President Muhammadu Buhari Disowns Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, On Fuel Scarcity Cause As 2015 Appropriation Act Is Amended To Terminate On March 31
President Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday disowned his Information Minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who had about 24 hours earlier told Nigerians that persistent scarcity of petroleum products was caused by the immediate past administration which handed over power on May 29.
Rubbishing the minister’s claims, President Buhari who presented a 2016 appropriation bill of N6.08 Trillion, claimed however that the scarcity was “as a result of market speculators and resistance to change by some stakeholders”. He apologized to Nigerians for the pains they are faced with given the product scarcity, adding however that “government is working very hard to end these shortages and bring fuel to the pumps all over the country”.
While describing the current scarcity of petroleum products as unfortunate, President Buhari also recognized that the scarcity is causing a “social dislocation”. He therefore said: “Government profoundly apologizes to Nigerians for this prolonged hardship and misery”.
Presenting the 2016 budget before a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives yesterday, the President said that the sum of N3.86 trillion represents the projected revenue, while the sum of N2.22 trillion represents a debt profile, which is 2.16 percent per Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The capital expenditure revealed an increase from N557 billion in the 2015 Budget to N1.8 trillion in the 2016 Budget.
The UNION reports that the above increment is 30 percent of the total 2016 Budget. Under the capital expenditure, power, works and housing ministry is going to have the sum of N433.4 billion, transport got the sum of N202 billion, special intervention funds got the sum of N200 billion, defence got the sum of N132.6 billion, and interior got the sum of N56.1 billion. For the recurrent expenditure, the education sector got the sum of N369.6 billion, defence got the sum of N294.5 billion, while the interior got the sum of N145.3 billion.
While presenting the Budget estimates before the lawmakers at the Green Chamber, Buhari explained the reason behind the reduction in nondebt recurrent expenditure. “These investments in infrastructure and security are meant to support our reforms in the agriculture, solid minerals and other core job creating sectors of our economy. “Indeed, the future looks bright, and I ask that we all work together to make this vision a reality.
The 223 percent year on year growth in capital expenditure demonstrates our desire to make Nigeria more competitive, and start the journey to deliver sustainable development in our country. “In fulfillment of our promise to run a lean government, we have proposed a 9 percent reduction in non-debt recurrent expenditure, from N2.59 trillion in the 2015 Budget to N2.35 trillion in 2016.
“Furthermore, we have budgeted N300 billion for Special Intervention Programs, which takes the total amount for non-debt recurrent expenditure to N2.65 trillion,” Buhari said. The President said that he has given a directive to the Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA) to adjust its pricing template to reflect competitive and market driven components. He added that the N87 per litre of fuel be maintained for now. “We believe this can lower input costs and attain efficiency savings that will enable PPPRA to keep the selling price for all marketers of petrol at N87 per litre for now,” he said.
He stated that the nation’s economy needs to move away from depending on oil. “Our growth must be inclusive. Nigerians must be part of the growth story. As a government, we shall deliver security, jobs and infrastructure. This is the right of all Nigerians,” the President promised. Buhari also assured that the Budget would address the menacing problem of youth unemployment and general poverty in the land, with particular emphasis on the deplorable conditions of most vulnerable Nigerians.
“I know the state of our economy is a source of concern for many. This has been further worsened by the unbridled corruption and security challenges we have faced in the last few years. “From those, who have lost their jobs, to those young people, who have never had a job, to the people in the North-East, whose families and businesses were destroyed by insurgents, this has been a difficult period in our nation’s history, lessons that we must not forget or ignore, as we plan for the future. “By June 2014, oil prices averaged $112 per barrel.
But as at today, the price is under $39 per barrel. This huge decline is having a painful effect on our economy. “Consumption has declined at all levels. In both the private and public sectors, employers have struggled to meet their (salaries) and other employee related obligations. The small business owners and traders have been particularly hard hit by this state of affairs. “Fellow Nigerians, the confidence of many might be shaken.
However, I stand before you today promising that we will secure our country, rebuild our economy, and make the Federal Republic of Nigeria stronger than it has ever been. “The answers to our problems are not beyond us. They exist on our farmlands, our corporations, in the universities in the hearts and minds of our entrepreneurs, through the gallantry of our Armed Forces, and the resolute spirit of Nigerians, especially the youth, who have refused to give up despite all the obstacles confronting them.
“This Budget proposal, the first by our Government, seeks to stimulate the economy, making it more competitive by focusing on infrastructural development; delivering inclusive growth, and prioritising the welfare of Nigerians. “We believe that this Budget, while helping industry, commerce and investment to pick up, will as a matter of urgency, address the immediate problems of youth unemployment and the terrible living conditions of the extremely poor and vulnerable Nigerians,” he promised.
He reiterated the resolve of his administration to diversify the economy through import substitution and export promotion. The President stressed that such economic strategy would build resilience in the economy and guarantee that the contemporary challenges did not confront the nation’s future generations. “In the medium to longer term, we remain committed to economic diversification through import substitution and export promotion.
This will build resilience in our economy. It will guarantee that the problems we have today, will not confront our children and their children. This shall be our legacy for generations to come,” he stated.
Earlier in his remarks, the Chairman of the National Assembly and Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, said that the 2016 Budget should be pragmatic, encourage local production, and promote made in Nigeria goods. He assured that the National Assembly will move with speed to pass the 2016 Appropriation Bill. “We will not offer scrutiny on the altar of expediency,” he said.
Saraki expressed hope that the Federal Government will respond to the National Assembly for clarification on the 2016 Budget when it is called upon to do so. Delivering a vote of thanks, the Speaker of the House, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara, reminded Buhari that a well crafted budget is not an end in itself. “The real meat of a budget is in its implementation.
While the National Assembly will endeavour to diligently scrutinize and pass the Budget in good time to facilitate early commencement of its implementation. “In this regard, and in order to aid Mr. President to execute and implement the Budget, it may be necessary to take a second look at the constitutional definition of financial year. “Section 318 of the Constitution defines a financial year to mean any period of 12 months, beginning on the first day of January in any year, or such other date as the National Assembly may prescribe,” Dogara said.
Meanwhile, Senate yesterday amended the 2015 Appropriation Act to allow for the extension of the implementation of the Budget from the constitutionally stipulated December 31, 2015 to March 31, 2016. Similarly, the Upper Legislative Chamber has begun a fresh process of further amending the 1999 Constitution.
Sequel to this, the Senate President, Senator Abubakar Bukola Saraki, announced the composition of a new committee headed by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Ekweremadu, who would lead 37 other senators to carry out the exercise, was also the Chairman of a similar committee that was set up by former Senate President, Senator David Mark, in the 7th Senate. Saraki said the 8th Senate has made the amendments of the Constitution its major deliverable.
– Teddy Nwanunobi and Dyepkazah Shibayan, Abuja