A motion on the “misuse of public funds” by the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Lamido Sanusi, caused a rowdy session at the House of Representatives on Wednesday as members on opposing sides almost got into a fistfight. A member from Kano State, Mr. Aminu Suleiman, accused the Speaker, Mr. Aminu Tambuwal, of taking sides in the matter.
A member from Yobe State, Mr. Goni Lawan, described Sanusi’s donation of N100m and N25m to Kano and Madalla bomb blast victims respectively as “an act of terrorism.”
He said, “When I first heard of the action of the CBN governor, I was surprised. I asked whether Yobe and Borno states were not parts of Nigeria, as these attacks took place there first.
“There was a time during the General (Ibrahim) Babangida (retd.) era when there was a coup (Gideon Orka coup) and they said some of us were excised from Nigeria.
“So, I had to check the 1999 Constitution again to be sure that Yobe and Borno were still parts of Nigeria.
“This action by the CBN governor is an act of terrorism; in fact, he is a terrorist. Sanusi is causing confusion in this country.
“Up till today, Yobe and Borno states have not received any assistance from the Federal Government on this issue of attacks.”
For over 15 minutes after the submission, proceedings were suspended as the Speaker of the House, Aminu Tambuwal, tried to restore normalcy.
But for the intervention of principal officers such as the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Emeka Ihedioha, and the Deputy Minority Leader, Mr. Suleiman Kawu, some lawmakers would have exchanged blows.
Some members of the Kano State caucus including Suleiman and Mr. Bashir Babale staged a walkout in reaction to the tone of the debate which condemned Sanusi for donating public funds to the victims of the bomb blasts in Kano and Madalla.
Mr. Mohmmed Wudil attempted to walk out also but was prevented by Kawu.
Trouble started after Tambuwal had ruled in favour of the (majority) vote supporting the condemnation of the action of Sanusi. Suleiman suddenly raised a point of order, accusing Tambuwal of taking sides.
He claimed that the speaker did not allow those who opposed the motion to speak.
He said, “It is most unfair that you gave those speaking for the motion over one hour.
“You prevented us from contributing to a motion that we believe was not well-intended.
“The debate in support of the motion started at 11.25am and ended at 1.15pm; it is not fair that we were not allowed to speak against the motion.”
In response, the speaker said he sighted Suleiman raising his hand to speak in support of the motion earlier, and expressed surprise that the same lawmaker claimed that he wanted to oppose it.
He further explained that when he asked whether anybody wanted to speak against the motion, there was silence, prompting him to rule in favour of the majority.
“On my honour, I saw your hand up several times when it was time to speak for the motion.
“The procedure is that those speaking for will speak first, then ‘the against’ will take their turn.
“But, I saw you raise your hand to speak for the motion,” Tambuwal countered.
He, however, insisted that his ruling was final.
As anger boiled on the floor, Babale rushed from his seat and attempted to hit Lawan who had earlier criticised Sanusi’s donations.
Lawan had accused the CBN governor of being discriminatory in donating money to his kith and kin in Kano.
He recalled that Borno and Yobe states had suffered more attacks by the Boko Haram sect and ought to have received assistance before any other state.
Lawan also listed Plateau, Gombe and Adamawa states as areas that had suffered losses as a result of the activities of theBoko Haram sect before Kano State.
His comments infuriated Babale, who got up from his seat and tried to engage Lawan in a fight but was prevented.
The sponsor of the motion, Mr. Uzor Azubike (Abia State), had observed that Sanusi was using the CBN to play roles that were outside its core mandate of directing government’s monetary policies.
Azubike told the House that there was no provision in the CBN Act, which permitted it to donate to projects or provide funds for disaster and crime victims.
He recalled that besides the donation of N100m and N25m to the bomb blast victims in Kano and Madalla respectively, Sanusi also donated N500m for the “building of a bridge at the University of Benin.”
Azubike noted that these donations came after the controversial N650bn the CBN spent in 2010 to bail out six ailing banks in the country.
“Mr. Speaker, this House has to ask Sanusi to tell us whether he is the CBN or whether the CBN has the legal power to donate public funds freely.
“The CBN Act does not make any provision for the bank as an institution or the governor to make such donations,” he added.
The Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, supported the motion which accused Sanusi of “taking care of his own (people)” by his action, a contravention of Section 42 (1b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
Gbajabiamila stated that by doling out public funds at will, Sanusi was sending a signal that “he is more powerful that Mr. President, who cannot spend a kobo unless appropriated by the National Assembly.”
He said, “We have to define the primary responsibility of the CBN. Is it a donor agency, charity organisation or regulator of the monetary policy of the country?
“Are the funds in the CBN private or public funds? His actions are illegal, especially when he hides under corporate responsibility, a role not created for the CBN.”
A lawmaker from Rivers State, Mrs. Betty Apiafi, reminded the House that the CBN governor had already told the National Assembly that the bank’s budget could not be subjected to appropriation, a reason he could spend money as it pleased him.
Outside the chambers where he continued to protest, Babale insisted that the speaker took sides, as he allegedly ignored those who wished to oppose the motion.
“We raised our hands but it did not take five seconds before the speaker made the ruling,” he said.
He also told journalists that many members from Kano State did not take Lawan’s contributions kindly for alleging discrimination against Yobe and Borno states.
“We expected him to say that the CBN governor should address all the affected areas holistically. “Instead, he was personalising it, tilting towards Kano, which is not fair,” he said.
The lawmaker said the people of Kano State were still grieving over the “over 300 lives” lost in the bomb blast.
He observed that making an issue out of the N100m was sending the message that money was valued more than human lives.