Issues as NASS resumes plenary

Exactly five weeks after hurried adjournments against possible outbreak of Coronavirus within the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja and Nigeria in general, both chambers of the National Assembly will resume plenary today. Taiye  Odewale reports.

Hurried recess

In the heat of outbreak of coronavirus in China, America, Europe and increasing index cases in Nigeria, both the Senate and the House of Representatives had on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 after separate closed door sessions, resolved to adjourn plenary for two weeks by earlier fixing Tuesday, April 7, 2020 as resumption date.

But both the first and second phases of lockdowns carried out in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states respectively, as directed by President Muhamnadu Buhari in nationwide broadcasts on Sunday March 29, 2020 and Monday, April 13, 2020, prevented them from resuming as initially planned.

Fears as NASS announced resumption

However, in separate announcements made in the late hours of Sunday, April 26, 2020 by the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Patrick Giwa, and Senator Basiru Ajibola, both chambers will resume plenary today unfailingly.

While the Clerk of the House of Representatives issued a signed statement to that effect, Senator Ajibola tweeted the announcement by 11:55pm on Sunday night.

Apparently In line with preventive measures against COVID-19, only the federal lawmakers will resume work for now, without aides in their various offices and staff of the National Assembly as clearly stated in the statement titled: “Resumption of Plenary Session”.

The four paragraphs statement dated 26th April, 2020 and signed by Patrick Giwa as Clerk to the House of Representatives reads: “This is to inform all Members of the House of Representatives that the House will now resume plenary session on Tuesday, April 28, 2020, at 10.am.

“Members are advised to take note of the new date of resumption, please.

“The Covid-19 guidelines approved by the federal government and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and additional guidelines developed by the house will be sent to members’ pigeon holes for collection on resumption.

“Staff and members’ aides are to work from home and will be notified when needed in the office for any special assignment”.

In his announcement of resumption of the upper legislative chamber through his Twitter handle, Senator Ajibola, who chairs the Senate Committee on Diaspora and NGOs, said: “The Nigerian Senate will resume in plenary on Tuesday, 28th April, 2020 by 10:00am”.

NASS against further lockdown?

Indication that the federal lawmakers  will resume today, regardless of whatever decision taken by President Muhamnadu Buhari on the four weeks old lockdown policy in FCT, Lagos and Ogun states, emerged on Saturday when the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), cautioned against further extension of the policy.

Abaribe, who advised against extending the lockdown in a personally signed  statement on Abia Killings, warned that pushing for it could be combustible and counterproductive as the people seem totally worn-out in all ramifications to soak in further shocks.

“I will rather opt for a cautious and guided lifting of the lockdown where the existing measures like, protective barriers such as compulsory wearing of face masks, sanitizers, and other associated sanitary conditions and personal hygiene are enforced in public places.

“Aside from the above, daily disinfection of halls, rooms, vehicles, vessels, surroundings et’al, must become the new order. Doing these would definitely tamp the hot air and guide our people to resume their normal life.

“My fear is that majority of our people in the informal sector are daily earners hence their survival is predicated on their going out daily if they must survive.

“Our people operate mostly  in the commercial sector, I have the feeling that further extension of the lockdown would hurt the people the more”, he said.

Why resumption inevitably

In terms of legislations, both chambers have a lot of urgent issues before them particularly as regards approvals for all the reviews already made by the executive on the N10.5trillion 2020 budget now reduced to N9trillion due to sharp drops in the price of crude oil at the international market.

While the oil price benchmark approved and signed for the 2020 budget was $57 per barrel, the coronavirus pandemic had pushed the price down, far below $57 which made the executive to fix $30 per barrel as new oil price benchmark for the budget which is now, N9trillion.

Aside the downward review of the 2020 budget requiring legislative approval or passage, the N500billion intervention fund proposed by the executive to fight the coronavirus pandemic will also be appropriated.

The federal lawmakers as declared by their leadership three weeks ago during interface with the Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development Minister, Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, will also critically look into Implementation of the Social Investment Programme (SIP), by the ministry as a way of making it targeting the poorest of the poor, originally meant for.

However, time will tell whether the lawmakers will be able to work effectively and efficiently without support staff in their various offices as they start with the experimentation today, in line with protective measures against COVID-19. 

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