- Asks Buhari to fund Budget with TSA, Pension savings
- Reps in rowdy session over budget padding
For possible solutions to the current economic recession in the country, the federal government has been advised to use the accumulated pension fund for infrastructures and Treasury Single Account to fund the budget.
These were the views of senators who spoke during the special session on the economy chaired by Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Some senators also kicked against the advice of Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki that the federal government should consider selling some key national assets like the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG Holdings in raising capital to shore up the dwindling foreign reserves as a way of revitalizing the economy
Saraki had after resumption from over one month recess by the senators on Tuesday called for part sale of NLNG Holdings, sale of government stake in financial institutions and privatization and concession of airports and refineries so that the country get out of the current economic recession.
This was even as some other senators called for the sack of Ministers of Finance , Mrs Kemi Adeosun and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma by President Muhammadu Buhari for allegedly lacking the required expertise and professional qualifications in managing the economy,
Specifically, the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu in his contribution to debate on economy, said selling assets from our oil investment for quick capital in tackling the recession will put the country in messier economic situation, just as he called on President Buhari to have a critical look on his cabinet towards putting square pegs in square holes.
According to him, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma, a lawyer by profession, would do better if posted to a ministry relevant to his profession as well as the Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, who is an Accountant and not economist.
Ekweremadu also called for restructuring of the federation on the template of fiscal federalism and diversification of the economy for lasting solution against economic crisis of the present magnitude.
The senators were of the view that true federalism should be implemented as well as strengthening the institutions to fight corruption with some disagreeing with selling of national assets.
Amongst the senators who spoke were Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who said “the important thing is for our people to understand what we found ourselves in, what recession is all about. For me in my simple language, we found ourselves in recession, which means there is poverty in the land that the cost of rice, beans and everything had gone up and there is no money to buy them. It means that people are losing their jobs and those employed are not being paid and there is no employment for people that left school. It means in our hospitals there are no medication and people are dying of malnutrition
“I will like to look at both the short term strategy and of course the medium to long term. In the first place, distinguished colleagues, we passed a budget for 2016 and we envisaged the situation we found ourselves and we believe that the best thing to do is to increase the budget for 2016 so as to enable us reflect the economy; but we are almost at the final quarter and yet no release are being made. I think the best thing to do at this point, Your Excellency, distinguished colleagues, is for the government to consciously release as much money as possible into the economy.
“Yes we are saying that no money, the oil price had dropped but we were also told that through the TSA we have about N3 trillion somewhere. We were also told that the former minister of petroleum returned $20 million. We were also told that politicians have returned several billions of naira, dollars and pounds. It is either that this is not true or that the money is somewhere; and if it is not true, someone needs to apologise to us and state the correct thing; and if it is true, this money has to be released to contractors so that contractors will be able to go to work and those in the construction industry will be paid and then, they will pay the school fees of their children and money will circulate. If we have money in the economy, I’m sure that shortly we will also find some relief.
“Secondly, the president needs to look at his cabinet. He has to put square pegs in square holes. Your Excellency, distinguished colleagues, Udo Udoma is my friend, an accomplished lawyer for that matter, but in fairness to him, I believe he can do better in another ministry, especially like trade and investment; certainly not Budget and Planning. There is need to also make probably the man in budget and planning to swap my friend Udo Udoma.
The minister for finance can do much better in another ministry. At this critical time we need somebody who is more experienced to man the ministry of finance so that he can be able to coordinate the strategies for this recovery.
“I also believe that we need to have all hands on deck right now. It does not matter their religion; it does not matter their party. We need to go all out and look for the best brains to come and help us to come out of this recession. America was in recession in the 1930s; they recovered within three years. What did they do? All Americans came together irrespective of your political persuasion and they were able to pass solution. At this point, it does not matter to us whether you are APC or PDP or you are non-ally. The important thing is that the president has to look for the best people to come together to proffer solutions; it does not matter which party you belong,” the deputy Senate president averred.
He added: “I also believe that since oil is one of our major stay, we need to begin to negotiate in terms of engagement with our oil majors. A situation where the production cost in Nigeria is between $18 to $24 is unacceptable, and it is not happening anywhere in the world. If we meet with this people and negotiate it further down, it means we are going to free enough money that will come to the federal government to now help us to deal with the issue of recession. This is the time to call our oil majors and renegotiate the terms of our engagement with them if we have to get money to deal with this issue.
