COVID-19: Reps seek 2-month free power supply to Nigerians

The House of Representatives is to consider a fresh Stimulus Bill that will ensure that Nigerians get free electricity supply for two months to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Speaker Rep. Femi Gbajabiamila has said.

The Speaker said the proposed Bill is to help in boosting the economy through the informal sector as the country prepares for the aftermath of the coronavirus.

The proposed Bill, which will be the second Stimulus Bill by the Green Chamber, is to be considered immediately the House reconvenes from its ongoing break, declared due to the pandemic.

It has, however, been agreed by the leadership of the National Assembly that the resumption date, initially slated for April 7, will be extended by one week in compliance with the government’s 2-week stay-at-home policy.

Gbajabiamila spoke at the National Assembly on Saturday during a meeting between the National Assembly leadership and the Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmad, the Director-General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Ben Akabueze, among others.

The Senate President, in his opening remarks, noted that the meeting, the second in about 10 days, was a testimony of the commitment of both arms of government at addressing the issues holistically.

He assured that the Nigerian parliament would perform its constitutional roles towards ensuring that Nigerians benefit from all efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease.

While noting that Nigerians must be assisted to weather the storm of the virus, Lawan added that critical decisions needed to be taken but must be legal, which makes it important that the legislature is part of the entire process.

On his part, Gbajabiamila said the country could not afford to be unprepared for the effect of COVID-19 on its economy.

Explaining the necessity for the proposed stimulus bill for the electricity sector, the Speaker said electricity, being a commodity consumed by every household, has a greater effect on the people and that since more Nigerians are in the informal sector, the effects would be more felt by the economy.

“The issue of electricity, you’ll agree, because the Minister did say that she has been inundated by the public, just as we are, on several suggestions and ideas and I am almost a hundred percent sure that, from those ideas will be the issue of some kind of shelter, as far as electricity is concerned.

“It is one thing that will touch every household. As I said earlier, when we engaged, I discussed with the electricity Distribution Companies (DisCos) that packaged whatever they would require, if the government can give them, for us to allow for two months free electricity for Nigerians, they would be able to guarantee it.

“We have figures. I think we should look very seriously into that as part of our package for economic stimulus because stimulus means something that will stimulate the economy. When you are stimulating the economy, most of it will come from the informal sector.

“When you are saving people their electricity and the fact that they now have stable electricity for two months, you are also saving the monies that would go into the payment of those bills at least for two months.”

On the need by the Executive arm to source for funds in the fight against coronavirus and its socio-economic effects, the Speaker restated the determination of the National Assembly to partner the Executive in efforts aimed at mitigating the effects of the disease on Nigerians and the economy.

He, however, noted that all government funds and private donations must be transparently accounted for.

He said: “Definitely, you will be taking loans from the Special Accounts, and as the Senate President said, it has to be backed by law, which again emphasizes the need to collaborate as earlier stated by the Minister.

“There has to be a collaboration. It cannot be a unilateral decision from the National Assembly; it can’t be a unilateral decision from the Executive; there has to be a collaboration. I’m glad that we are on that trajectory.

“I’m glad that my earlier discussion with the Honourable Minister on food and other items seized by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) has been taken care of, as stated by the Minister.

“We need to, as soon as possible, and let the public know. On the issue of Presidential Task Force (PTF), none of us here, I don’t think any legislator can point to, who exactly is in charge. Where does the buck stop?

“Who is in charge of the disbursement? Who is in charge of the distribution of cash? Who decides what money goes where?

“Now, it is incumbent on the National Assembly to follow the money. Constitutionally, any money that comes into Nigeria, there has to be oversight.

“That is why, we in the House have directed our Committees on Health, Disaster Management, and Preparedness and Donor Agencies to talk to the PTF, talk to the Minister of Health and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

“I wrote letters to all these people, but I wasn’t sure where exactly the buck stops. We need to clearly define exactly who is handling the money, who is handling what?

Gbajabiamila also urged the Finance Minister and her team to consider all options put forward by experts on preparation against the economic effects of coronavirus outbreak.

Earlier, the Minister for Finance, said among other measures, the establishment of an N500bn COVID-19 Crisis Intervention Fund is on the table.

She said the money is expected to be raised from various Special Funds and Accounts in consultation with and with the approval of the National Assembly.

The intervention fund will be utilized to finance the Federal Government’s support to the state in improving their healthcare facilities and also finance the creation of a Special Public Works Programme

She also explained the need to revisit the 2020 national budget has become imperative, saying, “It has been established that Nigeria is currently facing significant fiscal risks due to the worsening global economic outlook.

“Specifically, Nigeria is highly vulnerable to the current global economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis; and exposed to the risks of both a pronounced decline in oil prices and spikes in risk aversion in the global capital markets.”

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