By Jude Opara, Abuja
There was a mild disagreement on the floor of the Senate yesterday as Senators began deliberations on the federal government’s $22.7 billion 2016- 2018 External Borrowing for the execution of key infrastructural projects.
The disagreement began as soon as the Committee on Local and Foreign Debts led by the Chairman, Senator Clifford Ordia, (PDP, Edo Central) made his presentation.
President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan who presided over the plenary wanted the lawmakers to go to the recommendations and vote, but this was not acceptable to Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, (PDP, Abia South) who demanded for a line by line consideration of the report and the recommendations before the voting process.
According to Abaribe, the idea was to avail the senators the opportunity of knowing what in contained in each item, as against the lumping together of the entire package.
At this stage, the chamber became heated as the debate was now a back and forth between the President and the Minority Leader.
As the controversy raged, Senator Gabriel Suswam, (PDP, Benue) made moves to save the situation by moving that the Senate should go into an executive session for about 10 minutes to resolve the knotty issues with special regards to the alleged lopsided allocation of projects captured in the loan.
However, Lawan rejected the call for a closed session, arguing that this would have happened prior to plenary session, adding; “we are at the point of no return”.
Lawan said; “Minority leader, I don’t want this debate to degenerate into partisanship This shouldn’t degenerate into partisanship because this is all about our country, please.
“I recognized you for the two times you raise your hands; the only time I denied you is when you came under order 43 and under order 25(h) and my understanding of the law is at least, you are supposed to intimate me of what you are going to say.
“I am not making any effort to muzzle you. There is nothing wrong in voting against what you don’t want.
“Nobody is saying you shouldn’t do that and if you have anything that will guide us to process this report, you can do that and I think you are getting me wrongly.”
The position of the Senate President was again not acceptable to the Minority Leader who at this point cited Order 14(C) of the Senate Standing Orders as Amended.
He said; “You are putting us in a very impossible situation because you are giving us what we will approve, we either say yes or we say. The way we do our debate here, we must look at each item whether each should go or not to go and this is even about Nigeria.
“This is not about partisanship, so if you want to talk about partisanship, my colleagues here are all complaining that this is lopsided news.
“So, Mr. President, I want to ask on behalf of all our colleagues here that we take this issue item by item and not just pass everything. If we do that, then we don’t need to sit here and do anything.”
At this point, Lawan soft-pedalled and called for a closed-door session, which began at exactly 12.40 pm.
President Muhammadu Buhari, had on November 28, written to the Senate, again requesting for the approval of 2016- 2018 External Borrowing to the tune of $30 billion to be spent by the Federal Government to execute key infrastructural projects across the country.
Recall that the President had sent the same request to the eight Senate under Bukola Saraki in 2016. He had requested for about $30 billion, but the lawmakers rejected the request then as majority voted against it when it was put forward for consideration.
In his recent letter, Buhari explained that the external borrowing plan targets projects that cut across all sectors with special emphasis on infrastructure, agriculture, health, education, water supply, growth and employment generation.
However, many analysts have been kicking against the loan because the projects to which they were tied were said to have been lopsided.
Following the disagreement, the senate went into an executive session where it was agreed that the loan be approved.