“It is also important to build confidence. A situation where we are telling our people that we are all corrupt, that there is no hope for our economy, it is not helpful. Few days ago I heard the CBN governor say that this recession will soon be over. I commend him because it gives us hope, whether it is true or not, but it is our responsibility here to ensure that it is true, but our people need to hear, not lamentations they want to listen and hear messages of hope. It is important that our people hear the right message. International community heard the right message. When investors are told that our economy cannot recover, that our people are corrupt, that all of us are thieves, there is no way they can put their money in our economy. So, we need to have a change of attitude in the way we market ourselves. This is one fraud we need to deal with.
“The nature of restructuring: We need to unbundle this federal government from the security to power, to agric, to social sectors. A situation where the federal government is in charge of everything is not helpful. We need to unbundle this country; if you like call it restructuring. It might be a long-term strategy and it might be in phases and it is something that we need to do quickly.
“The next thing is that we need to sustain the fight against corruption. But in doing so we have to be fair; we have to be just. We have to ensure that we put machineries in motion that will discourage corruption, not waiting for the corruption to take place and then you are putting people in jail or detaining them. Right now, the instrument of fighting corruption has been in place since 1999 or within the first four years of Obasanjo’s administration, mainly the EFCC and ICPC. I believe that time has come for us to also look at the policy direction and see those things that we need to do to block all the holes that make corruption possible; and that is what other countries are doing. Every country is fighting corruption but there is systemic way of doing it, and it’s not sending people to jail that solves corruption. We need to change and improve on the strategies for dealing with corruption in this country.”
Ekweremadu also posited that the country had never being divided as much as is the case at present.
He decried the manner at which Nigerian deride one another on the social media.
“If you go to the social media and see what Nigerians say about themselves you will fear for this country. This is the time for us to be united. This is the time for the president to ignore this issue of town hall meetings and go directly to the people.
“My people did not vote for Lai Mohammed or any minister; they want to see the president they voted for. The president needs to go round and visit this country and assure them that they are part and parcel of this country called Nigeria. I also believe that in the long term we need to also diversify the economy. I’m happy that this is happening now and it is time for us to learn from the hardship that would enable us to look beyond oil, look at agriculture, tourism, investment, manufacturing, just like other countries, so that we don’t get back to where we are now, and then we need to find ways of dealing with social safety nets so that the vulnerable will have something to eat at the end of the day. Let us redistribute income in our country so that the rich who has will help to support the poor.”
On suggestion for the sale of some national assets, Ekweremadu called for caution, noting that “other countries are not doing the same.”
Other senators who spoke at the plenary included George Akume who posited that “when we said that the blame game is over, I want to emphasise that the blame game is not yet over; we have to know what went wrong.
“Most of us were governors and we knew what President Obasanjo did to create huge reserves for this country and save for the rainy day. That was why by the time he was leaving, over $60 billion was in our foreign reserves; this was very important.”
He said that a lot of money had been reported to have been stolen from the nation, recalling that former CBN governor, Charles Soludo had pointed to a stolen $60 billion.
Akume added that another former governor of the CBN, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi also pointed to another $20 billion that was stolen and could be recovered.
“From these and from monies going through other sources, at least we should be able to recoup over $50 billion.
“If we succeed in doing this, do we still have to sell our assets as is being canvassed? The thing is very straight; there is a buyers’ market and there is a sellers’ market. If we want to dispose of our oil assets at this time when the prices of oil have crashed, precisely how much are you going to realise?
“We are making a mistake here; what we are intending to do is to very unpatriotically ensure that those who are within the bracket of the stolen dollars will still come to buy. I believe that this is not the time to strip these assets.
“Fortunately, the CBN governor made a very powerful statement that the worst days of the recession are over and therefore, we have to look elsewhere and not sell our assets. We should rather focus on industrialisation through agriculture and try to revamp this economy. I am worried because people who are telling us to sell these assets are people who have huge pockets. Our assets must remain for us; even Saudi Arabia didn’t sell part of their national assets as alleged,” Akume hinted.
On his contribution, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso noted that government ought to liaise with states and local governments in training the youths so as to recover the economy.
