The passage of the 2017 budget has been delayed by last week’s raid on the Abuja home of the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje, by officers of the Nigeria Police.
Goje, speaking at plenary Wednesday in his first public comments since the incident, said the policemen carted away his personal laptop and critical files relating to the budget from his study.
The Senate had assured Nigerians that the 2017 budget, which was laid last December, would be passed and transmitted to President Muhammadu Buhari immediately after resumption from the Easter recess.
The police however raided Goje’s Asokoro home on April 20 for yet-to-be disclosed reasons, during which he said 18 files were carted away.
The operation was initially assumed to be that of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) until it was discovered that it was carried out by the police.
The senator also disclosed that the sum of N18 million, $19,000 and 4,000 Saudi Riyals were found and taken away from his home by the police.
Goje, who raised a point of order, said the Appropriation Committee had planned to lay the budget on Tuesday for the Senate’s passage yesterday.
“I want to apologise to my colleagues that we could not keep to the timetable you gave us to lay the budget yesterday (Tuesday) and to get it passed today (Wednesday).
“It is not our own fault, it is the fault of the police because the police interfered with the whole budget process. I hope Nigerians will not turn around to blackmail the National Assembly because the process was truncated by the police,” Goje said.
He added that the committee was unable to meet since the raid, as some of the documents were not available.
“I am so traumatised. I don’t know which files are missing, which files are available now. Some of these files have to do with the work I am doing.
“From today, we are trying to start sitting again as the Appropriation Committee to see what we can do with the budget,” Goje added.
He disclosed that the police was yet to officially contact him on why the raid was conducted, nor had they returned the monies, files and laptop to him.
“We will manage to pass this budget but don’t blame us if it is further delayed because it’s not my fault. It is not the fault of National Assembly. The police are the ones maybe hiding the budget now, maybe they are using the laptop and files to come out with the budget,” he said.
Goje disclosed that the raid started around 4 p.m. while he was in the office, and he called the President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara to inform them of what was going on.
Saraki and Dogara made efforts and contacted Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and all the relevant agencies, including the Department of State Services (DSS) and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) but the operation continued, Goje said.
“At the end of the horrifying four hours, the police left me and members of my family completely traumatised and frightened. My children, my grandchildren, totally frightened, people in my house were totally frightened.
“My well wishers both inside and outside the country were frightened,” he said, adding that senators who tried to access his home during the raid were turned back.
Speaking on the matter, Saraki acknowledged that he was informed by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Police Affairs that the raid was carried out, following information provided by a whistle blower.
“This matter is a very serious matter as Senator Goje has said it’s now over five days with no statement or comment from the police to tell us why this raid took place, or where these files which are very important to the appropriation process are,” he said.
He lamented that the alleged whistle blower misled the police, but has now publicly embarrassed a senator.
He added that the police have a responsibility to publicly accept responsibility for the blunder.
“I also got information that the House (of Representatives) has set up an ad hoc committee on this matter and this committee has been mandated to work closely with the Senate, particularly to ascertain the circumstances surrounding why they went to Senator Goje’s house.
“If truly it was a whistle blower and he gave them wrong information, which is what the Inspector General of Police, Mr. Ibrahim Idris is telling them, then what were they doing about that wrong information? Have they come out with a public apology for this wrong raid?” Saraki asked.
Announcing the composition of a committee to investigate the raid and summon the IG, Saraki also mandated the committee to look into the files with the police that are affecting the passage of the budget.
The committee will be headed by Senator Jibrin Barau (Kano North).
The Senate also directed the Barau-led committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the alleged attempt to assassinate Senator Dino Melaye (Kogi West) recently and the poor response of the security agents attached to the senator.
The Barau committee is also expected to demand for a briefing from the IG on the recent assassination attempts across the country and the status of investigations into high profile murders.
The Senate condemned the attempt on Melaye’s life and urged the IG to immediately fish out those involved in the alleged attack no matter their status.
The resolution followed a motion of importance sponsored by Senator Isa Misau (Bauchi Central) who called for thorough investigations into the attack, when Melaye visited his country home in Ijumu Local Government of Kogi State on April 15.
After plenary, the IG met separately with the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu and the Majority Leader, Senator Ahmed Lawan behind closed doors.
Idris was in Ekweremadu’s office for about an hour before emerging. Surrounded by about 20 policemen, he did not respond to journalists when he walked to Lawan’s office.
When reporters confronted the Chairman, Committee on Police Affairs, Senator Abu Ibrahim, who later emerged from the office of the majority leader, he said: “Ask the IG,” before walking away.
The meeting was ongoing at the time of filing this report.
Also reacting to delay in the passage of the budget, the House of Representatives gave the police 24 hours to return all documents relating to the 2017 Appropriation Bill allegedly carted away from the residence of Goje.
The House also condemned in strong terms, the invasion of Goje’s residence by security operatives.
This was due to a motion raised at the plenary by Abubakar Ahmad (Gombe-APC).
While raising the motion, Ahmad said security agents destroyed doors, bags, ceilings and soak-aways and took away documents including reports of the 2017 Appropriation Bill which was scheduled to be laid before both chambers of the National Assembly during the week.
The proposed budget was initially slated for passage before the end of March but the Senate later gave a May 5 deadline for its passage.
“The Gestapo manner in which the security agents invade private residences in the course of carrying out their duties is causing apprehension in the minds of citizens.
“Unless steps are taken to halt these extra-legal actions, the nation may descend to a near fascist state,” Ahmad said.
