The Presidency has denied media reports that President Muhammadu Buhari is seeking emergency powers to tackle the nation’s economic challenges.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, said in a statement to our correspondent late last night that the economic management team was considering several measures to urgently reform the economy but they had not yet been communicated to the president.
The vice president’s spokesman stated that those measures had also not been passed to the Federal Executive Council and the National Assembly.
He said: “The economic management team has indeed been considering several policy options and measures to urgently reform and revitalise 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.”
A newspaper report yesterday said Buhari would be seeking emergency powers from the National Assembly to get the economy out of recession, shore up the value of the naira, create more jobs, boost foreign reserves, improve power and revive the manufacturing sector.
The report said the decision was based on a proposal from the economic team headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo
In the bill, the executive will be asking for the President to be given sweeping powers to, among other things, set aside some extant laws and use executive orders to roll out an economic recovery package within the next one year.
However, before the denial by the vice president’s office, the proposal had already found acceptance among industrialists and experts as well as some legislators who spoke to Daily Trust.
Many industrialists and experts said such proposal was long overdue and should be granted by the National Assembly.
Some senators and representatives interviewed said the request should be specific to avoid “issuing a blank cheque to the President”.
A ranking senator who spoke to on condition of anonymity said that the granting of the sweeping power to the President would negate the principle of separation of powers between the Executive and Legislature.
“What will be the function of the National Assembly if we grant these powers to the President? He has to be specific on what he wants. Approving this will amount to issuing a blank cheque to him. This will not be good as it will bring about dictatorship,” he said.
He said it would be very difficult for the bill to sail through at the National Assembly.
But on his part, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions, Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) said they would support it if it would stimulate the economy of the country.
“Anything that would revamp the economy, reduce unemployment and put food on the tables of Nigerians would be supported as you know hunger is everywhere in the country,” he said.
Anyanwu, however expressed reservations about the request to empower the President to vire projects in the Appropriation Act without recourse to the National Assembly.
When contacted, the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume (APC, Borno South) said, “I haven’t seen the details of the bill, therefore I won’t comment on it.”
Also, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Business, Senator Baba Kaka Bashir Garbai (APC, Borno Central) said that they would support anything that addressed the challenges facing the country.
When contacted, the spokesman of the House of Representatives, Abdulrazak Namdas (APC, Adamawa) said the House would wait until such a time the president formally notifies members of his decision.
“For now, it’s in the realm of speculations. As you know, the House is currently on recess, but when we resume and if he eventually forwards the request, we’ll look at it and know what to do. But for now, we can’t say anything concrete,” he said.
However, an APC member in the House told Daily Trust that should the president write the National Assembly for such power, he might face serious challenge as many lawmakers would demand full explanation on what exactly he would want to achieve.
“There will be serious problem from the opposition. Some of us in APC too can be critical. For example, members will say let the president tell them the exact things he’s thinking about doing. What if he retrenches the workforce or reverses the minimum wage? What if it will have adverse effects on tax while industries are down? What if he says taxation should be escalated to 100 percent?
“So, we can’t just give him blanket powers. But if he says something like they’ll ban rice importation, that one is positive; he doesn’t need any powers from the National Assembly for that. Even among APC members, there will be resistance.”
While some industrialists and experts have expressed support others have expressed concern over the request.
The National President of the Nigerian Association of Small Scale Industrialists (NASSI), Ezekiel Essien, told the Daily Trust that industrialists were behind the President in this latest move, describing it as “long overdue.”
“Most of our contracts go to foreigners. All the monies go offshore. They only take local people here as carpenters and drivers. The money goes out of the country,” he said.
An economist, Gabriel Offiong, who is the Chief Executive Officer of an Abuja-based consultancy firm, Moon Global Ventures, said the President was right in that direction as long as it would help to revamp the flagging economy.
“He needs to intervene otherwise we are in trouble. He needs to overrule the period set in the procurement Act so that capital projects in the budget can be delivered before the end of the year,” he said.
He recommended that the National Assembly should give the president the powers he seeks by approving the emergency bill within one week.
Daniel Ikhouria, a development researcher, said: “This is a serious matter because the president is asking for a double edge sword which is anchored largely on his integrity.
“It will be good for the president to also demonstrate the measures that would be put in place to check abuse because if he is asking for the suspension of the procurement law, can we vouch for his lieutenants not to abuse this by awarding contract to themselves?”
The President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders, (NANTS) Barr. Ken Ukaoha said: “we need to do extra ordinary things if we must pull out this economy from the woods and that includes some of the things the president is seeking the National Assembly approval to do.
“For instance, do we need the amount of aircraft we have on the presidential fleet, off course no. And if we need the president to grant waivers for the procurement of a very essential item that would help in propelling the economy, why not?”
Barr Liborous Oshoma in his submission said: “The problem we currently have is one of trust because at every turn in our National life, the government had come out with proposal like this especially in the disposal of assets as we saw with the Ajaokuta steel, Alaja steel and the power holding companies and the exercise did not achieve its intended aim.
“So you would excuse the fears been expressed by some people, therefore what the government now needs to do is to continue to give the assurance that the implementation would be adequately monitored”
In the bill, the president is seeking powers to give contractors 50 per cent mobilization fees unlike 15 per cent obtainable today. “The 15 per cent is grossly inadequate according to the source.
This is why most projects are abandoned because the 15 per cent the contractors get is not enough to substantially execute projects,” an aide of the president said.