John Okiyi Kalu: Herdsmen/farmers conflict – There must be zero tolerance for criminality in peace building
By virtue of section 88(1) of the Nigerian Constitution, the legislative chambers are statutorily charged with the task of investigating the uses to which office holders in the Federation put public funds.
Specifically, sections 88 (1) and 89 (1) provide as follows: 88. – (1) Subject to the provisions of the constitution, each House of the National Assembly shall have power by resolution published in its journal or in the Official Gazette of the Government of the Federation to direct or cause to be directed an investigation into
(a) Any matter or thing with respect to which it has power to make laws; and
b) The conduct of affairs of any person, authority, Ministry or to be charged, or government department Charged, or intended to be charged, with the duty of or responsibility for
(i) Executing or administering laws enacted by the National Assembly, and
(ii) Disbursing or administering moneys appropriated or to be appropriated by National Assembly
(2) The powers conferred on the National Assembly under the provisions of this section are exercisable only for the purpose of enabling it to-
(a) Make laws with respect to any mater within its legislative competence and correct any defects in existing laws; and
(b) Expose corruption, inefficiency or waste the execution or administration of laws within its legislative competence and in the disbursement or administration of funds appropriated by it.
89.-(1) For the purposes of any investigation under section 88 of this Constitution and subject to the provisions thereof, the Senate or the House appointed in accordance with section 62 of this Constitution shall have power to
(a) Procure all such evidence, written or oral, direct or circumstantial as it may think necessary or desirable, and examine all persons as witnesses whose evidence may be material or relevant to the subject matter;
(b) Require such evidence to be given on oath;
(c) summon any person in Nigeria to give evidence at any place or produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his Control, and examine him as a witness and require him to produce any document or other thing in his possession or under his control, subject to all just exceptions, and
(d) Issue a warrant to compel the attendance of any person who, after having been summoned to attend, fails, refuses or neglects to do so and does not excuse such failure, refusal or neglect to the satisfaction of the House or he committee in question, and order him to pay all cost which may have been occasioned in compelling his attendance or by reason of his failure, refusal or neglect; and any fine so imposed shall be recoverable the same manner as a fine imposed by a court of law
(2) A summons or warrant issued under this section may be served or executed by any member of the Nigeria Police Force or by person authorised in that behalf by the President of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Representatives, as the case may require.
It is therefore correct to assert that it is in the exercise of those constitutional functions and powers that a series of investigative hearings had begun with specific reference to the humongous Funds released to combat the Covid -19 Pandemic as captured in the budget since last year when the health emergency started.
This exercise by the National Assembly is however not expected to produce any tangible results given that the leadership of the two chambers of the National Assembly are in the pockets of the head of the executive arm of government just as the senate President is quoted to have affirmed that his leadership will pass all requests sent to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari.
For one year of their leadership, both Ahmed Lawan and Femi Gbajabiamila of the Senate and the Federal House of Representatives have shown clearly that they are errand boys of President Buhari.
But for record purposes, and for the benefit of Nigerians who are alive to their responsibilities as citizens, I will inform them that they need to be vigilant and follow the public investigations of the Central government on how the expenditures to combat Covid- 19 were made because all over Nigeria the public health infrastructures have all but collapsed.
As citizens too, Nigerians should make demands from the public office holders to provide the templates of how it the central government blew away a set of credit facilities collected from international monetary fund for the purpose of combating Covid-19 which is ravaging the public space and leaving in its wake devastation and high death tolls.
Although on daily basis, stories fly in the media about certain bail out that certain unnamed businesses that have crippled due to Covid -19 get, but appearance is different from reality or rather the propaganda is not reflected in the real World because hundreds of thousand of businesses have gone under.
In France for instance, the Emmanuel Macron- led government pays each restaurant operator twenty thousand Euro monthly to cushion the effects of Covid-19 on their businesses.
Restaurant owners in France have been unable to serve sit-down meals since 30 October. Despite government bailouts of up to €20,000 per month, some say they’re at breaking point, with little prospect of a return to business as usual anytime soon.
