Stories courtesy www.nan.ng
By Naomi Sharang
The President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, said he had stopped collecting pension in Kwara state, where he was the governor between 2003 and 2011.
He said, on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja, that he wrote a letter to the state government to stop the payment of the pension.
According to Saraki, the move was sequel to complaints from some quarters that former governors who are currently senators or ministers were receiving pension and salary in their new jobs, all from the government.
A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), had accused the former governors of receiving double pay from government, and said it was illegal.
“No, I’m not collecting pension; the moment I saw that allegation, I wrote to my state to stop my pension.
“So, I speak for myself on that part; I’m not doing that, I am not receiving pension from my state,’’ he said.
On other senators involved on the issue, Saraki said “I think I will leave everybody to their individual decision.
“Morally, if you have got another job, you should give it up until when you are truly a pensioner.
“Some of these oversights are not addressing the issues. What the states should do is to go and amend their laws to say that if you have another appointment then you are not entitled to that benefit.
“With this, we will just simplify the matter.”
On the role of Bank of Infrastructure in the country, Saraki said that the Senate had not had any serious interface with the bank, but that it was involved in some projects.
“We are not engaging with them particularly. I think that they were part of those involved in the Lagos-Ibadan road. But, I don’t think government should really put funds into that.
“I have this strong view and I feel very strongly about it, that nowhere in the world has government funded infrastructure.
“Government cannot, and even if government can fund infrastructure projects, the social sector will suffer – health will suffer and education will suffer.’’
He said there were a lot of complaints that budgetary allocation to health and education was too low, attributing it to the fact that much money was being invested in infrastructure development.
Saraki explained that due to the challenges, the National Assembly had passed Bills that would encourage private sector participation in infrastructure development.
“What should happen is that we should try and get private sector to take over some of these infrastructure so that the money can go into education and health.
“By doing that, banks like Bank of infrastructure will come in.
“We are really pushing the idea of, particularly, the Lagos-Ibadan road, that appropriating that project from the budget does not show seriousness.
“This is a road that is very viable; that is centre of the commercial activity and we should see how private sector can participate.
“For example, even if you go by the budgetary allocation on that road, last year was N30 billion, this year, after back and forth, we took it back to N20 billion.
“This was done so that if they don’t find private funding, we will take it up,’’ he said.
According to him, even if the N30 billion was provided, it will not be enough because that road needs about N100 billion to be completed.
“So, the point I’m making which I want to emphasise is that it is the kind of laws and policies that we pass that will encourage private sector that will make the infrastructure deficit to reduce.
“Government alone cannot reduce infrastructure deficit,” Saraki said.
He confirmed that the senators had fulfilled their October, 2016 pledge to contribute N300, 000 each to support Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North-East.
He said that the senate would continue to tackle humanitarian crisis in the North-East through budgetary appropriations.
“I think that to the best of my knowledge, that is happening but it goes beyond just that. I think that we have shown that we will continue to support in form of appropriation of adequate money.
“As you saw just last week, we also approved some foreign loan that will go toward supporting activities in the North-East as palliative means to fight humanitarian crisis.
“We are close to about 800 million dollars we approved for the executive from that point of view.
“We are always ready to support our men and women in uniform to ensure that whatever they required was provided,” Saraki said.
He added that the lawmakers had been meeting with a lot of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to provide support to the North-East.
“We are looking at the possibility of what we can do to create more incentives for Nigerians.
“We are approaching individuals and companies to make more donations and see what kind of concessions they can get for the kind of donations they are making in the North-East,” he said.
By Cecilia Ijuo
President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki, said contrary to insinuations, the Senate had no premeditated plan to reject Mr Ibrahim Magu as chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Saraki said while featuring on the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) Forum in Abuja that the screening of Magu, which led to his rejection, was transparently done.
According to him, Magu’s rejection was prompted by report from the Department of State Services (DSS), among other issues, and the screening was aired “live’’ on national television for all Nigerians to watch.
“I think there is a lot of misunderstanding and blackmail and all is not in the interest of democracy.
“The rejection of candidates presented to the National Assembly is a process. It is a process that is not restricted to the EFCC chairman.
“It is a process that has to do with the Governor of Central Bank, Director-General of Lottery Commission, Electricity Regulatory Commission and other relevant agencies.
“We have approved many people from the executive and we have rejected some and when we reject them, it is not for any personal reason, because it is a process.
“Magu’s screening was on a Wednesday when we air plenary `live’. That is to show you how transparent the Senate was on Magu’s confirmation.
“We screened him on a Wednesday so that all Nigerians can watch,’’ he said.
Saraki maintained that the decision of the Senate to reject the confirmation of Magu was in the interest of democracy.
He added that the decision was based on a test which he failed, adding that if the senate had disregarded the DSS report and went ahead to confirm Magu, posterity would judge the members.
“This is about an institution; let us say you are screening the Governor of Central Bank and EFCC reports that the man lacks integrity and that he is not honest, will you just discard that.
“Even if you do, years later you are weakening that institution.
“We should stop talking about personalities. We should be focusing on how to strengthen our democracy.
“When some people have particular interest, they will try and bring this down to individuals. There is nothing personal on the personality of the acting Chairman of EFCC.
“As an individual, I have had a personal experience with Magu, where he stood up for what is right.
“I remember during the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, where because we were fighting some of the issues then, some of us were sent to the EFCC.
“I remember I was sent to Magu’s office. They were trying to get him to investigate something of 10 years, 12 years ago; I remember Magu said nobody was going to use him,’’ he said.
On allegations that Magu’s confirmation was stalled for fear that senators may be prosecuted by him, Saraki said it was far from the truth.
He pointed out that the fear that some of the former governors who had cases to answer may have contributed to the rejection was unfounded.
According to him, some of the former governors already had cases before the courts, and Magu, even if he was confirmed, couldn’t have gone to the courts to withdraw the cases.
He described the allegation as cheap blackmail, and said that Nigerians had to decide whether or not they wanted to strengthen the National Assembly as an institution.
The president of the senate said that going by democratic practice, there was a need for checks and balances, adding that the parliament had the power to confirm or not to confirm nominees.
“The days I confirm I don’t commit a crime, but the day I don’t confirm, all hell will break loose.
“It is very unfortunate. When people say we don’t want to fight corruption, does fighting corruption start and end with an individual? It doesn’t.
“We have played our role. We will leave posterity to judge us.
“It was aired “live’’. It wasn’t that we did it at night or in a close-door and then announced the result to the public.
“They saw it. You can ask them if it looked as if this gentleman was not given fair hearing or something.
“Our argument is, today it is Magu, and tomorrow it could be a president.
“Today we have an honest transparent president, tomorrow we could have a corrupt and dishonest president, who brings his best man to be the governor of Central Bank and together they want to connive and steal money.
“When the name is taken to senate and senate rejects it, the president will say, `my friend, continue’.
“So it is about systems and processes. Whether you like Saraki or you don’t like Ekweremadu, it is not about us. By the end of our tenure we will go. It is about the institution,’’ he said.
Saraki further said “we cannot belittle or weaken the institution because it is that institution that separates democracy from dictatorship.
“When you weaken the parliament, you have weakened democracy.
“If you think by so doing you are weakening Saraki, you are not, it is the institution.’’
He said that the hatred for the parliament was fuelled by some people with vested interest in what they could benefit, while pretending to be fighting for the system.
Saraki, however, assured that the 8th senate would not be distracted by anyone or issue, adding that the chamber had passed no fewer than four anti-corruption bills to support the government.