Lawan: we passed Buhari’s $5.5b loan request to save 20m jobs

The passage of the $5.513 billion loan request by President Muhammadu Buhari will save 20 million jobs, President of the Senate Ahmed Lawan said at the weekend.

Dr. Lawan explained that the national Assembly did not give frivolous approval.

He said Nigeria was able to get concessionary, multilateral or bilateral loans with very favourable conditions of one per cent, 10 years or 20 year moratorium.

He also claimed that over 400 bills are being processed in the national assembly to add value to Nigerians’ lives.

He said there has been less friction between the Legislature and the Executive because a Special Committee is working behind-the-scene to avert feuds as it was between the two arms during the Eighth Assembly.

Lawan said: “We are not doing that in a frivolous way. We are very mindful, we are very patriotic on the way and manner we grant or endorse these requests and we are also very meticulous. Our Committees on Foreign and Domestic Loans have gone through all the papers to ensure that there is justification for those loans. And in fact, in the Senate, we didn’t pass all the loan requests.

“We passed only the request for $5.513b. There was $1.5b request for states. We could not see the justification and we said no. So, it was not everything that was requested that was was granted by the Senate.

“I want to assure Nigerians that we would always be guided by the need for our country to be prudent; by the need for our government to be prudent and efficient in the deployment of resources. And of course in the process, we should also explore other means of funding our projects like the partnership with the private sector. All we need to do is to create the environment for the private sector to participate.”

Lawan explained that the loans were necessary to complete important infrastructural projects.

He said: “Well, we have a shortfall of almost $14.2b funding gap for 2020 Budget. And with COVID-19, came so many negative things that have visited adverse outcomes on our people. We didn’t make hay while the sun shone when we had our crude selling for over $140 per barrel in the past.

“We didn’t diversify the economy, we didn’t invest in the real sectors of the economy and most of the resources were frittered.

“Now, we have come to a point where we have to address the infrastructure gap that we have but the resources are so low. Crude at one point was selling for $10 and $11 per barrel, especially when this COVID-19 thing started around March.

“We have very significant projects that we need to put in place like the Second Niger Bridge, the Mambilla Hydro-Power Project; the East-West Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Lagos- Kano Rail Line; Port Harcourt-Maiduguri Rail Line and so many other projects that are as well important. But we don’t have the money.

“Tell me, if you don’t have the resources and you still needed these projects because with some of them you can pay back what you owe once they are operational. Would you because you don’t want to obtain the loans, you will say let me abandon these projects. Or, you will say I will take the loans but I will ensure that all the loans I take and every other resource I put on these projects are properly, efficiently and prudently applied and deployed.”

He said if the loans were not approved, the nation’s economy may slip into recession.

He added: “For us in the National Assembly, we are conscious of the fact that this economy, as affected by COVID-19, if it persists, you could lose over 20million jobs in this country.

“The economy could go into serious recession probably up to -4% or even -5 % of the GDP. So, you need to have the resources to invest so that the economy does not go into recession and also to ensure that people don’t lose their jobs.

“Therefore, when the Federal Government was able to get concessionary, multilateral or bilateral loans with very favourable conditions of maybe 1%, 10 years or 20 year moratorium, what can you do? You cannot run away from your challenges.

He explained the rationale behind the creation of Special Committee to reduce the friction between the Legislature and the Executive.

But he also clarified that the National Assembly will never compromise its mandate.

He said: “I am pleased to say that we have done so much. The Senate started and remains united. We are bi-partisan and this is obvious and we have been working with other arms of government very closely in such a manner that our productivity level in the Senate is higher than most previous sessions. And that is to say that it is because we have more time to be focused and concentrate on delivering legislative interventions as may be required from time to time.

“We need not spend any time on unnecessary Executive-Legislature conflict and bickering. Certainly not obviously before the public. We have given this kind of environment; we have done significantly very well compared to most of the previous sessions.

“Here, I am not talking about the number of bills passed because we were doing everything fine until COVID-19 pandemic from February to June. Unfortunately with the COVID-18 pandemic effects, it is clear that everybody is working far below his capacity whether as an individual or as an institution. This is because of the situation that requires lockdown, easing of lockdown and the National Assembly and the Senate cannot be different.

