From Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
Senate President Ahmad Lawan has described as ‘funny but also very serious’ reports that he and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, allegedly collected a bribe of $10 million for members of the National Assembly to pass the controversial Petroleum Industry Act (PIA).
The Nigerian Senate recently passed the Petroleum Industry Bill, approving a 3 per cent allocation formula for oil-bearing host communities despite calls from various quarters that the provisions made for host communities should be increased.
According to online news site SaharaReporters, Lawan allegedly got $2 million (N823 million) while Gbajabiamila was allegedly paid $1.5 million (N617 million) as bribes.
The site further alleged that the payment of the monies was said to have been facilitated by the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, stating that each senator was paid $20, 000 (N8.2 million) while members of the lower chamber (House of Representatives) were paid $5,000 (N2 million) each.
Lawan, who briefed State House Correspondents on the outcome of his meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari, said that while Nigeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of expression and Nigerians have the right to hold the leaders to account, it was not a license to impugned their character with unverifiable allegations.
‘But of course, bigger legacies will be that the orientation of Nigerians is such that they are free to say whatever they want to say about their government, about their leaders, and so on and so forth. And that we have really established ourselves as an administration, where people can say anything or everything about the President about the administration about members of National Assembly, they call us names. And this is part of the intangible dividends of democracy,’ the senate president stated.
‘But we are determined to ensure that the space is wide open for everybody to say whatever he wants to say. But I will advise that don’t say things that are bad because people are in the habit…and recently somebody said $10 million was given to the Speaker and the Senate President to give to members of the National Assembly to pass 3% development fund that is funny, but also very serious.
‘I really want to take this opportunity to take exceptions to those kinds of unwarranted unprovable false and fake information being fed to the Nigerian public. And the danger people will face with this is you cause unnecessary damage to the reputation of people, I had an occasion to take someone to court because of this kind of thing about three months ago. But Nigerians are better judges and lawyers. So the freedom of expression is there, probably more than anywhere in the world. But I want to advise that Nigerians should always think about their leaders and their administration and their governments in a positive light. And if they have issues, they think very strongly about, let them speak the truth. And we are prepared to take corrections that we feel should be able to make us do better.’
The senate president said even though he was in support of the reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members into society, they should be profiled to ensure they are truly repentant and ascertain that they no longer pose a threat to society.
Lawan, who was responding to a question on if he was optimistic that the era of Boko Haram was coming to an end, said: ‘Yes, I’m optimistic that not only Boko Haram, the insurgency because in addition to Boko Haram you have ISWAP and probably other tangential groups like that. I’m sure the new strategy by the current leadership of the armed forces is working. Boko Haram, having lost its leader and probably having lost so many commanders, some of them think they should just throw in the towel. Therefore, it’s one of those success stories of the fight against insurgency in the North East.
‘We have asked for improvements in resources, we have asked for changing of guards in the area of those who were at the top of the echelon of the security services, particularly the armed forces and we have gotten that. So, I believe that this is one of the success stories, this is something that is real that is happening.
‘What we need to do is to have a clearly defined national policy on how we deal with this because unless we have a strategy of dealing with this, we may be overwhelmed and it could deny us the opportunity of getting the best out of this surrendering.
‘What do we need to do? We have to be prepared for the human resources that we have to make available. We need to screen to ensure that those who are genuine and those who may just follow in for some reason, but I don’t subscribe to the idea of saying forget about people who are surrendering, all of them are criminals and the rest of it. In the law of wars or something, when somebody surrenders, you have something to surrender and of course, maybe you’ll do some profiling and find out whether this someone is genuine.
‘So, I believe that we should give people the benefit of the doubt, but we should also be very circumspect on those who may not be genuine in this, but we should accept people when they come and take the appropriate measures, get the right strategies on how to deal with the reintegration of such people into the community.
‘Don’t throw them just into the community like that, because you need to do some other things to ensure that everybody is sanitised, so to speak, before they are introduced into the society.’
Lawan, who commended President Buhari efforts in tackling insecurity in the country, boasted that by the time his tenure ends in 2023, the security situation would have stabilised.
