By Omoh Gabriel, Henry Umoru, Victor Ahiuma-Young, Abdulwahab Abdulahand & Joseph Erunke
LAGOS— The business community, yesterday, threw its weight behind President Muhammadu Buhari’s proposal to assume emergency powers to revamp the nation’s ailing economy.
But the political class was largely opposed to the proposal as most senators, whose opinions were sought, said the bill on the proposal was already dead on arrival, saying the bill, if allowed to sail through, would sound the death knell for the legislature in the country.
Members of the House of Representatives, however, expressed mixed feelings about the proposal.
The proposal, according to sources, are being packaged by the administration’s economic team under the leadership of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
The bill, when finally packaged, is to be entitled, “Emergency Economy Stabilization Bill 2016” and is being proposed to help stimulate the economy.
Consideration of the proposal in the National Assembly, Vanguard learned, would be seriously interrogated by lawmakers, some of who lamented, yesterday, that even without emergency power, the President had started to act as a dictator, trampling on the power of the legislature.
One of the senators, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said: “These are some of the bills we have looked at and bringing these new ones to us to amend would amount to dictatorship.
“The President is already dealing with us with the laws he has, he will kill the National Assembly if we further add what he calls emergency powers to run the economy.“
Another senator, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, noted that some of the powers sought by the President had already been addressed by the Senate, including the procurement laws.
We’ll respond when the bill is represented —Senators, Reps
Senators Enyinnaya Abaribe, PDP, Abia South and Peter Nwaoboshi, PDP, Delta North, easily among the leading opponents of the President in the Senate, however, preferred to wait for the arrival of the bill before making their comments, even as they said it was within the purview of the President to make his proposals for addressing whatever situation the economy was confronted with.
“I don’t see anything wrong in President Muhammadu Buhari trying to bring any new law; it is his prerogative. Until I see the law, that is when we can talk about it. Anything that will push the country out of the present economic woes, the National Assembly will support,” Abaribe said.
Nkem Uzom-Abonta of the House of Representatives also spoke in the same vein. Senators Mao Ohuabunwa, PDP, Abia North and Senator Sunday Ogbuoji, PDP, Ebonyi Central also feigned ignorance of the intention of the bill and as such, promised to respond when the bill is represented.
It’ s a welcome development —LCCI
The scepticism of the lawmakers was matched with the ringing endorsement of the proposals by the business community as articulated by Mr. Mudal Yusuf, Director-General, Lagos Chambers of Commerce and Industry, LCCI.
He said: “The sense of urgency demonstrated by President Buhari on the need to fix the economy should be acknowledged. It is a welcome development. Although the details of the Economic Stabilization Act are yet to be released, a few indications of the government’s thinking have been reported.
“In my view, some of the issues can be dealt with within the authorities of the executive; while others need legislative actions. I agree with the proposal to fast track the procurement process in order to quickly activate the stimulus spending by government. This should, however, be done without compromising the integrity of the procurement process.”
MAN hails FG
The LCCI was also backed by the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN, which said it was also in full support of the proposals.
Reacting, Dr. Frank Udemba Jacobs, President of MAN, said: “It’s a step in the right direction. Something drastic has to be done by the government to rescue the economy from total collapse. “
Proposals not yet passed to Buhari —Presidency
Meanwhile, the Federal Government, last night, said the proposals remained, at best, tentative proposals which had neither been passed on to the President nor to the Federal Executive Council.
Spokesman for the Vice-President, Mr. Laolu Akande, in an email response to Vanguard said: “The Economic Management Team has, indeed, been considering several policy options and measures to urgently reform and revitalize the economy.
“Some of these measures may well require legislative amendments and presidential orders that will enable the executive arm of government move quickly in implementing the economic reform plans.
“As far as I know, this has not been passed on to the President, the Federal Executive Council or the Legislative arm of government. So at this point, there are no further details to share.”
Why Buhari needs emergency powers —Rewane
Also speaking, Managing Director/Chief Executive, Financial Derivatives Company Limited, Mr. Bismarck Rewane, said the proposals would help to move the economy out of recession.
He said: “He needs to do those things, there is need to move rapidly as nothing has been happening. Everything has been slow. He needs intensity and speed. He has to do a lot, and he has to do a lot in a hurry.
“Then we would begin to see the result, but he took a long time. There is need to do it now. There is a sense of urgency now, and there is a sense of honesty.”
Rewane, however, said the President should first declare a state of emergency.
Falana, Etiaba react
Meanwhile, Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN, said: “Most of the issues raised in the economic Emergency Power Bill by President Buhari relate to existing law. If you take the UBE law, for instance, it is an Act of the National Assembly which requires state government to contribute counterpart funding before accessing the fund.
“The state governments, many of them, have more than N54 billion that cannot be accessed. I think what the government is trying to do is to eradicate illiteracy and remove our children who are on the streets without education by allowing the state governments have access to the funds.
“I would have preferred having regard to the criminal diversions of the ecological funds by some states and a lot of intervention funds by some state governments, it should have been better for the UBE to disburse the fund.
“Clearly, the President needs the law to tackle the crisis of underdevelopment in the country. I thought the type of amendment we should be thinking of is not the one that will empower contractors but the one that would allow the government to engage in direct labour.
‘’We have the best of engineers in the ministry and since the country is broke, why are you giving out contracts to fix roads that civil servants can fix?
“I have studied the economic emergency powers bill and as far as I am concerned, it is far reaching enough. We don’t need a bill, but we have so many wastages in government which we need to curb to save funds.
Reacting to the development, Emeka Etiaba SAN, said: “I think where we are today in our political history, we cannot afford such blanket approval of such emergency power by the President. That will also make a mess of the checks and balances as enunciated by the constitution in art of government.
“Knowing that we are still young in our democracy, I don’t think we are ripe for the National Assembly to grant such powers or blanket approval to the President.’’
President can declare emergency on economy, but… —Labour
Reacting, General Secretary of Ayuba Wabba-led faction of Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, Dr. Peter Ozo-Eson, said: “We know that there is need to revamp the economy, but whatever steps needed to be taken should be taken.
“I do not know what constitutes emergency powers. Within the existing laws of the land, Mr President should formulate policies to revamp the economy.
“Yes, he can declare emergency as far as it does not require any extral-judicial or extra-legal powers, it is alright.”
Similarly, factional President of NLC, Mr. Joe Ajaero, said: “I am among the few Nigerians that are still waiting for the economic blueprint of Mr President. When that economic blueprint is made public or introduced, definitely there will be element of emergencies, given the economic recession that we are going through .
“I do not know if the President has lost the powers to initiate economic policies. If he has not and he comes out with economic policies that will deliver us from this recession, I believe everyone of us will buy into it to make sure that the country is redeemed.”
“But if there are other elements or demands that are contained in these emergency powers, we can only comment when we have a full disclosure on what he meant by emergency powers.”