Chinese loans: Reps suspend panels’ sittings on govt finances

The House of Representatives has suspended activities of its standing and ad hoc committees, including panels investigating finances of the Federal Government.

The Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa, who made the announcement, in a notice dated August 19, 2020, with reference number NASS/9.HR/OLDR/ADM/VOL.1/0031, said it was a decision by the leadership of the House.

One of the major groups affected by the suspension is the Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements investigating external loans and commercial agreements between Nigeria and other countries, especially China.

The activities of the committee generated controversy nationwide as the Federal Government on  Monday admitted the loan agreement with China contains sovereignty clause,  which gives the Asian country the permission to seize a facility if Nigeria defaults in the payment of the loan.

The committee Chairman, Nicholas Ossai, had said the clause was not only ambiguous, but also dangerous.

He vowed to go ahead with the probe and ensure the renegotiation of the controversial loan agreement.

But the probe was stalled on Thursday with the suspension of activities of House committees.

Ado-Doguwa’s memo sighted by  one of our correspondents on Thursday was titled, ‘Notice of suspension of activities, meetings, public hearings and all engagements of the standing and ad hoc committees.’

The notice read, “The leadership of the House of Representatives has recently met and resolved that, henceforth, all activities of standing and ad hoc committees be put on hold while the House is on its annual recess.

“Accordingly, all standing and ad hoc committee chairmen are, hereby, directed to suspend with immediate effect, all committee meetings, public hearings and other engagements until the House resumes from its annual recess.

“The Clerk of the House should also ensure strict compliance to this circular by all committee clerks and other relevant staffs (sic) of the House of Representatives.”

The National Assembly is scheduled to resume plenary on September 15, 2020, after a two-month annual recess.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives had resolved to continue work at the committee level during the break.

The suspension notice came two days after a drama at the hearing by the House Committee on Treaties, Protocols and Agreements, probing  Nigeria’s external loans.

The Chairman of the committee,  Ossai, had had a heated argument with the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, over the manner the probe was being conducted.

Before the altercation, Amaechi had warned that the lawmakers’ insistence on the investigation could make China to stop the loan.

At Monday’s public hearing,  the Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, walked in and called for a break.

The probe had polarised members of the committee.

When contacted on the telephone on Thursday, Ossai said he was not aware of the suspension notice. “I’m not aware,” he said.

When asked if it meant that his committee’s probe would continue, the lawmaker said, “Until I authenticate what you are saying now and I find out; I won’t be able to make a necessary decision now as you are telling me. By tomorrow (Friday), I’m going to find out whether it is all according to what you have said.”

When told that the notice must have been sent to lawmakers, Ossai said, “I don’t have it.”

The committee had on Tuesday suspended its hearing and adjourned till Tuesday. It  asked the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN), and Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, to appear before it on Tuesday next week to shed light on the controversial clauses concerning Nigeria’s sovereignty.

Besides the investigation into loan agreements, also affected by the suspension   is the ongoing probe of the $11bn withdrawn from the Excess Crude Account for the implementation of the failed National Integrated Power projects.

Another probe is by an ad hoc committee of the House on the increment of tariffs by digital television service providers, especially DSTV. – Punch.

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