•Senators forced into executive session
•Abaribe, other PDP Principal Officers storm out of Hallowed Chamber in protest
By Henry Umoru
THE Senate yesterday approved the 2016-2018 External Borrowing Plan of $22.7 billion as requested by President Muhammadu Buhari to be spent by the Federal Government on the execution of key infrastructure projects.
The approval of the Senate was a sequel to the consideration of the report of the Committee on Local and Foreign Debts presented by the Chairman, Senator Clifford Ordia, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Edo Central. It did not, however, come without verbal exchange between the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, and Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, on the propriety of approving the request without proper vetting.
While Lawan wanted the loan request approved as submitted by the committee, Abaribe insisted it must be scrutinised before approval. “However, in approving the loan, the Senate resolved that the Loan and Financing agreement containing the whole terms and conditions of the loan from the funding agencies must be forwarded to the National Assembly, prior to the execution of same for concurrence and proper documentation.
The funding agencies for the loan include the World Bank, $ 2,854,000,000; African Development Bank, ADB, $1,888,950,000; Islamic Development Bank, IDB, $110,000,000; Japan International Cooperation Agency, JICA, $200,000, 000; German Development Bank, KFW, $200, 000,000; China Exim Bank, $17,065,496,775; and French Development Agency, AFD, $480,000, 000.“ A further breakdown of the loan request showed that Kaduna State government will receive the sum of $305mIllion, while Katsina and Kogi will pocket $100 million each.
Other beneficiaries of the loan are the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, $470m; the Federal Ministry of Works, the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Information and Culture. According to the loan, World Bank-supported projects are Nigeria Electricity Transmission and Access Project – $364,000,000; Social Inclusion and Welfare Advancement project (Renamed National Social Safety Net Project), among a long list of others.
Meanwhile, there was confusion in the hallowed chamber during the consideration of the report which forced senators into an executive session from 12.40 to 1.30 pm.
After the presentation of the report by Senator Ordia, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, insisted that the lawmakers should go to the recommendations and vote.“This did not, however, go down well with the Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South, who insisted there must be line by line consideration of the report and the recommendations before the voting process and cautioned strongly against Nigeria’s rising debt profile.
“He who goes aborrowing; goes assorrowing,” Abaribe said but the Senate president, Ahmad Lawan, overruled him, arguing that what he wanted was against Senate procedures. Not satisfied, Abaribe returned raising another Point of Order, accusing the Senate President of trying to force him and the rest of his colleagues to approve the loan without their inputs.”
The chamber became tensed as the debate was now between Lawan and Abaribe.
To save the situation, Senator Gabriel Suswam, PDP, Benue North East, asked that the Senate should go into an Executive session for ten minutes where the knotty issues of lopsided allocation of projects would be resolved.
But the President of the Senate rejected the call for a closed session, stressing that this would have happened prior to plenary. ”We are at the point of no return, Lawan said, and this did not go down well with Abaribe as he stood up to speak again, citing Order 14(C) of the Senate Standing Orders as amended.
Lawan then made a U-turn on his position and now called for a closed-door session.
When the doors reopened, the Senate had reached a compromise, as the Senate President announced that the loan requested for had been approved.
When the Senators reconvened after the Executive session, not satisfied with what happened and to protest against what they described as the forcible nature the request was approved, Senator Abaribe led other minority principal officers out of the hallowed chamber.