Senate throws out framework
Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
A bill seeking one per cent federal government’s grant to Lagos wednesday threw the Senate into a rowdy session as the bill again exposed the depth of mutual suspicion and ethnic bigotry prevalent in the country.
While the bill was well supported by South-west senators, the provisions in the bill did not go down well with Northern, South-east and South-south senators who rejected the bill, pointing out that it would set a dangerous precedent.
The depth of dissension caused by the bill among senators, forced the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided over the plenary, to stand up from his seat for several minutes with assiduous efforts to calm frayed nerves and bring the chaotic situation under control.
The sponsor of the bill, Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos Central), while leading debate on the bill had canvassed a number of reasons Lagos deserved special assistance from the federal government.
Among others, she described Lagos as a state with strategic socio-economic significance being “the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria with available statistics indicating that 6 of 10 international passengers arrive in Lagos why 8 of 10 depart from Lagos.”
Furthermore, Mrs. Tinubu argued that a report from Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) in 2008, revealed that 86.2 percent of companies’ income taxes were collected in only Lagos while another 56.7 percent value added tax (VAT) was collected in Lagos. She said with the degree of revenue being generated from Lagos, the state deserved a special treatment.
“Key sectors of the economy namely: manufacturing, construction, telecommunications, financial institutions and insurance are domiciled in Lagos. Lagos also plays a major role as host to sporting, entertainment and cultural events. It is also the home of hospitality given the numerous hotels and restaurants located within the state.
“Compared with the rest of the country, Lagos has the smallest landmass of about 3,671square kilometer in Nigeria and the highest population density at about 2,649 persons per square kilometre. Although the National Population Census, according to its 2006 census, named Lagos the second most populous state in Nigeria, evidence shows that the state is also the transient state which plays host to millions of transient citizens of other states in Nigeria who commutes to Lagos for commercial transactions on a daily basis,” She added.
The bill was strongly supported by the two other Lagos senators, Gbenga Ashafa (Lagos East) and Solomon Olamilekan (Lagos West) as well as Fatimat Raji-Rasaki and Barnabas Gemade (Benue North-west).
However, indications that the bill had run into troubled waters emerged when Senator Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto North) registered his strong opposition to the bill, describing it as ill-timed and unnecessary.
According to him, the bill would make Lagos richer and make other states poorer, insisting that passing the bill would be a dangerous precedent because it would serve as an impetus for other states to also demand for special grants.
Wamakko’s opposition also received the backing of Senator Hope Uzodinma (Imo West) who said passing the bill would open windows for other states to come up with similar bills. Uzodinma added that instead of allowing the bill to sail through, the option of conceding federal government’s abandoned property in the state to Lagos to augment its cost of maintenance could be explored.
In the same vein, Senator Taminu Aduda (FCT) said he would only support the bill if the same status being sought by Lagos would be accorded the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) as he argued that FCT also deserved special allocation for its development, claiming that the infrastructure in the territory was being overstretched by people trooping into it.
Also opposing the bill, Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa West), said he would have supported the bill but noted that the National Assembly had no power to make any law that would empower any state to exclusively draw money from the federation account.
In his opposition to the bill, Senator James Manager (Delta South), said Section 164(1) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) incapacitated him from supporting the bill. He said the section authorised the National Assembly to first make a law before the federal government could grant financial assistance to any state.
Manager added that even when such law was made by the National Assembly, its application would not be automatic as compliance with such law would be at the president’s discretion.
However, even though it was clear that the bill stood no chance of survival in view of massive opposition to it, the altercation between the Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye and Aduda generated huge tension which hastened death knell on the bill.
Adeyeye had argued that the demand for one per cent grant for Lagos was an understatement, noting that Lagos deserved 13 per cent derivation from VAT’ the same way oil producing Niger Delta states enjoy 13 per cent derivation from the federal government.
The matter however, got to a head when he dismissed the demand of Aduda for special grant for FCT, describing the nation’s capital as “rotten pampered child.” The comment provoked deep anger in Aduda, forcing Adeyeye to withdraw the statement but the withdrawal did not avert the tension which had already overwhelmed the chamber as the situation degenerated into a shouting match.
Hence, in his bid to save the Senate from continuously degenerating into a chaotic atmosphere, Ekweremadu opted to halt debate on the bill and instead proceeded to put the bill to a voice vote.
He did it thrice but was rejected three times and accordingly, the bill was thrown out. But the death of the bill did not mark the end of the chaotic session created by the altercation as the situation grew worse, thus prompting Ekweremadu to stand up while calling his colleagues to order all to no avail until he hit the gavel for a long time before order was eventually restored.