The citizen must therefore insist on the total realisation of these values and aspirations rather than merely the collection of figures.” I wish to also advise that the issue of alleged pension fraud running to about N2 billion within the National Assembly bureaucracy should not be left unattended to, during the National Assembly Open Week. The National Assembly should also design a template through which issue of zonal intervention/ constituency projects will be open and transparent. As present, it’s obvious that various sub-heads with zonal and constituency projects descriptions are far more than N100 billion jointly agreed by the Legislature and Executive in the annual budget. All of these are worrisome and should be addressed. Adequate sensitization/enlightenment should be intensified that any of the serving Senator/Member who bring the Institution into disrepute is not covered by any form of immunity going forward. Meanwhile, the recurring cases of death among National Assembly members and staff which occurred in recent past is causing palpable fears within the Institution, and cautions to all and sundry. While some believed the situation calls for spiritual intervention, some of those familiar with the system were of the opinion that such occurrence is usual in pre-election year. As at the last count, up to 12 people death have been announced either via posters on notice boards within the National Assembly while such news about the lawmakers come either through traditional media. KEHINDE AKINTOLA For all the concerned staff, there is also the need for spiritual cleansing within the system, without further delay. It’s so unfortunate that all those who lost their lives never dreamt of suffering such fate at such tender age(s), but we should not forget the lessons that come with such incidences. One of the lessons include the need to improve our health facilities by equipping all hospitals and primary healthcare centres for which several billions are being appropriated yearly, but Nigerians get little or no equitable value and services when they go there. That accounts for the high mortality and morbidity rates in the country and life expectancy when you look at the human development indices.
2019 Watch Sunday 08 April 2018 SABY ELEMBA, Owerri Shekarau, the mathematical politician 7.9 million PVCs still uncollected in INEC offices nationwide … as 2019 countdown begins KELVIN UMWENI & UJU IKEDIONU As 2019 general election draws near, one would ordinarily have thought that Nigerians should by now show relentless efforts towards collecting the most pertinent item, the Permanent Voters Card (PVCs), they wield to effect changes in the governance structure that they perhaps believe have not lived up to expectations. But the current level of political apathy expressed via the low collection rates of PVCs across most states is rather too sad and pathetic. A recent statistics released by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) showed that out of about 8.3 million uncollected Permanent Voters Card (PVCs) in 2016, only 121,097 PVCs have been collected so far as at 22nd March, 2018 (compared to 230,175 collected in 2017) leaving a total of 7.9 million PVCs uncollected. Eight of the 36 states of the country contributes more than half (56 per cent) to the 7.9 million uncollected PVCs as at 2018 with five of this eight states being South Western states of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Ondo and Osun. The other three states include Edo, Imo and Rivers states. A state-by-state breakdown of the figures showed that Lagos State, the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria leads in terms of uncollected PVCs with about 1.40 million PVCs – compared to 1.42 million PVCs as at 2016 – lying uncollected at the various INEC offices in the state, representing 17.7percent of the total uncollected PVCs nationwide. This was closely followed by APC stakeholders commend Araraume’s kind gesture in Imo …Excited at his huge donation Days after the historic party meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Imo State, stakeholders have continued to applaud Senator Ifeanyi Araraume over his kind gestures to the party in the state. This is coming at the heels of Mahmood Yakubu Oyo state with 647,586 uncollected PVCs in March relative to 663,053 uncollected PVCs as at 2016. In Edo and Ogun states, a total of 12,142 and 7,928 PVCs have been collected so far with a colossal 449,001 and 426,890 respectively yet to be collected though the latter has recorded progress as the total collected PVCs figure for first quarter of 2018 alone (3,979) has exceeded that for the whole of 2017 (3,949). So far, states that have recorded improvement in terms of PVC collection rates according to calculations by BusinessDay are Anambra (51%), Kogi (14.2%), Ebonyi (14%) and Bayelsa (12%) states. The improvement in PVC collection rates in Anambra state was due to the recently concluded gubernatorial election held last year. Conversely, states with poor