Ahmad also raised concerns that the budget may not be passed as scheduled.
“Now that the documents are in their (the police) possession, how do we proceed?
“We have to curb the excesses of these security agents before they get out of hand,” he said.
Also contributing to the debate, Herman Hembe (Benue-APC) said it was unfortunate that a senator of the federal republic had his house broken into by security agents.
Hembe said he was particularly worried for ordinary citizens if a senator could be so treated.
“We must condemn this act in its entirety” he said.
He also said that the money found in the house was inconsequential and did not warrant such action.
Betty Apiafi (Rivers-PDP) concurred with motion. She said all Nigerians cannot be treated like criminals.
“It has happened to the judges, it has now moved to the legislators, who knows what will happen tomorrow?” she asked.
Another lawmaker, Tobi Ogechukwu (Enugu PDP), said if Nigeria has to practice democracy, the rule of law has to be adhered to.
“Just like Hitler did, they have proceeded to the legislature and we cannot allow this.”
On a contrary view, Muhammad Soba (Kaduna-APC) said the House should not enforce the law on behalf of any arm of government.
“The principle of separation of power is clear. The executive has the power to arrest, investigate and prosecute,” he said.
He urged the house not to interfere in executive duties.
The House unanimously agreed to set up an ad-hoc committee to invite the IG to appear before it to explain what warranted the invasion and to tell the House the laws that backed the police to carry out the operation.
The committee is meant to report back in two weeks for further legislative action.
$6.92bn External Loans
Meanwhile, President Muhammadu Buhari wednesday wrote to the National Assembly to seek its approval for the federal government’s 2016-2018 External Borrowing (rolling) plan put at $6.926 billion.
Buhari, in his letter dated April 21 and addressed to both Saraki and the Speaker of the House, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, urged the legislature to urgently consider and approve all the projects captured in the borrowing plan to enable government commence the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the North-east, provide for the poor and most vulnerable people, and commence the rail projects in earnest.
He pointed out that early approval of the borrowing plan would also facilitate the quick recovery of the economy and return it to the path of growth.
Buhari, in his letter, read at plenary by the leadership of both houses also notified the legislators that the China Eximbank had approved a loan request to execute the Lagos-Ibadan segment of the Lagos-Kano railway modernisation project for the sum of $1.231 billion.
He said the Chinese had also indicated that approval of the Kano-Kaduna segment of the Lagos-Kano railway modernisation project and coastal railway project (Lagos-Calabar segment) were imminent.
In his request, the president dought approval to borrow a total of $5.851 billion for China Eximbank aided projects comprising the Lagos-Kano modernisation project (Lagos-Ibadan segment) valued at $1.231 billion; Lagos-Kano railway modernisation project (Kano-Kaduna segment) put at $1.146 billion; and the coastal railway project valued at $3.474 billion.
Buhari also sought legislative approval to borrow $500 million from the World Bank to enable government expand assistance and support to the poor and most vulnerable under the National Social Safety Net Programme in the 2017 budget.
In addition, the government sought approval to borrow $575 billion to support emergency rehabilitation and reconstruction in the North-east.
A breakdown of the $575 million showed that government is seeking to commit the sum of $125 million to polio eradication support and routine immunisation projects; community and social feeding projects will gulp $75 million; Nigerian states health programme and investment project will get $125 million; while the state education investment project will cost $100 million.
Furthermore, the Nigeria Youth employment and social support project will gulp $100 million while the Fadama III project will gulp $50 million.
Providing further insight into his loan request, Buhari said: “As you are aware, the funds available under the China-Africa Fund are limited and loan applications from all African countries are funded based on first come, first serve and therefore, there is an urgent need for us to sign these loans as soon as they are approved or we may lose out in the event that we delay in signing the loan agreement.
“These loans form part of our overall rail funding strategy. We are already in the process of completing the concession of the Port Harcourt-Maiduguri line to immediately link the eastern part of the nation.”
Buhari said his request for speedy clearance of some emergency projects earmarked for the North-east under the 2016-2018 borrowing plan was predicated on the need to consolidate the relative peace at the time.
He said: “Since then, the situation as you are aware, has changed dramatically and introduced even more urgency to the situation in the zone than ever before.
“While the capture and destruction of the stronghold of Boko Haram in Sambisa forest was welcome news, the recent unfortunate incident of the bombing of an IDP camp by mistake, with loss of civilian lives brings to the fore the need to resettle the people back in their homes quickly in order to avoid such incidents in the future.
“However, for us to be able to do this, there is need for urgent consideration of the identified projects which will enable us to start reconstruction and rehabilitation of the region in order to create jobs for the people and rehabilitate the schools to get the children off the streets and into schools.”
Buhari added that the World Bank was prepared provide a sum of $575 million to assist the federal government in the proposed reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts, including procurement of vaccines and other ancillary facilities for national routine immunisation to eradicate polio after the outbreak in the North-east in 2016.
On the social intervention scheme, he said the programme which started in January 2014, was designed to assist the poor and most vulnerable people in the society across the country with the first cash transfer payment in eight countries already.
He said: “However, for us to expand the programme to all the states, we need additional resources for our 2017 budgetary allocations. It is for this reason that I am requesting your early consideration of the proposed World Bank assisted $500 million loan to help expand the assistance and support to the poor and most vulnerable especially in these difficult times.”
Buhari last year had sent a $30 billion 2017-2019 external borrowing plan to the National Assembly seeking its approval.
But this was rejected by the Senate on the grounds that the plan was bereft of details on what the government intended to do with the funds.