By Ignatius Okorocha
Minority leader of the Senate,Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe on Thursday engaged the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, in a serious altercation over the $22.7 billion foreign loan request by President Muhammadu Buhari.
However,despite the sharp disagreement that created a rowdy session in the apex legislative chamber, the lawmakers went ahead and approved the loan, promising to ensure that the fund was judiciously applied to the various projects, for which it was being borrowed.
Meanwhile, disagreement broke between the two principal officers following the Presentation of the report on the loan request by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans, Senator Clifford Ordia.
The bone of contention was that Ordia submitted the report without the details of the projects to be funded with the money requested for by President Buhari.
However, the Leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the major opposition party in the Chamber, decided not to look away from the lacuna, as he drew the attention of his colleagues to the matter, and sought for a thorough scrutiny of the document.
Buhari had earlier requested the sum of $29.96bn for his administration for approval from the 8th National Assembly but the Senate, under the leadership of Bukola Saraki as President of the Senate, turned down the request because the President did not attach details of the projects and financial allocations to his letter of request.
President Buhari, however, represented the request to the 9th Senate last December but was reduced to $22.7 billion, clarifying that the Eighth National Assembly actually approved about $6 billion out of the total amount requested.
During the consideration of the report yesterday, however, Abaribe, had raised a point of order to draw the attention of the Senate to the lack of attachment of details of projects and fund allocations in the report, thereby urging the President of the Senate to allow for item by item consideration of the loan request.
Not comfortable with Abaribe’s request, Lawan turned down his suggestion, saying that the report of the Committee should not be subjected to debate, according to the rules of the Senate.
The position of Lawan, did not however, go down well with the Minority Leader, who cautioned that it would be injurious to the country’s economy, for the Senate to approve the loan without proper scrutiny.
Below is the altercation between Lawan and Abaribe:
Abaribe: “my point of order is based on loan approval of $22.7 billion and we who are going to pay back that are making effort to make sure that this is clarified and Mr President, you are not giving us the privilege to make our points known. I don’t see what is difficult for us ….
Lawan: “where is your privilege? You cited Order 43, which privilege was not given to you?
Abaribe: “my privilege Mr President, I was calling for point of Order to point out this thing to you…
Lawan: “haven’t I given you that privilege. You raised a point of order 43, you didn’t tell me what you are going to raise and I said I denied you because that is what the standing order says.
“You are supposed to tell me what the point of order is in details; you didn’t even tell me the synopsis of that order. I didn’t even know what that order is. So, I denied you that but before then you…..Minority leader, you know all the process here more than anybody else.
“You have not been denied your privileges. In fact, the Minority leader has had more than a fair share in this respect….
Abaribe: “all I wanted to say which is the feelings on this floor is that you don’t want us to say our minds on this issue. The general feeling is that there are some aspects of this loan that we must have to vote on to decide whether they are in our interest or not, and the Senate leader has even confirmed it by saying that all he wants….
“All I am saying is that we are the ones that will raise our economy; we have some issues with certain things inside here. The reason why committees come to the general house is so that we can make our inputs into it.
“Now we want to make our inputs and we are being shut out. We are been pushed to pass the report or not pass it but what we are saying is that for economy of this country..
Lawan interjected again saying: “Minority leader, I don’t want this debate to generate controversy please. We shouldn’t allow it to generate into partisanship. This is for our country and I want to say that you raised your hand on a number of occasions and the only one I denied you was when you came under 43; and order 25 says that I interpret the rules and you supposed to have discussed this with me, and there wasn’t any effort to muzzle you.
“Nobody is stopping you from voting what you want and if you have any explanation to guide us to process this report, we don’t have any reason to degenerate into partisanship”.
When Lawan and Abaribe maintained their different dispositions towards the report, it provoked serious tension, as senators resorted to partisanship in their interventions.
At this point, Senator Gabriel Suswan (PDP, Benue State), asked the President of the Senate to quickly call for an executive session, to enable the senators resolve the matter in-house, without washing their dirty leanings in public.
The Majority Leader of the Senate, Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi), immediately bought Suswan’s suggestion, and moved the motion for the Chamber to go into executive session, where the lawmakers resolved their differences.
In his remarks after the passage of the loan request, Lawan said that the Senate would ensure strict monitoring of how the fund was utilised.
His words: “we must follow very strictly how this money is expended by the Executive arm of government in funding the projects.
“We must ensure that no single dollar or cent is spent on any other thing outside of what has been indicated here and we pray that this loan will turn around the economy of Nigeria.
“It is our belief that this loan by itself will definitely have some positive influence on the GDP of this country and therefore, we want to assure Nigerians that as a chamber of the National Assembly, we will be responsible, we will ensure to be always available to ensure that no funds approved here are utilized for something else or used in very uneconomic and un prudent manner. This our responsibility and we must ensure that we do that.”