Buhari writes Senate for N895.8bn supplementary budget approval

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…approves team to engage Twitter over suspension

…as ECOWAS Court stops FG from imposing sanctions

The Senate on Tuesday received President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for the approval of the 2021 Supplementary Appropriation Bill of N895.8 billion.

President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, read Buhari’s letter at the commencement of Tuesday’s plenary following its resumption from a two-week break.

The letter reads: “Dear Distinguished Senate President, submission of the Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2021.

“It is with pleasure that I forward herewith, Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2021 for the kind consideration and approval by the Senate.

“The supplementary budget request is for a total sum of N895, 842, 465, 917.

“We propose to fund N45.63 billion of the N83.56 billion required for the COVID-19 vaccine programme by drawing on existing World Bank loans which will be a structured as well as other grants totalling 113.2 million US dollars.

“The balance of N37.93 billion required for COVID-19 vaccines, salaries and other health-related expenditures totalling N41.6 billion and N48.2 billion recurrent component of defence and security will be funded by borrowing N135 billion from some special reserve levy accounts.

“We propose to fund the balance of N722.4 billion for capital expenditure on defense and security and capital supplementation from new borrowings in the absence of any supplementary revenue sources.

“It has become necessary to prepare the 2021 supplementary appropriation bill considering the urgent need to make provision for procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

“The availability of COVID-19 vaccines and the procurement terms was still uncertain as at the time of finalising the 2021 budget, hence, there was no provision in the 2021 Appropriation Act for the procurement and administration of COVID-19 vaccines.

“However, the Federal Ministry of Health and the National Primary Health Care Development Agency have now developed a COVID-19 vaccine programme for the country.

“Under the vaccine programme, 70 per cent of eligible Nigerians are to be vaccinated between 2021 and 2022.

“In addition, our security and law enforcement agencies urgently need to procure additional equipment and other resources in response to the prevalent security challenges across the country.

“The Ministry of Defence has carefully scrutinised these procurement needs which the military authorities claim to represent the minimum requirement to secure our country and address current internal and external security challenges.

“Furthermore, additional funds are required to meet our commitment to treat additional 50,000 patients under the Nigerian Comprehensive Aids Programmes in States (NCAPS) as the amount provided in the 2021 appropriation bill for this purpose was inexplicably cut by the National Assembly.

“In order to address the urgent problem of oxygen availability in the country and avoid the potential loss of lives, provision was made for the procurement and installation of new oxygen plants nationwide and repairs of oxygen plants in FCT hospitals.

“It is also necessary to provide additional funds for public service-wide wage adjustments to carter for sundry wage related issues in the health and other sectors which if not resolved can add to the prevalence sense of instability in the polity.

“Understandably, this currently abounds in many other sectors.

“However, we have limited the supplementary budget proposal to just these critical and emergency areas of need due to our severe financial fiscal constraints.

“All other means will be deferred to the 2022 budget which we plan to present in September of this year.

“Given the urgency of the request, I seek the cooperation of the National Assembly for expeditious legislative action on the supplementary appropriation bill 2021.”

Meanwhile President Buhari has approved the composition of the Federal Government’s team to engage with Twitter over the recent suspension of the operations of the microblogging and social networking service in Nigeria.

The approval was announced in a statement in Abuja on Tuesday by the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who will chair the team.

The Federal Government’s team also comprises the Attorney General of the Federation and Honourable Minister of Justice, Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Honourable Minister of Works and Housing, Honourable Minister of State for Labour and Employment as well as other relevant government agencies.

Following the indefinite suspension of its operations in Nigeria, for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence, Twitter wrote to President Buhari seeking to engage with the Federal Government over the suspension, with a view to charting a path forward.

The Federal Government had earlier suspended indefinitely the operations of the microblogging and social networking service Twitter in Nigeria.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, announced the suspension in a statement citing the presistent use of the platform for activities that are capable of undermining Nigeria’s corporate existence.

In the meantime, the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) Court of Justice in Abuja has stopped the Federal Government from imposing sanctions or harassing, intimidating, arresting, or prosecuting Twitter.

It also restricted the government from carrying out such actions against any other social media service provider, as well as media houses, pending the hearing and determination of a suit challenging the government’s suspension of Twitter operations in Nigeria.

The court gave the restraining order after hearing arguments from parties in a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians.

The court gave the restraining order after hearing arguments from parties in a suit filed by the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and 176 concerned Nigerians.

Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Femi Falana, represented the plaintiffs while a legal practitioner, Maimuna Shiru, represented the government.

According to the court, interference with Twitter is a violation of human rights and the Nigerian government must take immediate steps to implement the order.

It stressed the need to hear the matter as soon as possible and adjourned until July 6, 2021, for the hearing of the substantive suit.

In the suit, the applicants argued that the suspension of Twitter by the government and criminalisation of Nigerians and others using the social media platform has escalated repression of human rights and unlawfully restricted the rights of citizens and others to freedom of expression, access to information, and media freedom in the country.

This followed the suspension of Twitter by the Federal Government after the social media giant deleted a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari.

Thereafter, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) ordered television and radio stations to suspend the patronage of Twitter immediately.

The plaintiffs, in the suit marked ECW/CCJ/APP/23/21, sought an order of interim injunction restraining the Federal Government from implementing its suspension of Twitter in Nigeria, and subjecting anyone, including media houses and broadcast stations using Twitter in Nigeria to harassment, intimidation, arrest, and criminal prosecution, pending the hearing and determination of the substantive suit.

In similar vein, the Senator representing Kwara central senatorial district in the National Assembly, Dr. Yahaya Ibrahim Oloroegbe, has expressed hope of a fruitful outcome in the ongoing dialogue between the Federal government and Twitter over the suspension of the operation of the latter in the country.

He was of the view that the engagement would see to the return of Twitter.

Oloriegbe said this in an interview with journalists on the sidelines of the grand finale of Ilorin Emirate Culture and Heritage Competition organised for public Primary Schools in Kwara central senatorial district.

The competition was at the instance of Matt’s Girls Foundation, a pet project of Hajia Maimunat Ibrahim Oloriegbe, wife of Senator Oloriegbe where troupes from Ilorin West Local government area emerged overall winner.

The suspension of Twitter had elicited mixed reactions across the country, though the government said the social media operator had reached out for resolution of the matter.

Oloriegbe believed that the interface between the two would lead to the desired outcome.

“Federal government did not proscribe Twitter. So, that’s wrong,. I think they only suspended its activities based on certain observed security challenge that is in it. And there is dialogue ongoing between Twitter and Federal government. I hope at the end of the dialogue, they would return Twitter,” the lawmaker said.