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2021 Budget Scales Second Reading In Senate

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The 2021 Appropriation Bill of N13.08trillion, yesterday, scaled second reading in the Senate.
This followed a three- day debate on the general principles of the budget of “Economic Recovery and Resilience” presented to a joint session of the National Assembly, penultimate Thursday.
During the period, senators took turns to appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the Bill.
Some senators were particularly worried about the amount for debt service in the 2021 budget put at N3.124trillion and the proposal to finance the budget deficit through borrowing to the tune of N5.20trillion.
Senate President, Dr Ahmad Lawan, threatened to deny funds to ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government, that fail to adhere strictly to the 2021 budget defence timetable.
Lawan, who revealed that the budget defence would commence, next Tuesday, also said the exercise would end in the first week of November.
He pointed out that ministers were expected to appear in person for the budget defence, warning that ministers who failed to appear within the stipulated time frame would not get allocation for their ministry.
Lawan recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari, while presenting the Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly, penultimate Thursday, had directed that ministers should come in person for the budget defence.
He noted early consideration and passage of the 2020 budget, which returned the country’s budget cycle to January – December, has significantly boosted the implementation of this year’s budget.
On funds generated by agencies of government, Lawan faulted the country’s low revenue earnings due largely to the failure of revenue agencies to remit all funds realized to the Federation Account after collection.
He advocated for improved revenue generation, collection and remittance methods as a way of increasing the nation’s revenue profile.
The 2021 Appropriations Bill, which passed the second reading, was referred by the Senate President to the Committee on Appropriations for further legislative work.
The committee, which is chaired by Senator Jibrin Barau (Kano North), was given four weeks to report back to the Senate.
Barau later told reporters that his committee has proposed to submit its report to Senate in plenary on November 3, 2020.
He spoke while outlining the timetable for the budget defence by MDAs at a press briefing.
Barau said the committee would adhere strictly to the timetable, and urged all MDAs to keep to the schedule.
Similarly, President of the Senate, Dr Ahmad Lawan, said, yesterday, that the early consideration and passage of the 2020 budget which returned the country’s budget cycle to January – December, has significantly improved the implementation of this year’s budget.
Speaking, yesterday, in Abuja on the third-day debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriations Bill, Lawan said that the country’s return to the January to December budget cycle is a major achievement under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari and the Ninth Assembly.
Speaking further, the President of the Senate said that the low implementation which characterised previous budgets has been significantly improved upon as evidence in the 2020 budget in which ministries have so far recorded between 50 and 75 percent implementation rates on capital projects across the country.
Lawan said, “In the last three days, we’ve witnessed submissions raising issues about the budget estimates presented to us by Mr. President. This is in continuation of our efforts to ensure the desirable cycle that we have taken the annual budget to (January – December) will be a legacy.
“This will be our legacy as the 9th National Assembly and the legacy of Mr. President.
“We have been able to do this together and there’s definitely a difference in the implementation of the 2020 budget compared to the others.
“Some Ministries and projects have received up to 75 per cent funding. There’s none that has received less than 50 percent.
“While this may not be exactly what we want, it is still an improvement and we will continue to urge the executive to implement the budget up to 100 per cent.
“But I believe that we have seen the benefit of passing the budget in good time, and this is something that we will continue to do.”