collection rates include Zamfara (0.1%), Taraba (0.4%), Niger (0.6%), Sokoto (0.7%) and Kaduna (0.8%). PVC collection rate is measured as the proportion of total collected PVCs in 2017 and first quarter 2018 to the uncollected PVCs as at 2016. a thank you visit the Isiebu-born politician has been receiving from APC party officials and stakeholders drawn from the three zones of the state. Recall that at the party’s SEC meeting under the control of the APC state chairman, Hillary Eke, held at Concorde Hotel, Owerri recently, Araraume displayed his unshaken magnanimity to improve the lot of the party ahead next year’s general election when he donated the sum of N20million during the fund-raising organised at the event. The donation of the senator was greeted with wild jubilation which necessitated the spontaneous follow up of solidarity visits to him from party faithful across the state. C002D5556 28 One reason cited by most people especially those living in Lagos which has the highest number of uncollected PVCs is the level of commitment required by their jobs so much so that they barely had time to go to the nearest centres to get their PVCs. INEC averred that the important role that Continuous Voters Register (CVR) officials play in the electoral process noting that “the manner in which they discharge their duties will affect the confidence of the citizens in the electoral process and the electoral authority. They are expected to be courteous, polite, helpful at all times, treat all persons equally and with respectful”. Unfortunately, the unfriendly attitude displayed by some INEC officials is enough to get frustrated with the process of not only collecting PVCs but also registering to be an eligible voter. There seems to be an information gap between those who are yet to collect their PVCs and INEC itself. Most Nigerians are unaware of the whole electoral process visà-vis when and where to pick up their PVCs. The CVR Principles according to INEC categorically stated that “PVC of those registered in first quarter (Q1) should be ready for collection in third quarter (Q3), and second quarter should be ready in fourth quarter (Q4) etc.” The pertinent question we ought to ask ourselves is: How many Nigerians are aware of this modus operandi and to what extent is INEC complying with this? Essentially, INEC should step up its game towards curbing this trend by capturing phone numbers and email addresses of registered voters so as to notify them when their PVCs are ready and where to pick them up. The donation was the climax of the event before he, alongside the National Organising Secretary, Senator Osita Izunaso, took permission to leave for other urgent engagements. The stakeholders have expressed joy that Araraume has the capacity to shoulder the responsibility of the party ahead 2019 election. Ukwa Ngwa youths endorse Ikpeazu for second term UDOKA AGWU, Umuahia 27 Youths from the nine local government areas that make up Ukwa Ngwa political bloc have called on the Governor of Abia, Okezie Ikpeazu, to make himself available to contest the governorship position of the state in 2019 to complete his developmental strides. The youth, who made the call during a youth rally they organised at Ngwa High School, Aba, to endorse the governor for a second term in office, noted that for now there is no vacancy at the Government House, Umuahia. The youth, who spoke through their vice chairman, Ginger Onwusibe, said that their decision to prevail on the governor to run stemmed from the numerous achievements he had so far recorded in various facets of the state’s economy including empowering youths, constructing roads, promotion of made-in-Aba goods, noting especially that Ikpeazu remains the only governor in the country who is still in good terms with his predecessor. “This shows that he is doing well and that any good deed deserves reciprocation and thanks,” the group said. Ikpeazu, in his speech, stated that he remains committed to rendering service to the people of the state. He maintained that his work would speak for him in 2019. Governor of Ekiti State, Ayo Fayose applauded Ikpeazu for embarking on human capital and infrastructural development and implored him to continue in that vein. “I want to assure you that if you continue like this you will go far,” Fayose said. Former Governor of Abia State, Theodore A. Orji disclosed that Ikpeazu whom he discovered about 10 years ago and insisted that he would be governor had done well and made the state proud and urged him to keep up the tempo. Earlier, Uche Ikonne, chairman of the occasion and vice chancellor of Abia State University, said that the governor had embarked on infrastructural and human capacity building, describing the rally as a celebration of success by a youthful and performing governor. Christopher Enweremadu, commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, had earlier moved a motion on behalf of the youth that there is no vacancy at the Government House in 2019, seconded by Chinedum Elechi.