LAST week Tuesday, April 28, 2020, the Senate and House of Representatives returned from recess with a bang. Responding to urgent developments surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic, both chambers acted in manners that left much to be desired.
At the Senate, the presiding officer, Senator Ahmed Lawan, reinforced the long-held perception that he was a willing lapdog of the President.
It took him only five minutes to rifle the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari’s letter of request for a domestic loan for N850bn through his colleagues.
This for us is unwholesome. For the avoidance of doubt, we can understand the basis for that request, though we are growing more uncomfortable with the unprecedented proclivity of the Buhari administration to borrow.
The President justified it on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our economy which is exacerbated by the poor demand and low price of our oil in the international market. Buhari intends to use this loan to finance critical projects.
This we also understand. There is life and governance both during and after the pandemic. Continuation of project implementation is also a good strategy of putting life back into the economy. Our grouse, however, is the rough-ride manner in which Senator Lawan handled the approval process. No matter the level of an emergency, no request relating to the approval of an amount equivalent to over $2 billion should be granted within five minutes. It makes our democracy a laughingstock in the world out there.
The cavalier handling of the loan approval in the Senate and Femi Gbajabiamila’s bill seeking to repeal the Quarantine Law (which we will examine tomorrow) ignited a controversy in the social media.
While some Nigerians criticised them, others applauded them as appropriate responses to the emergency we face. Our position is that even an emergency can be handled democratically and expeditiously without jumping overdue process. A domestic loan of that humongous size demands proper attention to details by the National Assembly which exercises jurisdiction over the nation’s finances. This is more so because of the Buhari administration’s serial, unabashed and unrepentant tendency to favour some parts our country and marginalise the others. We reiterate our desire that every borrowing plan from the Presidency must include the details of what the money will be spent on and where.
That way, we are able to ascertain that a loan that we will all repay will also be spent in a way as to benefit every part of the country. The spending pattern must satisfy our elected representatives before their genuine approval is given. It is a failure of responsibility for the NASS to engage in hasty and blind approval of requests from the President’s desk.