Last week Stephane Turillon, a chef in eastern France, called for restaurants to open for protest meals on Monday, in a day of civil disobedience.
Several chefs and restaurant owners announced they would heed the call. But on Monday morning France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire announced very dissuasive measures.
“It’s extremely hard for restaurants, economically and in terms of morale,” he told RTL radio, “but in no way does that justify not respecting the rules.”
Le Maire said owners caught serving clients would see their Covid solidarity funds suspended for a month, “and if they do it again, they won’t get any more at all.”
Speaking on BFMTV, Stéphane Manigold, spokesperson for the “Restons ouverts” (Let’s stay open) collective, immediately called on restaurateurs “not to commit an offence”.
Le Maire acknowledged the restaurants planning to defy Covid restrictions were “an isolated few”. But on Saturday, police in Paris said they discovered 24 restaurants operating illicitly on Thursday and Friday, and warned they would step up controls.
Daily Le Parisien reported Monday that one restaurant shut down was serving judges who worked at the nearby appeals court on the Ile de la Cité, just opposite the Paris police headquarters, so reports the French media today.
In Nigeria, this writer knows a lot of small businesses like salons, dancers, performers, barbers and restaurants that were compelled to shut down but they are till date not provided with subsidy to diversify and await the end of the prolonged off and on lockdowns. Hundreds of thousands if Nigeria are facing existential hardships.
However, the Federal government and state governments are busy pilfering public fund and threatening poor citizens with lockdowns.
Officials have also started using the Covid- 19 Pandemic to line their pockets with filthy lucre and making fraudulent claims of how much the government is spending.
Although the National Assembly is making a faint attempt to investigate these frauds, one case in point is the huge amount of money that may be stolen under the guise of importing Covid -19 vaccines from God knows where.
The former executive governor of Anambra State has said N400 billion which Federal government of Nigeria is planning to spend for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccine is quite outrageous.
Recall that the Minister of health, Osagie Ehanire said in December 2020 that the federal government needs about N400 billion for COVID-19 vaccines.
According to Ehanire, N400 billion would be required to vaccinate 70 percent of Nigeria’s over 200 million population, at $8 per person.
Reacting on the issue when he featured on ARISE Television on Tuesday, Obi said there are issues of transparency regarding the procurement of vaccines.
The ex-governor who is widely known for his financial prudence said Nigeria would not have needed to spend so much in procuring vaccines if its National Vaccine Production Facility was operational.
He said, “The issue of vaccine is one that I feel a sense of pain. Nigeria as a country in 1940 established what we called National Vaccine Production Facility domiciled in Yaba, and that was able to produce virtually all the vaccines we used in the days of smallpox, yellow fever, and that facility was shut down in 1991 to be refurbished and upgraded, there was nothing wrong with it,” Obi said.
“And till today that has been the case deliberately so that people can import vaccines and sell to the government.
“Now I hear that we are looking for N400bn. Well, I am at loss. Our budget this year for health is N547bn. I don’t know if they are going to take this vaccine procurement from it, because if they do, we are left with N147bn.
“For the vaccine procurement also, we need to have transparency in the procurement. Today, vaccine in India costs between $2 25 cents to $3. That is an average of $2.75 and if you say you are going to use N400 billion that is about $1bn. If you divide $1bn by $2.75cents each, that is about 350 million doses which is far in excess of what we need.
“World Health Organisation said if you can inject 70 percent of your population, that’s it. 70 percent of Nigeria is about 140 million so we are actually looking for 140 million doses. Considering that some other people are going to give us some free, we actually don’t need more than 120 million. But even if we’re buying 140 million, we just need about three hundred and eighty-something million dollars which is about N150bn to buy it.
“If they have a N400bn budget to buy the vaccine, my suggestion, they don’t need to award contracts in this vaccine, let them just call Serum institute in India and plead with them. I am sure they will even give us discount. If they want I can go for the negotiation. It won’t cost more than $2 each.”