“Certainly, we sit at the moment once in a legislative week or sometimes at best two days in a legislative week. That is not the way it should be but because of the current situation, there is hardly anything anybody could do until the situation of COVID-19 becomes easy and better for us to go full blast and full operation.

“But, I am happy to say that, at least, given all these difficult situations, the Senate has done fairly well. We have over 400 bills in different stages of legislative processing. And of course, we have done so many confirmations compared to any other Senate in one year. We have done about 27 or 28 confirmation requests from the Executive arm of government. And we consider that very significant because this is the way to make government efficient when you have the governing boards, the governing councils and the management in place as against an individual, probably a Minister, or someone who could take advantage of no governing board or management to run government organisations.

“So, we are very happy with what we have done so far. Let me also say this. In order to sustain the relationship that enhances our productivity, we have a Special Committee. This Special Committee is between the Executive and Legislative arms of government that works behind-the-scene. It is not an official body, you don’t see it, you don’t hear it but it is very effective and efficient.

“The members are the Senate Leader, the House Leader, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (Senate), the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly (House); the representative of the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and relevant committee chairmen when there is a bill that has to do with an area a committee oversights.

“And this is a conscious decision between the Legislature and the Executive that whenever there is going to be a bill that is significant and could cause misunderstanding, the Executive should bring that bill, we will sit down to let them explain to that committee and let them work on it. Where the legislators feel this is too obvious we cannot accept this and this is the way we think it should be, we will argue and then we will have the bill that will eventually come to the National Assembly.

He said the creation of the Special Committee does not erode the Principle of Separation of Powers between the Legislature and the Executive.

He added: “The Principle of Separation of Powers is what establishes and sustains government. I believe in it strongly. I also believe that separation of powers should also be considered along checks and balances.

Regarding the proposed e-voting by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Lawan said the National Assembly was expecting details from the electoral body.

He said: “This is something we need to sit down with INEC, because INEC is the operator of the electoral environment, and anything it thinks is necessary for us to operate during this time of COVID-19 challenge, we should look into it but before then, we believe that the electoral environment should be as dynamic as it is, should receive our attention that will make it possible for elections to hold and outcomes to achieve the integrity that we will have the confidence of voters. I don’t want to comment too much on what INEC said because they need to explain to us what they mean by e-voting, the scope, what type of technologies they are going to deploy, how they are going to do it. I don’t want to comment further on that so that I don’t cause unnecessary debate about it.

“We want to do constitutional amendment as well as amendment of the electoral act to further make the process better and we want to see a situation where all pre-election matters are determined before the elections, that’s to say that if there are issues regarding the primaries by political parties and their candidates, then such legal matters should be settled, before anybody is presented for election so that you don’t go with pre-election problems or matters into the general election.

“We want to ensure that in our constitutional amendment, local government autonomy is further entrenched because we’ve lost it, we don’t talk about local governments anymore like they don’t exist. This is a tier of government that can do a lot to help us to deal with small and local issues. We believe that we should work to ensure that local government autonomy is protected by the constitution. We have a lot of interest in ensuring that we carry out constitutional amendment as well as working on the electoral act.”

On the controversy trailing the proposed renovation of the National Assembly complex, he said the estimated cost has been reduced from N37b to N9.2b.

He added: As for National Assembly renovation, how I wish I am not a member of the National Assembly so that when I talk about it, people will not read meaning into it. This guest house leaks but this is personal to me, nobody is talking about it. But that National Assembly represents Nigeria, it tells our story; it is Nigeria personified. Go round the National Assembly, even from outside start from the Dome, you will be ashamed of Nigeria.

“The National Assembly renovation was misunderstood. Sometimes, you allow criticisms so that you give people the feeling that this is a democracy. People criticized it, we took it calmly and we assumed that we need to educate Nigerians about it.

“First of all, it is not a National Assembly building; it is the Federal Capital Development Authority’s building. National Assembly is to be accommodated by the Federal Government of Nigeria. If tomorrow, the location or our accommodation is changed to the International Conference Centre, that is where we are going to stay.”

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