On monies generated by agencies of government, the President of the Senate who faulted the country’s low revenue earnings on the failure of revenue agencies to remit all sums to the Federation Account after collection, however, advocated for improved revenue generation, collection, and remittance methods as a way of shoring the nation’s revenue figures.
Lawan said, “Like all of us, I also have some observations. Firstly, I think our revenue generation, collection, and remittances need to be better.
“There are many agencies of government that are supposed to be generating revenues and they do so, but they don’t remit all that they are supposed to,” he said.
The Senate President announced that the relevant committees would interface on a monthly basis with revenue-generating agencies to evaluate their performance and device ways on how the same can be improved where they underperform or fail to meet revenue targets.
According to him, doing so would reduce the deficit contained in next year’s budget and subsequent ones, as well as reduce Nigeria’s dependence on loans to finance capital projects which the country direly needs.
He said, “When we are able to get more revenues, we will reduce the deficit, because this budget has a big deficit, and this is because we simply have no resources as of today and we need to have our infrastructure in place.
“So, the issue is for us to diversify the funding and finances of the projects. We may not do completely without borrowing, but we could do diversification of the sources of funding. We could go for Public-Private Partnership like many senators have suggested, so that we reduce the necessity to borrow.
“Whatever it takes, we have to provide infrastructure in this country, otherwise, we would never move beyond where we are.”
The Senate President while underscoring the importance of oversight by the National Assembly, harped on the need for the Federal Government to cut down on the cost of governance by merging some of its agencies.
“The responsibility of the National Assembly or Parliament is that whatever we appropriate is properly, economically, and efficiently applied. This is an oversight function that we must continue to do.
“Before we pass the 2021 budget, we should be able to know how much of 2020 has been implemented. This is because some projects need to be rolled over to 2021, and we need to know the extent to which they have been funded in the 2020 financial year.”
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives may compel itself, to subject yearly national budgets to public scrutiny, it was learnt, yesterday.
The House is considering a Fiscal Responsibility Act Amendment Bill, 2020.
The Legislative instrument, sponsored by Rep. Benjamin Mzondu (PDP-Benue), seeks to alter the original law, to allow for estimates from the president to undergo public scrutiny before implementation.
The Bill, amends Section 11 of the Principal Act, to assert the phrase “open to the public, the press and any citizen, or authorized representative of any organisation, group of citizens, or community, immediately after the word shall of that section.
“Section 13 of the Principal Act, is amended in subsection 2(a) by deleting the word May, in the first line of that paragraph and replacing it thereof, with the word ‘Shall’.
“Section 2(a) of Section 13 of the Principal Act, is further amended by inserting the word communities immediately after the word citizens in the provision to that subsection.
“Section 49 Subsection 2 of the Principal Act, is amended to read as follows: ‘The National Assembly shall ensure transparency during the Principal Act preparation and discussion of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, Annual Budget and Appropriation Bill, by making consultations open to the public, the press and any citizen or authorized representative of any organisation, group of citizens or community’.”
The explanatory part of the Bill states that: “This Bill, seeks to amend the Fiscal Responsibility Act, 2007 to make it mandatory for open consultations with the public and all interested Nigerians during the preparation and discussion of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, Annual Budget and the Appropriation Bill and ensure participatory and Inclusive Budget Process in Nigeria”.
The House, on Wednesday, referred to its Committee on Appropriations, estimates of the 2021 Budget, as presented to a Joint session of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari, penultimate Tuesday.
Committees of the House, are expected to start receiving inputs from ministries and agencies of government, next week.