Whilst we view the probe of Covid-19 funds by the National Assembly with a pinch of salt, can we ask President Muhammadu Buhari to publish a template on the expenditure of the huge loan the government collected from IMF in the name of Covid-19 since April 2020? Can we act as active citizens and demand accountability and transparency?
Luckily, President Muhammadu Buhari who said critics were harassing his government also in another breath said the doors of government are open to answer questions related to transparency. Will the President honour this social contract? It is very unlikely given that for five years of his administration, public sector corruption have quadrupled. Few days back, Nigeria became the second most corrupt country in West Africa.
But that notwithstanding, can we recall that Nigeria not long ago picked up huge foreign loan in the name if combating Covid-19.
The IMF approved US$3.4 billion in emergency financial assistance under the Rapid Financing Instrument to support the authorities’ efforts in addressing the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 shock and the sharp fall in oil prices.
The COVID-19 outbreak has magnified existing vulnerabilities, leading to a historic contraction in real GDP growth and to large external and fiscal financing needs, IMF said in its official website last April.
Once the impact of the COVID-19 shock passes, the authorities’ commitment to medium-term macroeconomic stability remains crucial to support the recovery and ensure debt remains sustainable.
The Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved Nigeria’s request for emergency financial assistance of SDR 2,454.5 million (US$ 3.4 billion, 100 percent of quota) under the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) to meet the urgent balance of payment needs stemming from the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The near-term economic impact of COVID-19 is expected to be severe, while already high downside risks have increased. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, Nigeria’s economy was facing headwinds from rising external vulnerabilities and falling per capita GDP levels. The pandemic—along with the sharp fall in oil prices—has magnified the vulnerabilities, leading to a historic decline in growth and large financing needs.
The IMF financial support will help limit the decline in international reserves and provide financing to the budget for targeted and temporary spending increases aimed at containing and mitigating the economic impact of the pandemic and of the sharp fall in international oil prices.
The IMF remains closely engaged with the Nigerian authorities and stands ready to provide policy advice and further support, as needed.
Following the Executive Board’s discussion of Nigeria, Mr. Mitsuhiro Furusawa, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued the following statement:
“The COVID-19 outbreak—magnified by the sharp fall in international oil prices and reduced global demand for oil products—is severely impacting economic activity in Nigeria. These shocks have created large external and financing needs for 2020. Additional declines in oil prices and more protracted containment measures would seriously affect the real and financial sectors and strain the country’s financing.
“The authorities’ immediate actions to respond to the crisis are welcome. The short-term focus on fiscal accommodation would allow for higher health spending and help alleviate the impact of the crisis on households and businesses. Steps taken toward a more unified and flexible exchange rate are also important and unification of the exchange rate should be expedited.
“Once the COVID-19 crisis passes, the focus should remain on medium-term macroeconomic stability, with revenue-based fiscal consolidation essential to keep Nigeria’s debt sustainable and create fiscal space for priority spending. Implementation of the reform priorities under the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, particularly on power and governance, remains crucial to boost growth over the medium term.
“The emergency financing under the RFI will provide much needed liquidity support to respond to the urgent BOP needs. Additional assistance from development partners will be required to support the government’s efforts and close the large financing gap. The implementation of proper governance arrangements—including through the publication and independent audit of crisis-mitigating spending and procurement processes—is crucial to ensure emergency funds are used for their intended purposes.”
It would seem that the IMF did not put mechanisms in place to monitor whether this loan would be appropriately used and ensure that the citizens who would bear the brunt of repaying the loan someday are informed about the templates of the uses to which the borrowed money was put. Even with such a humongous amount of money picked up as a credit facility from IMF, virtually all public health infrastructures are in a state if shambles and dystunctionality. So where is the IMF COVID-19 LOAN? Mind you, National Assembly is probing how N83.9 billion released as part of last year’s budget to combat Covid-19 was used. How far can these compromised and lily livered members of the federal parliament go to ascertain these hard questions is anyone’s guess.