Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has perfected plans to seek emergency powers from the National Assembly, reportedly, to push economic stimulus package through, The Nation reports.
According to the newspaper, “the objectives of the action-plan on the economy, which is in recession, include shoring up the value of the naira, creation of more jobs, boosting of foreign reserves, reviving the manufacturing sector and improving power”.
This latest attempt to abrogate sweeping powers to the president, is said to be based a proposal by the president’s economic advisory team led by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. The executive bill is titled, Emergency Economic Stabilisation Bill 2016, and is set to be presented before the National Assembly in September, 2016.
In the bill, the executive will be asking for the president to be given sweeping powers to set aside some extant laws and use executive orders to roll out an economic recovery package within the next one year.
The newspaper also reports that an intense lobby is underway by the Buhari presidency to influence the leaders of the National Assembly, who are on recess, to speedily pass the bill when the arm of government resume sitting.
“The economic team, it was learnt, gauged the mood of the polity and decided that unless there is an urgency which some of the extant laws will not permit, “the recession may be longer than expected and Nigerians will not get the desired respite, which is the goal of this government”.
“Buhari will be seeking powers to:
- abridge the procurement process to support stimulus spending on critical sectors of the economy;
- make orders to favour local contractors/suppliers in contract awards;
- abridge the process of sale or lease of government assets to generate revenue;
- allow virement of budgetary allocation to projects that are urgent, without going back to the National Assembly.
- amend certain laws, such as the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) Act, so that states that cannot access their cash trapped in the accounts of the commission because they cannot meet the counterpart funding, can do so; and
- to embark on radical reforms in visa issuance at Nigeria’s consular offices and on arrival in the country and to compel some agencies of government like the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the National Agency for Foods Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and others to improve on their turn around operation time for the benefit of business.”
Human Rights activists fear that this move is a test run for a full-scale suspension of the constitution, as proposed by Buhari’s close associates early in the former military dictator’s administration.
“I wonder what someone who calls himself a right-thinking man would be seeking emergency powers under whatever guise; whether it is for economic bailout reasons, Sharia guise, or job creation guise,” Emeka Umeagbalasi, a leading human rights activist in Nigeria told The Trent in reaction to this development.
“Even if the country is in a state of war or the country is hit by a natural disaster with widespread impact, Buhari does not need special emergency powers because Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution, has enough provisions for what the president is expected to do in case the country is in an emergency state, including in wartime.
“By this move, to obtain emergency powers, it is clear that President Buhari is uncomfortable with the 1999 Constitution. And if Mr. President is afraid of the 1999 Constitution, that means that he is a dictator. And in order to manifest his dictatorial tendencies, he is seeking to suspend the 1999 Constitutions and abrogate more powers to himself which are outside the emergency powers provided for the president in the Nigerian Constitution,” Umeagbalasi, who is the board chairman of Intersociety – International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law, maintained.
“I don’t know what this country is turning into. This is a country that says it is a federation. With a whole lot of laws in the constitution seeking for attention. All existing laws in the country before the 1999 Constitution, and Acts of the National Assemblies since 1999, are recognised by section 359 of the constitution, but subject to modifications to suit the plain language and provisions of the 1999 Constitution.
“In this situation we have a whole lot of them. We have so many laws passed by all the National Assemblies of Nigeria. All these laws – both those recognised by Section 359 of the Constitution and those passed by all the National Assemblies since 1999 – are subject to the 1999 Constitution. For instance, the Police Act, Prisons Act existed before 1999 Constitution, but they are subject to the Constitution.
“Yet, we have a president who is seeking extra powers and a new law to expand his powers, under whatever guise. Buhai should know that Nigerians are watching him and so is the international community. If Buhari is able to manipulate the National Assembly to grant him his wishes to obtain emergency powers outside those provided for in Section 305 of the 1999 Constitution, he should remember that he cannot manipulate all Nigerians and neither can he manipulate the judiciary.
“Let Buhari’s junta go ahead with plots to set aside the constitution of the country. Those new acts or bills, presented to the National Assembly, if they are outside the Nigerian Constitution will be set aside by the courts,” he concluded.
The concluding part of The Nation’s report is below:
The extant law on procurement does not allow contract award earlier than six months after decision. Part of this is a mandatory advertisement of the contract for six weeks. The economic team has found this to be unacceptable, given our present circumstance.
Although the president has the power to order the sale or lease of any government asset to raise cash, “the procedure is cumbersome and long”. The draft bill is meant to ease the process. The government source said about nine government assets may be leased or sold to generate around $50billion to shore up the nation’s foreign reserves and the value of the naira against the United States dollar.
The source said: “Nigeria may be broke at the moment but we are not a poor country, given our assets and capability.”
About N58 billion is trapped in UBEC’s coffers because the states cannot access it as a result of the key condition, which is the payment of 50 per cent counterpart funding. The government is seeking an amendment to the law so that states will pay only 10 per cent as counterpart funding.
The objective is that state governments will have access to cash to develop education. This will facilitate creation of jobs since contracts will be awarded for the projects.
As for contract awards, the government, by the provisions of the law, cannot mobilise contractors with more than 15 per cent of contract sum. This is considered to be undesirable by the economic team given the pace the government wants to move in turning the economy around and in the provision of critical infrastructure. The bill will seek to allow the government to mobilise contractors with 50 per cent of contract sum.
The move to get government agencies to fast tract their operations is to enable foreign investors to come into the country without the current bottlenecks.
Consular offices will now be expected to make visas available within 48 hours and visitors, especially tourists who intend to pick up visas at the entry point, will be able to do so.
Time wasting at the airport with duplication of agencies screening incoming passengers is to be eliminated. Those leaving the country should go without hassle.
For the power sector, the government plans to truck gas from source to the power plants to enable them get what they need for generation.
A government source said: “This may be more expensive but it is a price to be paid for Nigerians’ comfort”.
It was learnt that President Buhari will engage the leadership of the National Assembly before their resumption to solicit support for the bill’s quick passage.