Barely 72 hours to the November 16 governorship election in Kogi, the Senate has approved a N10.069billion loan refund for the state amidst uproar from the opposition senators.
The amount is to be paid in the form of promissory notes programme for bond issuance on the sum of N10.069 as refund to the state government for projects executed on behalf of the Federal Government.
Immediately the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans, Clifford Ordia, laid the report of his panel on the issue at plenary, the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, called for debate on the matter.
Efforts by the Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, to stop the process because it was not indicated in the order paper, was frustrated by Lawan, who insisted that the arrangement was in order.
Ordia, who read the report of his committee, said it found that due process was followed by the Kogi State government in executing the Federal Government projects. He also said the Federal Government agencies in charge of the loan refund had approved the payment.
Jibrin Barau, who spoke immediately after the presentation of the bill, asked his colleagues to approve it.
“We thank the Senate Committee on Foreign Debts for the wonderful work it has done in dealing with this very issue. They did not rely on the papers that were brought before the committee but they decided to go on their own to check these projects one after the other. You have done well. Permit me to commend the Kogi State government for going all the way to spend its money in implementing these important projects that belong to the Federal Government.
“They have done well. I think the proper thing to do is to quickly pay the state government because they have done something that is good and commendable. I, therefore, request the president that this promissory note issuance should be approved immediately in order to encourage other state governments to take a queue from what Kogi State has done,” he said.
In his contribution, Abaribe said he agreed with Barau that states that had done the job of the Federal Government should be paid.
“But the witch cries in the night and the child dies in the morning, who does not know that it is that witch? On Saturday, there is going to be an election in this same Kogi State and the money is going to them today,” he complained.
Abaribe, in his effort to reiterate the importance of the issue at hand, said: “This is not a joking matter, I agree that they should be paid, what I don’t want is the misuse of this fund because it is for the people of Kogi State. Therefore, I have the mandate of the minority to say this can be waited upon until next week because many other state governments also have their papers there, and the speed with which they have decided to pay this one, they haven’t adopted the same speed to pay the other ones.
“We think this is not the right time, the exigencies of the moment may lead this money to be used for other purposes and, therefore, we say let us delay for only one week. After the elections on Saturday, they can get their money.”
Lawan disagreed with Abaribe and said there was no time that the red chamber could not approve the payment of the money.
The Senate president immediately hit the gavel and said: “I am not going to take anymore contributions. Listen to me, Kogi State applied for this in the last Senate with other states and all the other states that applied were approved here in the 8th Senate and paid.
“This witch that you said cried last night, you know God’s time is always the best. Kogi’s request was not approved at that time. Now the 9th senate has seen the necessity and is trying to do justice. That we are approving this thing this time is just a coincidence that there would be elections in Kogi. I don’t need information, I have had enough.
“We have done justice to others and we have to do justice to Kogi State. It doesn’t matter when justice is coming, but justice must be seen to have been done. When you taunted your colleagues in the minority that on behalf of them the senate shouldn’t approve of this, you didn’t mean we shouldn’t approve the recommendations of our committee on foreign loan and debts,” Lawan insisted, urging the minority leader to lend his voice to approval of the recommendation when it is put to vote.
Lawan subjected the matter to a voice vote and ruled in favour of those who supported its approval despite protests from lawmakers who were raising points of order.
One of the protesters, Uche Ekwunife, wondered why the Senate president refused to take her point of order before ruling on the issue.
“The Federal Republic of Nigeria shall be a state based on social justice. I wanted to raise my point of order before you ruled.
I am not against the approval to grant Kogi State the N10.069billion, but in the 8th senate, Enugu State government brought a bill amounting to some billions of naira for roads constructed on behalf of the Federal Government, the same thing with Anambra, Imo and others. When you want to go to equity you go with clean hands. All those states should also be refunded the money they spent on federal roads,” the lawmaker had demanded before Lawan ruled on the matter.
But the senate president said he did not hear her, that he only heard her after he ruled. “I am advising you to listen because you are not recorded, you are just talking. Actually we have finished, except if you have requests for your state, Anambra, and this is a general thing. If there is any other state that has spent its funds on Federal Government roads, the procedure is to write to the executive and for the executive to verify and then approve at the Federal Executive Council meeting and send it to the senate. We are going to entertain every request.”
The approval on the eve of the governorship poll also elicited criticism from outside the senate as the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) lambasted the Lawan-led upper chamber.
The group said by delaying the release of the cash till the final hours to the election in which the All Progressives Congress (APC) incumbent Governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello is facing stiff opposition, the APC- dominated National Assembly and President Muhammadu Buhari had interfered in the Kogi governorship poll in an unlawful way.
Relatedly, the rights group also reasoned that aside from the last minute’s interference by both the presidency and the senate, the current hierarchy of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has become irredeemably damaged by the credibility crises occasioned by the compromised and unethical conduct of the 2019 general elections which generated many post-election litigations.
In a statement by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko, HURIWA stated emphatically that there was no level playing field for all the contestants because of the heavy financial inducements that might be occasioned by the late release of the N10 billion campaign largesse packaged dubiously as Federal Government’s refund to Kogi State.
President Muhammadu Buhari had penultimate Tuesday, sent a letter to the senate, seeking its approval for the payment of N10billion to Kogi State.
Buhari, in the letter addressed to the senate president, said the money would be used by the state government to repay local debts it incurred as a result of the projects it executed on behalf of the Federal Government.
The president said his request was based on the resolution passed by the 8th Senate.