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Wike Inaugurates Judicial Panel To Investigate Rights Abuses By F-SARS

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The Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike has inaugurated a Judicial Commission of Inquiry to investigate acts of brutality and violation of fundamental human rights perpetrated by operatives of the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) in the state.
The commission, with members drawn from Nigerian Bar Association, FIDA, youth, civil society, women and religious groups, is expected to submit its report 60 days from the date of its first sitting.
Wike, at the inauguration ceremony at the Government House, Port Harcourt, yesterday, explained that the commission was set up in exercise of powers conferred on him by the 1999 Constitution (as amended) and the provisions of Section 2(1) of the Commission of Inquiry Law of Rivers State (Cap 30) Laws of Rivers State of Nigeria, 1999.
Present at inauguration ceremony were the Rivers State Deputy Governor, Dr. Ipalibo Harry Banigo; the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof Zacchaeus Adangor; the Secretary to the State Government, Dr Tammy Danagogo; Commissioner of Information and Communications, Paulinus Nsirim, among others.
The governor charged the commission to ascertain whether any of the officers, men and operatives of the police, particularly, F-SARS involved in alleged acts of violence, torture, brutality, murder, violation of fundamental human rights or other atrocities in Rivers State was sponsored, counselled and procured by any person, group of persons, or officer of Rivers State government by whatever designation.
He said the commission was expected to identify persons or group of persons who counselled, procured and sponsored alleged acts of violence and violation of human rights of citizens committed by personnel of F-SARS in the state.
Wike tasked the commission to identify the victims of the said alleged acts of atrocities committed by officers and men of F-SARS.
He tasked the commission to ascertain the motive if any of the officers and operatives of F-SARS, who committed or participated in the commission of the alleged acts of torture, murder, brutality and violation of rights that occurred in Rivers State.
In addition, the governor directed the commission to ascertain whether any of the victims of the alleged acts of violence by F-SARS was being held in detention or custody and the identify of such victim as well as place of detention.
The commission was enjoined to make appropriate recommendations to the government on measures and means of preventing the occurrence of such acts of violence and violation of rights perpetrated by operatives of F-SARS, and how they can be held accountable for such acts.
“Recommend appropriate sanctions, punishment or other penalties to be imposed on the perpetrators of the said acts of violence, torture, murder, and violation of fundamental rights and/or other atrocities that occurred in Rivers State”, Wike said.
In his remarks, the Chairman of the commission, Justice Chukwunenye I. Uriri (rtd) lauded the governor for the privilege to serve the state.
He assured the governor that the commission would discharge its duties with clear conscience and within the limits of the law.
Other members of the commission are: Mrs Florence Amiesimaka (FIDA); Tonye Ibisiki, Esq, (Nigerian Bar Association); Karl Chinedu Uchegbu (civil society); Chijioke Ihunwo (youth group); Rev. Richard Opara (religious group); Mrs Bella Ebeku (women group); Dr. George Nwaeke (secretary), and Barrister Somiete Inko-Tariah (counsel to the commission).

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US Govt Condemns Use Of Force Against Peaceful Protesters In Nigeria …As AU Seeks Dialogue

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The United States Government has condemned the excessive use of force by the President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government in quelling peaceful #EndSARS protests in parts of the country.
A statement by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, in Washington, D.C., and made available to The Tide in Port Harcourt, yesterday, said that the action by government security agencies failed to meet global best practices of respect for peaceful assembly and the fundament rights of citizens to freely express their discontent over any anti-people policies of the government.
The statement read, “The United States strongly condemns the use of excessive force by military forces who fired at unarmed demonstrators in Lagos, causing death and injury.
“We welcome an immediate investigation into any use of excessive force by members of the security forces.
“Those involved should be held to account in accordance with Nigerian law.
“The right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression are essential human rights and core democratic principles.
“We call on the security services to show maximum restraint and respect fundamental rights and for demonstrators to remain peaceful.
“We extend our condolences to the victims of the violence and their families.”
It would be recalled that some security operatives, suspected to be soldiers, had last Tuesday, opened fire on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at the Lekki Toll Gate, in Lagos, killing no fewer than 12 persons, in addition to fatalities recorded in Abuja, Abia, Oyo, among others.
Meanwhile, the civil society organ of the African Union, Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), has called on the Federal Government and the protesters to dialogue and peacefully resolve the current impasse in order to prevent further fragmentation of the national fabric.
The Chairperson, Political Affairs Cluster, Emmanuel Saffa Abdulai, who this, yesterday, added that Nigeria was an integral part of the African Union.
The AU organ has the mandate to promote the principles and ideals of good governance and human rights in the continent.
According to him, “Nigeria has a significant role to play in the fortification of the founding principles of a people-centered and people-driven African Union as elaborated in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and other regional and global human rights instruments.”
Abdulai said that ECOSOCC noted with grave concern events unfolding in Nigeria following reports of the use of deadly force by armed military officers against unarmed civilian protesters calling for action by the government of Nigeria to end police brutality under the hashtag #EndSARS.
He added that it is the inalienable responsibility of the government of Nigeria to pursue amicable solutions to disagreements with citizens in the interest of peace and stability in the nation.
The Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC), therefore, called for “an urgent de-escalation of the current unrest in Nigeria with a view to protecting the lives of citizens.
“Urge the governing authorities to restore conditions allowing for citizens to peacefully protest and express themselves on issues affecting the safety and well-being of Nigerians; and to do so without fear of retribution, confrontation, or violence that could lead to the loss of life and destruction of property.
“Encourage all parties, including the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and protesting citizens, to come together around the table of dialogue and to act, in good faith, to swiftly and peacefully resolve the current impasse in order to prevent any further fragmentation of the national fabric.
“Urge the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to reinforce and expedite the work of the various committees of inquiry established to look into the issue of police brutality in order to restore the confidence of citizens in the institutions of state.
“Call for a thorough, fair, and independent investigation of reports and video footage appearing to show the shooting of unarmed protesters by uniformed personnel; and to ensure justice for victims and perpetrators alike.”