“The federal government should liaise with states, local governments and other stakeholders in the training and re-training of particularly youths and women in various trades like poultry, horticulture, football making, bee farming, plumbing, mechanic, interior decoration, leather works, butchery, vulcanising, saloon business, livestock, etc.”
Budget padding: Reps in rowdy session
As expected, the House of Representatives was yesterday thrown into a rowdy session over a point of order to suspend the former chairman of Appropriation Committee, Hon. Abdulmumin Jibrin, for six months over breaching the privileges of the House and its members.
Coming under Order 10 Rule 4, the House Committee chairman on Rules and Business, Hon. Emmanuel Oker-Jev said that the privileges of members were breached by Jibrin’s allegation, but was quickly interrupted by members who kept shouting “no! no! No!”
Even when the Speaker, Hon Yakubu Dogara yielded the floor to him, the rowdy session continued that Jibrin should be properly investigated before being suspended.
While this was going on, Jibrin left the chamber and came back after two minutes with some documents, battle-ready to defend his allegations.
He eventually left the chamber when it became obvious that majority of the members were behind the speaker and leadership of the House.
He was also alleged to have committed sundry acts of misconduct against members and the institution of the House.
At this point, members started jubilation, singing victorious songs and hailing the speaker.
Oker-Jev later converted his point of order to a motion of urgent national importance alluding to the fact that Jibrin had breached the House and its members; involved in sundry acts of misconduct against the lawmakers as well as breached of the provisions of the legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act, Cap L12, LFN.
He observed that after he was relieved of his position, Jibrin embarked on a campaign of calumny and denigration by making false and scandalous statements against the entire membership and the institution of the House.
A staunch supporter of Jibrin, Hon Ali Madaki (APC, Kano) was shouted down when he wanted to raise a point of order.
When the session became rowdier, the Deputy Speaker, Hon Yussuff Lasun and few lawmakers were going round to calm the situation.
When the floor was later yielded to Madaki, members started asking him to identify himself properly before going ahead with his point of order.
He stressed that Oker-Jev’s motion was not seconded according to the House Rules.
Madaki also pointed out that it behoves on the speaker and other accused persons to resign in view of the weighty allegations against them.
Dogara, who personally responded, said the motion was seconded, adding that since the privileges of every member was breached, Madaki should first hand over his resignation letter to him.
At this point, members observed a standing ovation for the speaker for his tactical comments and started sharing mufflers with the inscription: “I stand with Dogara”.
The House, therefore, resolved to probe the matter by referring it to the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges headed by Hon. Ossai Nicholas Ossai (PDP, Delta) for further investigation.
The committee was given one week to investigate the matter and report its findings and make appropriate recommendation to the House.
Meanwhile, in his resumption speech, Dogara admitted that the events of the budget padding had given them cause for grave concern.
He said the allegations pose existential threats to the corporate integrity and image of the House as a democratic institution designed by the constitution to play a vital role in Nigeria’s governmental system.
The speaker stated that they were conscious of its watchdog role and assured of always striving to earn the respect of Nigerians.
According to him, “We chose the part of maturity by maintaining great restraint in the face of all these, fully conscious of the fact that at the appropriate time, the truth will prevail.
“I have bad news for those who think they can pull down this institution of the people. If history is any guide, no one, in a democracy has ever succeeded in destroying a democratic Institution such as the House of Representatives, although examples abound of such effort by people both within and outside the Institution. Ours cannot be different.
“Let me assure all Nigerians that the House is fully conscious of its watchdog role in our democracy and will always strive to earn the trust and confidence of Nigerians. We are also patriotic enough to understand the mood of the nation and the critical and sensitive matters of urgent national importance deserving our immediate attention.
“We will therefore not be distracted by any insidious antics however well orchestrated, and falsehoods however cleverly propagated to confuse Nigerians. We remain accountable to Nigerians for our conduct as public servants.
“This is not the appropriate venue to address allegations made against individual honourable members many of which are criminal in nature as there are constitutional avenues for that. This is more so that these matters are before all the security agencies and ridiculously before some foreign missions! It is however important to briefly say that nothing warrants the deliberate attempt at destructive public misinformation aimed at discrediting the House as an institution.
‘These events have shown that we certainly need to engage more with the Nigerian public on the functions and modus operandi of the National Assembly, which is a democratic institution that relies on public support for its activities. I am sure we will emerge from all these stronger and more committed to attainment of national goals than before”.