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House Still Divided over Oil Benchmark, Denies $100,000 Bribe from Executive

The  division among lawmakers over the appropriate oil benchmark for the 2014 budget resurfaced yesterday in  the House of Representatives as they failed to forge a consensus after about two hours meeting behind closed doors.
 
The meeting was held  preparatory to talks between the House and the Senate with a view to harmonising their differences over the oil benchmark.
 
The House also denied an allegation that its leadership had received  $100 million from the executive to facilitate the passage of the budget.  THISDAY  gathered yesterday that the House after the two-hour meeting could not agree on whether to retain the $79 per barrel as oil benchmark that it adopted on  November 14 when it passed the Medium Term Expenditure Framework and the Fiscal Strategy Paper (MTEF/FSP)   or agreed with the Senate's version of $76.50 per barrel.
 
Although the $79 is consistent with the crude oil benchmark of the 2013 budget, it differs from President Goodluck Jonathan’s proposal, which is $74.
 
The 2014 budget was not the only issue the House considered yesterday as it also discussed  Monday's attacks on Maiduguri by Boko Haram insurgents during which they destroyed five aircraft  while about 26 persons, including 24 terrorists.
 
On the alleged $100 million bribe,    Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Publicity, Hon.  Ogene, dismissed the allegation that the House leadership was compromised, thus the delay in resolving the impasse over the oil benchmark.
"I have always insisted that we cannot be blackmailed as a House. Moreover, it doesn't make sense that the same House that collected bribe and kept it, will insist on $79 per barrel as its ceiling of the crude oil benchmark.
 
"If anybody gave money to anyone, he should name the person," he said.
Ogene also confirmed that the House had not shifted its position on the oil benchmark despite the disagreement among members.
 
He said: "Arguments centered on $76.5 per barrel. There were also those insisting on $79 per barrel. As we speak, $79 per barrel is the position of the House. But several members in their own wisdom decided that the committee should be given a free hand  to pursue the negotiations.
 
"The committee is better informed now. Whatever they come up with, they will report back to the House." 
 
He also spoke on a possible change in the House leadership in the wake of the defection of lawmakers loyal to the splinter group in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
 
He explained that " as soon as the mandatory 181 is attained by the fusion, it follows naturally that the majority leader and the minority leader, as well as other positions will change."
 
"Only the speaker and his deputy owe their positions to the generality of the House," while the remaining leaders got theirs by fiat from being members of their respective political parties, he added.
 
He also said the House was worried about the attacks on Maiduguri Airport, considering that it just recently approved the president's request to extend emergency rule in three states of the north-east region, including Borno.
 
He said during a deliberation on the issue,  individual lawmakers made their contributions, which the House mandated the relevant committees to assemble and present to the security agencies.
 
THISDAY learnt that the House had granted the president's request for extension of the state of emergency for political reasons.
 
"He (the president) benefitted from our parliamentary courtesy when the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) came to brief us on the security situation in the affected areas.
 
"Actually, the CDS didn't say anything that would warrant us granting an extension. But, considering the fact that 2015 is just at the corner and some of us need to go back to our constituencies to canvass for votes, the emergency was a welcome development. So, we acquiesced to the president's request," a source said.
 
The prevailing fissure within Meanwhile, the United States was yesterday inundated by the demand for assistance by the  Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, on the conduct of the 2015 elections and the growing insecurity in the country.
 
This is as the House received a letter from President Jonathan, with whom the leadership met privately on Monday. The letter requested the House to fast track the passage of the appropriation for the  Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and the Universal Service Provision Trust Fund (USPTF).
 
Tambuwal made the request in the wake of the attack on Maiduguri airport, saying:
"Without a credible electoral system we cannot have a workable democracy.
 
 
Regretting the Maiduguri incident, the Speaker pledged with the US to support the country for 2015 elections and security., emphasising that sustainable democracy is not feasible without  a credible electoral system.
 
Earlier, the United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Mrs. Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who led a delegation of diplomatic staff at her Bureau to pay a courtesy call on the Speaker, assured of the country's support.
 
Mrs. Thomas-Greenfield who was appointed in her position five months ago, had served in Angola and Lagos in the past.
 
She said as a Diplomat with a thorough understanding of Nigeria, its people and challenges, she will do her best on the demands

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