• Tuesday, February 27, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

Senate and call for presidential intervention in North-East rehabilitation

businessday-icon

“Our age will be known as the age of committees” – Ernest Benn

The Nigerian senate on July 29, 2015 passed a motion urging President Muhammadu Buhari to establish a Presidential Intervention Committee on the Rehabilitation of the North-East zone. The motion, though commendable, has once again brought to the fore the problem of information flow between the different arms of government.

The focus of the motion and the debates that ensued should have been on how the executive can strengthen an already existing committee on Presidential Initiative for the North-East. The initiative was set up in the last administration and is captured in the 2014 and 2015 budgets as Federal Initiative for the North-East.

The committee on the Federal Initiative for the North-East started its activities at the Ministry of Finance in late 2013, and was later merged with a similar working group operating at the Office of the National Security Adviser. Following the exit of the then minister of state for finance who was the chairman of the committee, the new leadership moved activities of the group to Office of the National Security Adviser and the nomenclature changed to Presidential Initiative for the North-East.

The committee comprises members from relevant government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as having some development partners as observers during meetings. In addition, the North-East states are involved through representatives of the North-East Economic Summit Group.

The initiative has short-term, medium-term and long-term plans. While the short-term plan involves direct provision of cash, grants, trainings, equipments to artisans, farmers, etc., the medium-term objective is to rebuild key institutional facilities that have been destroyed, including but not limited to schools, hospitals, churches and mosques. The long-term goal is to massively invest in critical sectors such as health, education, roads, agriculture, etc.

Given that there is an existing committee for the purpose of rehabilitating the North-East, it is important to ask some questions: First, is the senate not aware of the existence of a Federal Initiative for the North-East that had allocations of N2 billion in the 2014 budget and N5 billion in the 2015 budget?

Second, how come the experienced senators like the lead sponsor of the motion, George Sekibo, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who were all key members of the 7th Senate did not make an observation during the debates that there already exists an intervention scheme for the North-East?

Third, if the experienced senators failed to make this observation, why did the new senators also miss this point? Does it mean that while they were aspiring to become senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria they did not deem it fit to familiarise themselves with national documents like the Federal Government budget?

Fourth, does it mean that there has been no legislative supervision on an initiative that is captured in the Federal budget given that allocations of N2 billion and N5 billion were made in 2014 and 2015, respectively?

What is required is the review of the activities of the existing committee and how its work can be improved upon. Setting up another committee as suggested by the senate will amount to duplication of efforts and inefficient resource allocation. In addition, having a committee that is functioning as Presidential Initiative for the North-East and making appropriations under the nomenclature Federal Initiative for the North-East is not proper for record purposes. The 2014 and 2015 Appropriation Acts recognize the latter and not the former; there is therefore a need for this amendment to be effected.

It is also important for legislators to get their aides to research thoroughly motions and/or bills they intend to sponsor on the floor. Had the aides of Senator Sekibo and his co-sponsors done their homework, they probably would have presented their motion from a different perspective rather than the proposal to establish a Presidential Intervention Committee on the Rehabilitation of the North-East zone.

Finally, communication and information flow should improve between the legislature and the executive. The House of Representatives in its draft legislative agenda for 2015-2019 identified regular communication with the executive as a means of reducing friction and ensuring effective legislative delivery. It is hoped that the senate will take a cue from the lower chamber, not only on paper, but also in implementation.

Maxwell Ekor