As expected, attention has shifted to the National Assembly as the legislative body on Tuesday resumed plenary. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives had on January 14, 2015 adjourned plenary to February 17, 2015 to enable members embark on political campaigns.
On resumption, burning national issues such as the 2015 budget, poll shift, controversy surrounding the Permanent Voters Card, PVCs, card reading machines and the Petroleum Industrial Bill, PIB dominated legislative sessions in both chambers.
Shortly before they adjourned, House of Representatives passed the budget estimates of N4.3 trillion for second reading, thus paving way for budget defence by government ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs before the 89 standing committees of the House.
During the budget presentation, the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, hinted that the budget was cut by N357 billion over the 2014 version. She said that the budget was aimed at diversifying the economy in 2015 with more focus on tax revenue. The minister went further to explain that a 10 per cent surcharge on private jets, luxury goods, wines and spirits would take effect from the next fiscal year. She also revealed that a 39% surcharge on luxury yachts and five per cent on cars estimated to raise N1.6 billion and N2.6 billion respectively would be placed on luxury goods to discourage import.
But financial experts have quickly dismissed all these insisting that the budget was far from being realistic. They faulted the $65 per barrel the 2015 budget was pegged at, arguing that it might not be realistic in view of the persistent fall of oil price in the international market. They explained that pegging the benchmark above the current oil price of $60/62 was not good for the country’s economy and therefore urged the executive to ensure strict implementation of all measures being put in place in the 2015 budget proposal to stabilize the economy.
While some of the lawmakers have criticized the budget as unrealistic, others are of the opinion that it is an opportunity for the country to diversify other sectors of the economy like agriculture, tourism and solid minerals.
Picking holes in the budget, the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, Hon. Mohammed Mungono, argued that the proposed N5 billion counterparts funding for special economic development initiative for the North East is not sufficient. He noted that the amount is not enough in view of the massive terrorist onslaughts in the region. The lawmaker recalled that in 2014, government allocated the sum of N2 billion for the said programme, but failed to implement it.
The House Leader, Hon. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, said the N70 billion budgeted to youth development would go a long way in addressing job creation. She said the budget is designed to reduce costs in non essential areas of expenditure and as part of that, cost of governance is expected to reduce such that all trainings of civil servants will be done locally.
“The focus of the budget in 2015 is continuous job creation through infrastructure development, particularly in the areas of power, roads, agriculture, Youth Empowerment in Agriculture Programme, YEAP, housing and construction, creative industry and SURE-P.
“The budget was also designed to reduce costs in non essential areas of expenditure and as part of that, cost of governance is expected to reduce such that all trainings of civil servants will be done locally, with the exception of very few cases, as well as correcting steps to stem corruption in the public service through adequately designed internal expenditure reduction mechanisms.
“The 2015 budget is expected to continue on the path of inclusive growth; it will keep the deficit at a comfortable level (almost at the same level with that of 2014) notwithstanding the global phenomenon in the fall of oil price,” Akande-Adeola pointed out.
To enable them pass the budget before the general elections, the various standing committees have been inviting heads of ministries, departments and agencies of government to come and defend their budget estimates.
Just like the budget, the postponement of the elections to March 28 and April 11 also caught the attention of the lawmakers. Already, the poll shift has not gone down well with many of them, especially the opposition lawmakers, who argued that the shift was a deliberate ploy to rig the polls while PDP lawmakers maintained that the rescheduling of the elections would give the military and INEC ample time to guarantee credible polls.
With what has happened in the polity over the last four weeks, it is most likely that the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, Prof. Attahiru Jega, will appear before the lawmakers to clarify the controversy surrounding the distribution of the PVCs and use of card reading machines. The lawmakers are said to be angry with the INEC chairman and would like to get first hand information from him on what the commission is doing to ensure that all registered voters get their PVCs before the elections. Members of the committees will also need reassurance from the INEC chairman on issues bordering on security, PVCs distribution and how internally displaced persons, IDPs would vote during elections.
Again, the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB would likely come up for discussion. The leadership of both Senate and House has repeatedly assured Nigerians and the international community that the National Assembly is committed to passing the long-awaited PIB in good time, but the passage has remained elusive. Currently, there has been mounting concern over the passage of the bill by relevant stakeholders.
The passage has become more expedient now in view of the numerous challenges undermining the oil industry. In fact, there is no better time to pass the bill than now the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources are in serious need of restructuring.
The PIB, expected to address the shortcomings in the petroleum sector, has been pending before the two chambers of the National Assembly since 2008. The joint Senate Committees on Petroleum Upstream, Downstream, Gas, Judiciary and Legal Matters had in November 2013 concluded its public hearing on the bill, promising that it would be passed into law.
The bill is not only important to Nigerians, but also to the economy of the country. It is also the most controversial bill in the life of this present administration. If there is one bill that has generated much interest and elicited much concern in recent times, it is the PIB.
So as the NASS begins another phase of its legislative duty, Nigeria and indeed Nigerians are anxious to see an accelerated passage of the budget and the PIB.
On its part, the executive must ensure that all measures being put in place in the 2015 budget proposal to stabilize the economy are strictly enforced and implemented.

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