Reps outraged by presidential spokesman, Abati

The House in session

President Goodluck Jonathan’s spokesperson’s remarks criticizing the House of Representatives for demanding a restoration of petrol subsidy, was “uninformed and unwise,” the House has said.

Reuben Abati’s comments to the media that the lawmakers’ emergency session ahead of nationwide protest against the policy may imply an incitement against government, “was childish,” and underscored the quality of advice available to the president, they added.

“To describe a patriotic attempt by the House of Representatives to intervene on a vexed issue as the removal of fuel subsidy as an incitement is most unfair and uncharitable,” the House said yesterday.

The legislators’ reaction – issued through a rare press statement on Thursday – reflects the intrigues that have surrounded the subsidy controversy at the highest decision-making levels, and may provide an insight into the rumblings between the presidency and the House since the historic January 8 session.

After the sitting, which explicitly urged the president to suspend the policy, Mr. Abati had described the resolution as “merely an opinion” and had upbraided the lawmakers on a television programme for holding a Sunday meeting for such a delicate purpose.

“That extraordinary session coming on the eve of an alleged attempt by some people to disrupt law and order could be interpreted in some quarters as an attempt to incite the Nigerian people against the government,” Mr. Abati, who has faced criticisms for his past opposition to fuel subsidy, is quoted to have said.

“It is most unfortunate that a House of Representatives will hold a special session on a Sunday,” he added.

In a statement signed by the deputy chairman House committee on media, Victor Afam Ogene, the representatives condemned the position as “uninformed, rash, imprudent and unwise by a Presidential Adviser of his ranking.”

“For the avoidance of doubt, the House of Representatives is authorized by its Standing Orders to meet on any day including Sundays as the situation demands,” the statement said.

The House’s position, which was affirmed by the senate at a later session – although not as plainly stated – gave boost to the days of street campaigns by labour and civil society against subsidy removal.

Mr. Abati’s comments gave a clear indication how the move by the House was received by the presidency.  

In the days after, mediatory roles between labour and the presidency have largely been executed by the senate leadership, suggesting a frigid relationship with the House leadership, which is known to have earlier offended Aso rock in the election of speaker Aminu Tambuwal.

An open retort from the lawmakers, presented in an extensively brash tone, homed in that fact.

The lawmakers reminded Mr. Abati that his boss was made president by the resolution of the National Assembly, which he now termed ‘an opinion.”

The statement also recalled several presidential activities that were carried out on a Sunday.

“Ironically, President Goodluck Jonathan, GCFR, on the same Sunday after Church Service, launched the Federal Mass Transit Scheme. Ironically too, the Petroleum Products Pricing and Regulatory Agency, PPPRA, removed the contentious fuel subsidy on Sunday January 1, 2012,” they said.

“It is also worthy of note that the state of emergency in some parts of the country was declared by the President on Saturday December 31, 2012, a day of worship for a section of some Christians.

“The President also sent the declaration of State of Emergency document to the National Assembly on a Saturday to take advantage of the planned sitting of the House of Representatives the next day on a Sunday.”





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