By Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
*Want Adeosun, Udoma sacked or redeployed
*Call for renegotiation of pacts with oil majors to free funds for devt
*Seek cut in interest rates, provision of guarantees to secure bank deposits
*Ekweremadu, Akume disagree on sale of government oil assets
ABUJA — TO fast track Nigeria’s recovery from economic recession, some Senators, yesterday, urged President Muhammadu Buhari to sack or redeploy some of his ministers, who are currently saddled with the onerous task of managing the economy.
Specifically, the legislators want the Minister of Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and her counterpart in the Ministry of Budget and Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, relieved of their duties or redeployed to other ministries where they could be more competent and productive.
The call was one of the numerous suggestions the lawmakers proffered, yesterday, to put the country on the path of recovery when they began debate on the economic quagmire the country is mired in.
The debate, which came 24 hours after Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, urged the Federal Government to consider the sale of oil assets, saw no fewer than 23 senators reeling out ideas on the way forward.
According to the senators, a quick exit from recession depends on how urgently the nation tackles a host of economic, social, political, educational, health and attitudinal issues.
Short, medium, long term solutions
The senators, who suggested short, medium and long term solutions, urged the government to look at power devolution, granting of autonomy to states and local governments, sale of non-performing assets, renegotiation of agreements with oil majors to free resources for development, confidence building to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) as well as restructuring of the polity.
According to them, President Buhari should engage the masses directly instead of town hall meetings by ministers, reshuffling of his cabinet, and amendment of the constitution to empower the Federal Government to save a percentage of the nation’s revenues against the rainy day.
Other suggestions include full diversification of the economy, encouraging small and medium scale industries to thrive and produce for export, increase in spending by the government, reduction of interest rates, provision of guarantees to safeguard bank deposits, generating new sources of forex earnings, ban of food items that can be locally produced, constitution of boards of federal agencies as well as blockage of leakages in the system.
The lawmakers also asked the government to pacify Niger Delta militants through dialogue to stop the present blowing up of pipelines in the Niger Delta.
They also called for the use of recovered funds to finance the 2016 budget, adding that the government should invest in agriculture, revisit the Treasury Single Account (TSA), borrow in the short term to stabilise the economy, provide legal backing for the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF and the recently launched ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign by President Buhari.
According to them, there is also need for training and empowerment of youths and women, supply of farm inputs like fertilizers and seeds, addressing multiple taxation, review of the minimum wage and demand for higher productivity from civil servants, improvement in the security situation and care for Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, using 10 per cent of the national budget to fund agriculture, increasing the petroleum refining capacity of the nation through establishment of modular refineries, establishment of health and educational centres of excellence to discourage medical and educational tourism.
Ekweremadu, Melaye speak
In their contributions, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu (PDP, Enugu West) and Senator Dino Melaye (APC, Kogi West) called on President Buhari to rejig his cabinet by either sacking incompetent ministers or reshuffling some by sending them to other ministries where they could perform better.
While Ekweremadu urged the President to move the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun and Budget & Planning Minister, Udoma Udo Udoma to other ministries where they could be more productive, Senator Melaye called for outright sack.
Ekweremadu,who particularly asked the President to move Udoma to the Ministry of Trade and Investment, stressed that there was need to restructure by unbundling the Federal Government because it was over-loaded at the moment, adding that there was also the need to diversify the economy.
Ekweremadu and Senator George Akume (APC, Benue North-West), however, opposed the call for sale of government’s oil assets.
Senator Akume cautioned against the calls for the sale of Federal Government assets “since the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele has said the country would come out of recession in the fourth quarter.”
He added: “We should put so much in agriculture to revamp the economy. I am worried because people who are telling us to sell these assets are people who have big pockets. Our assets must remain for us. For many years, we have been talking about cash calls.”
Ekweremadu,however, advocated the need to amend Section 162 (3,4,5,6) of the constitution with a view to stopping the monthly sharing of money among the federal, states and local governments.
Ekweremadu said: “In the first place, distinguished colleagues, we passed a budget for 2016 and we envisaged the situation we ‘ve found ourselves and we believe that the best thing to do is to increase the budget for 2016 so as to reflate the economy. But we are almost in the last quarter and yet no releases 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 there is no money; the oil price has 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 apologize to us and state the correct thing and if it is true, this money has to be released to contractors so that they can go to work and those in the construction industries 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 am 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. The Minister of 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 help us come out of this recession. At this point, it does not matter to us whether you are APC or PDP or you are non-aligned. 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 to.”
Calls for fresh deal between FG, oil majors
Ekweremadu also called for fresh negotiations between the Federal Government and oil companies, saying such negotiations would enable the government to free enough money, adding that the government needed to boost investors’ confidence by stopping the labeling of all Nigerians as corrupt persons.
“We need restructuring. We need to unbundle this federal government from 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.
“I have heard about the issue of selling of our assets. I need to caution that other countries are not doing the same. United Arab Emirates (UAE) does not even allow you to buy oil wells, let alone selling them. And of course, for a country like Saudi Arabia their budget each year is run by investments from their oil revenue. I’m sure we will not be fair to the next generation. So, if we must sell, we have to sell the non-performing assets so that people can turn them around and generate employment. We need to amend Section 162 especially from 3,4,5,6 where each money in the federation account is enjoined to be shared among the other levels of government.”