 

By: Nelson Chukwudi

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We Won’t Allow Anybody To Disrupt Peace Of Nigeria, Buhari Vows

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President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday, vowed not to allow anybody to disrupt the peace of the nation amidst violent protests in the country.
In a nationwide broadcast, Buhari, said that his government respected and would continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but that it would not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of the nation.
The president said it had become necessary for him to address the nation having heard from many concerned Nigerians and having concluded a meeting with all the security chiefs.
“I must warn those who have hijacked and misdirected the initial, genuine and well–intended protest of some of our youths in parts of the country, against the excesses of some members of the now disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS),” he warned.
The president said on Monday, October 12, he acknowledged the genuine concerns and agitations of members of the public regarding the excessive use of force by some members of SARS.
He said the choice to demonstrate peacefully was a fundamental right of citizens as enshrined in Section 40 of the Constitution and other enactments; but noted that this right to protest also imposed on the demonstrators the responsibility to respect the rights of other citizens, and the necessity to operate within the law.
Buhari stated that as a democratic government, he listened to, and carefully evaluated the five-point demands of the protesters and that having accepted them; his government immediately scrapped SARS, and put measures in place to address the other demands of our youth.
“On approving the termination of SARS, I already made it clear that it was in line with our commitment to the implementation of extensive police reforms. Sadly, the promptness with which we have acted seemed to have been misconstrued as a sign of weakness and twisted by some for their selfish unpatriotic interests.
“The result of this is clear to all observers: human lives have been lost; acts of sexual violence have been reported; two major correctional facilities were attacked and convicts freed; public and private properties completely destroyed or vandalised; the sanctity of the Palace of a Peace Maker, the Oba of Lagos has been violated. So-called protesters have invaded an International Airport and in the process disrupted the travel plans of fellow Nigerians and our visitors.
“All these executed in the name of the #EndSARS protests. I am indeed deeply pained that innocent lives have been lost. These tragedies are uncalled for and unnecessary. Certainly, there is no way whatsoever to connect these bad acts to legitimate expression of grievance of the youth of our country.
“The spreading of deliberate falsehood and misinformation through the social media in particular, that this government is oblivious to the pains and plight of its citizens is a ploy to mislead the unwary within and outside Nigeria into unfair judgement and disruptive behaviour,” he said.
Buhari added: “Let me at this point reaffirm the Federal Government’s commitment to preserving the unity of this country. We will continue to improve good governance and our democratic process, including through sustained engagement.
“We shall continue to ensure that liberty and freedom, as well as the fundamental rights of all citizens are protected. But remember that government also has the obligation to protect lives and properties, as well as the right of citizens to go about their daily businesses freely and protected from acts of violence.”
The president appealed to protesters to note and take advantage of the various well-thought-out initiatives of this administration designed to make their lives better and more meaningful, and resist the temptation of being used by some subversive elements to cause chaos with the aim of truncating our nascent democracy.
“For you to do otherwise will amount to undermining national security, and the law and order situation. Under no circumstances will this be tolerated. I, therefore, call on our youths to discontinue the street protests and constructively engage government in finding solutions. Your voice has been heard loud and clear and we are responding.
“And I call on all Nigerians to go about their normal businesses, and enjoin security agencies to protect lives and properties of all law abiding citizens without doing harm to those they are meant to protect. Let me pay tribute to officers of the Nigeria Police Force who have tragically lost their lives in the line of duty.
“This government respects and will continue to respect all the democratic rights and civil liberties of the people, but it will not allow anybody or groups to disrupt the peace of our nation,” Buhari added.

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