National Assembly

Since last week Tuesday when the National Assembly resumed from its annual vacation to begin a debate on the state of the nation’s economy, there have been mixed reactions to the divergent opinions expressed by lawmakers on the way out of the current economic recession. BODE GBADEBO AND ADEBIYI ADEFAPO write on what actually transpired in both chambers.

It was the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who during the Eid-el-Kabir holidays hinted that the Senate would on resumption look into the biting economic recession in order to proffer solutions to the Executive arm of government for implementation as a way out.

And on Tuesday, September 20, 2016 when lawmakers resumed from their recess, the Senate deferred the debate to the next legislative sitting in order to observe a parliamentary tradition in honour of a deceased member of the House of Representatives, Hon. Elijah Adewale, who had died on Thursday, July 21, 2016 – same day the Assembly went on recess.

But before the adjournment of the day’s proceedings, Saraki delivered a thought-provoking speech, which effect is still reverberating.

In fact, many had erroneously mistaken the Senate President’s opinion as that of the institution of Senate or the National Assembly and the reason behind this is not farfetched – Saraki’s 9-point agenda or what he described as “needful” measures to end the recession are far-reaching.

He said the steps are what President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government should take in order to demonstrate that it was ready turn the nation’s economy around for the better.

Saraki opined that government should, among others, raise capital from asset sales and other sources to shore up foreign reserves; consider tweaking the pension funds; the Executive must immediately put in place leadership-level engagement platform with the private sector.

Others are re-tooling of export promotion policy scheme with incentives such as the resumption of the Export Expansion Grant (EEG); meaningful engagement amd dialogue with Niger Delta militants and avoiding an escalation of the conflict in the region.

He urged the federal government to consider immediate release of funds to ensure the implementation of the 2016 budget for the near short term to inject money into the economy.

By Wednesday when the debate started with Senators taking the turn to make contributions and Thursday when it ended, they virtually agreed on most recommendations except the idea of selling off the national assets to raise funds.

Recall that the Senate had on Thursday set up an adhoc committee to harmonise all contributions and come up with an official position of the Senate on the matter, it is however pertinent to point out that all positions attributed to the Senate by both conventional and new media were wrong as the Red Chamber was yet to take a decision until last Tuesday when it reconvened.

While Saraki is for sale of assets, his deputy, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, disagreed with the notion, pointing out that it will be unfair to the coming generations.

Ekweremadu however noted that if the sale of national assets becomes imperatives, only the non-performing ones should be sold for the new owners to turn around and create employments.

For his part, Senator George Akume, also called for caution, saying that a lot of money had been reported to have been stolen from the nation’s coffers, recalling that a former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, Charles Soludo, once raised the alarm over a stolen $60 billion.

Akume added that another former CBN governor, who is now the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, also raised the alarm over another $20 billion oil proceeds that was stolen, which 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 your oil assets at this time when the prices of oil has crashed, precisely how much are you going to realise?,” Akume said.

Many Senators who opposed the sale of assets opined that if critical national assets are sold off now in order to end the current economic recession, there would nothing left to sell if the phenomenon re-occur in future, warning that it will be suicidal to do.

Apart from the lawmakers, Nigerians are also divided on the idea of selling assets to end the recession even as they don’t care about several other measures being canvassed by individuals, experts and various professional groups on the way out.

On Tuesday when adhoc committee, which collated Senators’ views, chaired by Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi) submitted its report and subsequently adopted after amendments, it became clear that the Senate was officially opposed to sale of assets.

Instead, the Senate in its recommendations urged Buhari to come up with an Economic Stimulus Bill to be considered by the National Assembly and eventually passed into law in order to turn around the economy.

The Red Chamber also urged the Executive to harmonise all policies that lower interest rates for genuine investors in real sector and medium and small scale farmers and processors even as Senators urged the government to explore every avenue to restore the oil production target of 2.2 million barrels per day and adopt peaceful means to stop the vandalisation of petroleum and gas assets in the Niger Delta region, among others.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives or the Green Chamber, no position has been taken save for the call that President Buhari should come and address a joint session of the National Assembly on the economic downturn.

The House had last week Thursday passed a motion seeking the concurrence of the Senate to invite President Buhari to a joint sitting of the National Assembly on the nation’s current economic crisis.

Particularly, the President is expected to explain to the National Assembly government’s immediate plan to lead Nigeria out of economic recession.

Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara during the plenary stated that the lower assembly would set-up an ad-hoc committee to liaise with a similar committee of the Senate, so as to advice the executive arm of government on policy measures that could help the country out of recession.

Dogara said members of the committee would be announced next week.

“The committee members will be announced next week, this committee, and will liaise with the Senate, so that the National Assembly’s position will be crafted and sent to the executive to see how it will help them to form policies that will lead us out of this situation,” he said.

The House while adopting a motion by Hon. Mukaila Olayiwola Kazzim, on the urgent need to the nation’s economic recession, noted that there is a need for the President to brief a joint session on the way out of the economic crisis.

The legislators urged the President to direct the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the Federal Ministry of Finance and the National Planning Commission to review the existing monetary policy with a view to developing sustainable lending rates and right environment that will foster real sector growth to enhance economic development.

Also, the House advised government to commence steps to resuscitate the comatose government owned industries which will generate employment, provide raw materials for local producers and preserve scarce foreign exchange.

According to the motion, government must develop attractive policies to private investment for the commercial exploration of solid minerals and also pay attention to non-oil sector such as tourism, automobile industry.

However, a cross section of members during the debate expressed reservation over ability of the government’s economic team to lead the country of of recession.

The members are of the opinion that the economic team which lead the country into recession should not be trusted enough to proffer the solution.

The Member representing Egbeda South/Ipokia federal constituency in Ogun state, Adekunle Akinlade in his submission noted that the economic team that led Nigeria into recession is unlikely to have a good post-recession plan.

“The economy cannot fall into recession by itself, it requires the human beings that manage the economy to make the economy fall,” he said.

In the same vein, the member representing Idah/Ibaji/Igalamela/Ofu federal constituency in Kogi state Hon. Emmanuel observed that Nigeria requires a crack team of economists that will find solution to the crisis.

He advised government to immediately negotiate with militants in the Niger -Delta s as to increase oil revenue.

“Nigeria Needs a crack team of experts that can find solution to the economic problem. Also, we must have to as a matter of urgency negotiate and approach the problem with a high level of diplomacy, you don’t take a battle to where the egg is laid,” he said.

Hon. Abiodun Adeogun who represents Ife-Central/Ife-East/Ife-North federation constituency in Osun state, said managing the country’s economy was beyond the capacity of the CBN governor and his likes.

“We shall not allow the CBN governor to us his arrogance to destroy the country,” Adeogun said.

The green chamber also observed that government was not proactive in dealing with the economic crisis.

Hon. Oluwole Oke, representing Obokun/Oriade federal constituency also from Osun state, observed that diversification of the economy would not provide an immediate solution to the crisis.

He also observed that the government’s economic team did not present a coherent policy towards driving the country out of recession.

“Diversification of the economy will not take Nigeria out of recession within a day, and the policy somersault from the executive arm of government is worrisome. One person will say something today and another person will say the contrary,” Oke said.

In the same vein, the member representing Barkinladi/Riyom federal constituency in Plateau state, Gyang Dung advised government to faction out a short term interim measure as a way of social intervention to address the hardship.

The House advised government to find an immediate solution to the crisis in the Niger Delta area, noting that economic diversification will not immediately lead the country out of recession.

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