In his contribution, Senator Matthew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South) noted that the major economic problem was that of militancy in the Niger Delta, just as he urged the Federal Government to resolve the problem and ensure increase in oil production is guaranteed.
Contributing, Senator Peter Nwaoboshi (PDP, Delta North) who decried the cut in allocation for the Niger Delta and Amnesty programme, said that there must be confidence in justice and judiciary for investors to have confidence in Nigeria, just as he stressed the need for dialogue with Niger Delta militants.
Senator Nwaoboshi said: “We all know what is meant by recession. When a country witnesses negative economic growth for two quarters, it is said to be in recession. Mr President, I would like to speak on the issue of rule of law, because for an economy to grow, the investors must know that they will have justice in whatever they are doing.
“So, I want to say here that one of the things that is causing the problem is lack of confidence in our judicial system and in the law that we have in this country. Let me say that that as long as we continue to threaten the militants and the people from that area, they will continue to resist and they will continue to destroy the pipelines there. I believe that if we are talking about the immediate remedy to this recession, we should dialogue with the people in that area.”
On his part, Senator Samuel Anyanwu (PDP, Imo East) called for a critical roundtable discussion, saying the body language of President Buhari must change to attract investors to boost the economy and get the country out of the present economic crisis.
Also contributing, Deputy Chief Whip, Senator Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo North) said, “When this government came on stream, the only commodity we have nosedived to $27 per barrel.
“If we now follow the principle of what you have, there was nothing to share, that is the cause of this recession that we are having now. And to compound it, the supply aspect of the commodity was reduced following the restiveness in the Niger Delta. Now, the immediate solution to this problem is to dialogue with these Niger Delta militants so that the supply side of the crude oil could rise. Again, the TSA should be reviewed since it has generated a lot of controversy so that there can be more money in circulation.”
Senator Mao Ohuabunwa (PDP, Abia North) said, “I want to say here that we need a complete paradigm shift. First and foremost, the constitution has given us power of oversight over all these agencies. The first time we invited the minister of finance and the CBN governor, the minister said it was a technical recession and that we were going to get out of it very soon but we didn’t ask where is the template, where is the landmark, where is the checklist so that at every point, if it’s going to be quarterly or monthly, we tick what we have done. But as I speak to you today, there’s no timeline.
“Having said that, I want to say again that we should watch what we say because at times, they say what you said would be used as evidence against you. When we leave this country and go outside this country and paint this country in a very bad light, then who will come here to invest? When you say that you are so corrupt, who will come here to invest? So, we must watch what we say, I’m talking from a political point of view, not just economic. These are practical things, these are physical things, things we can say and the effect will be immediate. So, I think we should watch what we say, who we talk to and the way we present this country.”
In his contribution, Senator Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central) said that the nation’s dependence on oil revenue has been the problem and that the poor in the country have been living under recession.
Senator Sani said: “It is very unfortunate that we found ourselves here deliberately because we should have forecast that dependence on oil revenue cannot be sustainable. I must say this very clearly that the poor in Nigeria have always lived under recession. And what this recession has done is to increase their hardship.
“You can’t depend on one source of revenue and not find yourself in this kind of situation. We must cut interest rates, start diversification of the economy, empower small businesses so that they will be able to produce and export. The key to getting out of this is export of goods and services.
“Removing the Minister of Finance will not be able to get us out of this problem because this recession is not Nigeria’s alone. It is all countries that are dependent on oil revenue.”
Also contributing, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso (APC, Kano Central) said: “The Federal Government should liaise with states, local governments and other stakeholders in the training and re-training of particularly youth and women in various trades like poultry, horticulture, football making, bee farming, plumbing, mechanics, interior decoration, leather works, butchery, vulcanizing, saloon business, livestock etc.
“The Federal Government needs to create opportunities that will link these trainees with financial institutions like Micro-Finance Banks and where possible assist them with start-up capital. The key driver that will ensure the diversification of our economy is for government to ensure the supply of a reliable and affordable power supply.
Governments should focus more on construction works, agric
Governments spending should be directed at projects like Agriculture and Construction works because these often always have direct multiplying effect on the lives of the citizens. Furthermore, the private sector should also be encouraged to invest in these two sectors.
“Government should ensure timely supply of subsidized farm inputs. Another critical issue that could help address our economic woes is for government to provide fertilizers, seeds and pesticides at a subsidized rate and at the appropriate time before the rains set in.”
Speaking further, Senator Dino Melaye who noted that hunger and poverty neither recognise nor respect political parties or religious affiliations, said, “Let us put politics aside because our bolekaja approach to this boju-boju economics will not help us.”
Melaye who called for more concerted efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), blocking of leakages and dialogue with the Niger Delta Avengers, said there was need for strategic ministries and agencies of government to be manned by competent and experienced Nigerians, even as he called on the Senate President to personally take the resolutions of the Senate after the debate to the President.
Also contributing, Senator John Enoh, PDP, Cross River Central who called on his colleagues to put politics aside and think for the country on how to solve the recession through new direction and initiatives, said that the recession was painful as it is provides an opportunity for the country to re-strategize and move forward, adding, “Let government increase spending. The economy has contracted but deficit spending will make sure the economy does not suffer.”