By Soni Daniel, Henry Umoru & Joseph Erunke
ABUJA — THE Senate, yesterday, moved against last week’s recommendation of the National Economic Council, NEC, which asked the Federal Government to sell the country’s national assets.
The Senate’s position came on a day the Federal Government said no final decision had been taken on the matter.
NEC had recommended sale of the assets to raise capital to shore up foreign reserves and, by extension, bail out the country from the current economic recession.
The Senate’s decision is in line with recommendations of its ad-hoc committee set up to review its two-day debate, last week.
The committee in its report submitted at plenary, outrightly rejected government’s planned action, a decision which ran contrary to the position of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, who had earlier backed government’s decision.
The Senate, in line with recommendation to that effect, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to, as a matter of urgency, prepare an Economic Stimulus Bill containing all the fiscal stimulus packages, investments and incentives designed to pull the country out of recession to the National Assembly for accelerated consideration and passage.
The committee in its recommendation of the sale of national assets which was, however, rejected, said: “Being a sensitive issue, it should be approached from a commitment to protecting the common patrimony of Nigerians by preventing the assets from falling into the hands of sharks, assets strippers and cannibalizers, while also guarding against the fuelling of further inequities in the society and polity.”
Other salient recommendations adopted by the Senate included urging the executive to ensure constant meeting of fiscal and monetary authorities for harmonization of all policies, particularly lower interest rates for genuine investors in the real sector as well as medium and small scale farmers and processors.
It also recommended that the government must engage in meaningful and inclusive dialogue with aggrieved Niger Delta militants to avoid escalation of unrest in the region and ensure protection of Nigeria’s oil and gas assets. This, it acknowledged, was to facilitate increase in oil production and boost revenue therefrom.
To this end, the recommendation said the President should, as a matter of urgency, appoint a Senior Special Assistant, who should lead a team to coordinate government’s engagement with all stakeholders in the region, specifying that the team should include senators from the zone.
The Senate also adopted the recommendation urging the President to reconstitute Board of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and all other critical agencies, to ensure they operate in accordance with enabling laws.
To solve the age-long problem associated with saving for the rainy day by the Federal Government, the Senate adopted the recommendation seeking amendment of Section 162 of the Constitution to make it possible for the Federal Government to save money to that effect.
To ensure that the recommendations get to the President on time, the Senate also resolved that the report of all the 22-point recommendations should be personally delivered to the President by the Senate President.
After adoption of the resolutions, the Senate Chief Whip, Senator Olusola Adeyeye (APC, Osun Central) rose through Order 43 to emphasise that resolutions now adopted represented the corporate decision of the Senate, against individual submissions made by senators, last week, during the general debate.
No final decision yet — FG
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has said that no final decision had been taken on the issue of sales of the nation’s critical assets.
Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, made the clarification while declaring open the 57th Nigerian Economic Society Annual Conference in Abuja.
Udoma confirmed, however, that the Economic Management Team had been working to put together a stimulus package to be raised from concessioning, advance payment for licence renewals, use of recovered funds and some asset sales.
The minister said the government was still open to contributions and was looking forward to receiving the recommendations from the conference as to how government could deepen and broaden reforms being embarked upon, aimed at restructuring the economy and changing it for good.
The minister said: “This is still being worked upon and is yet to be finalized, or submitted to FEC for consideration. To achieve this speedily, we are working to fast-track procedures through Presidential directives and legislation.
“As an example of the kind of funds we can generate from concessioning, we have a major company that has made a proposal to spend US$2 billion on the revamping of the existing railway line from Lagos to Kano and from Port Harcourt to Maiduguri.”
Udoma urged Nigerians not to lose hope in the economy, but use the current economic crisis as an opportunity to make major structural changes needed to change the country’s economy.
“We must use this crisis to introduce measures that will truly diversify the Nigerian economy by ensuring that the non-oil sector generates enough foreign currency earnings to drive the economy , even without any crude oil earnings.
“Government must use this crisis as an opportunity to promote broader macroeconomic and structural reforms so as to mitigate supply-side constraints and diversify the productive and revenue base of the economy,” he said.
The minister said government’s plans to achieve all these were contained in the Strategic Implementation Plan, which will be expanded into a more comprehensive medium and long term plan, as a successor plan to the country’s Vision 20:2020 Plan.
Made in Nigeria goods
He said further: “The Federal Government has been working with state governments through the National Economic Council, to engender alignment of policies.
“We also organised a retreat with them to share ideas, information and knowledge. We have also been reaching out to the private sector, to academia, to professional bodies, to civil society and other stakeholders.
“As part of efforts in this direction, government is currently collaborating with the private sector to launch a “Made in Nigeria” campaign, with the intention of encouraging quality production and massive consumption of Made in Nigeria goods and services.
“We should encourage the branding of Nigerian products by self-regulatory industry bodies such as wine makers have in France. ‘Made in Nigeria’ should become a badge of quality. As the quality of our goods and services improve, both local and international demand for them will increase.”
According to him, high local demand will give Nigerian producers the platform to explore the export market.
“There is no doubt that one of the fastest routes to grow our economy and to create jobs for our teeming population is by pursuing export-led growth. This strategy also holds high promise of adding to our foreign reserves and further stabilising the Naira.
“We are convinced that this is capable of delivering desired results and potentials for exports to increase foreign exchange earnings and shore up foreign reserves”, he added.
Nigeria, strongest economy in Africa — Adesina
Speaking after being conferred with the Fellowship of the NES, the President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwumi Adesina, dispelled the speculation that Nigeria was in debt crisis, insisting that Nigeria remained the strongest economy in Africa.
While admitting that Nigeria has a revenue problem, he, nonetheless, said the country was a very resilient one, with a very resilient economy.
According to him, this is why AfDB will continue to support its growth aspirations.
He applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for securing the country’s borders, noting that without secured borders, a country’s economy would not thrive.
With appreciable success recorded in the security sector, Dr Adesina said government should also give dedicated attention to the economy.