‘This administration has done so well to deal with the security issues inherited. Recall that in 2015, the security situation was so terrible in the Northeast and of course, the challenges of militancy in the South-South. Today, we are not talking too much about the security situation in the Northeast and the militancy in the South-South. So, it has been quite a good, successful effort in those two geopolitical zones that we inherited. But we have new challenges in the Northwest particularly, and some parts of the Northcentral where banditry is now a phenomenon that we have to deal with.
‘I’m happy to inform Nigerians that Mr President has shown a willingness and the desire to continue to give more resources to armed forces and other security agencies to continue to fight the banditry, the little bits of the insurgency left and of course, the other security challenges and we’re also fully in support of giving him all the resources that you will require from us in the National Assembly to ensure that lives and property of Nigerians are properly secured.
‘And before this administration leaves by the grace of God in 2023, the security situation would have been stabilised, far better than what it is today. That is one in the area of security.’
The senate president said he and President Buhari had a discussion on the Appropriation Budget 2022, saying one of the legacies of the current administration will be to complete the second Niger bridge and some major road projects across the country.
‘We also had discussions on the budget 2022. We believe that the budget 2022 will be the icing on the cake, so to speak, that is to say, that we have to make sufficient provisions for the security agencies and also sufficient provisions for our legacy projects.
‘We hope and our desire now is in tandem with what the Presidency wants, that is to ensure that the legacy projects are completed by next year by the grace of God. These are the major projects, like the second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano highway and so on and so forth, that these projects are completed within next year and Mr President is able to commission them for Nigerians to benefit. These are projects that we have to make significant or sufficient provisions in the 2022 budget so that we’re able to complete them. They should be part of what will be part of the legacies Mr President owes to this country in the area of infrastructure,’ Lawan said.
The senate president also said the National Assembly is considering stiffer sanctions against agencies of government that are not remitting internally generated revenues into the nation’s coffers, saying is high time Nigeria finds a way of reducing foreign borrowing.
‘Finally, we also had discussions on some other governance issues that have to do with making the revenues in the country, especially for government at the federal and the state levels, and even local governments and even more. There are so many agencies of government that are not remitting their internally generated revenues and this is something that we have to address and address as stiffly as possible and as quickly as possible because we need to find a way of reducing the borrowing that we do.
‘So, if there are areas that we can now get revenues that will help us reduce the amount of borrowing, then so be it and this is something that we all agree with Mr President that we should continue to look at those areas that we need to improve on revenue generation and collection.
‘Thank God, we are on the same page with Mr President on all these issues, and for us it’s a renewal of our commitment to Nigerians and to the administration, that in the National Assembly, our focus is Nigeria, our priority is Nigeria, we have no personal interest in anything. What will make Nigeria better is what concerns us. At the end of the day, we will have a date with history and want to be on the right side of history.’
The senate president said he and President Buhari also discussed matters affecting the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC).
‘I also had discussions with Mr President on the need for us to continue to make sure that the party, our party, the All Progressives Congress, continues to give itself that colour, that disposition of the party that has genuinely come to salvage Nigerians. Nigerians have shown greater interest in the APC. When we had our registration exercise, we had about 40 million Nigerians who registered, I believe that we can go far above that figure. I was thinking we could register up to 100 million. So, we should make it possible for Nigerians to come out and register until we reach that kind of creamy state of having half of Nigerians registered as members of the party.
‘The party is on very solid grounds, the Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee is working very hard, we are breaking new grounds, we are getting and attracting more and more members; very solid, high-profile people, from other political parties, especially the People’s Democratic Party, into the APC. This is to show the confidence that Nigerians place in our party. Therefore, we should all come together to ensure that this party continues to lead this country for as long as God wills.
‘Mr President is in full support of ensuring that this party is built from the bottom up. That is what we are all trying to do. If there are any disagreements, these are normal things that happen in political parties, in fact, even within families, people sometimes may hold different views, but at the end of the day, the focus, the direction and the target are always the same. That is to say that we are on our way, on a march to ensuring that we complete other congresses that will hold; the local government congresses that already has been slated for the 4th of September, I think, the other subsequent congresses and ending up with the convention, probably at the end of the year when the convention committee will fix the date.
‘But I believe that what Mr President is happy about is that the party is waxing stronger and stronger and more and more Nigerians are showing their support and their commitment and their desire to be members of this great party,’ Lawan stated.
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