Teddy Nwanunobi, Abuja
The Senate, Wednesday, continued its debate on the way out of the current economic crisis which was kick-started by the Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki in his speech on Tuesday.
At Wednesday plenary which was dedicated wholly to the debate, 24 Senators gave their opinions on how to exit the harsh economic realities.
Among the far reaching short and long term solutions proffered by the Senators included power devolution, granting of autonomy to states and local government, sale of non-performing assets, renegotiation of agreements with oil majors to free resources for development, confidence building to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), restructuring of the polity, direct engagement of the people by President Muhammadu Buhari as against the town hall meetings being held by ministers, cabinet reshuffle and Constitution amendment to empower the Federal Government to save a percentage of the nation’s revenues against raining days.
Other suggestions are full diversification of the economy, encouragement of small and medium scale industries to thrive and produce for export, increase spending by government, reduction of interest rates, provision of guarantees to safeguard bank deposits by the Federal Government, creation of new sources of forex earnings, constitution of boards of federal agencies, blocking leakages in the system, pacification of Niger Delta Militants through CBN, ban of some food items that can be locally produced, deployment of recovered funds to finance the 2016 budget, investment in agriculture, revisiting the Treasury Single Accounts (TSA), borrowing on the short term to stabilize the economy, provision of Legal backing for the sovereign wealth fund and the recently launched ‘change begins with me’ campaign by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The training and empowerment of youths and women, supply of farm inputs like fertilizers and seeds as a way of encouraging return to the land by the people, addressing multiple taxation, review of the minimum wage and demand of 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 finance agriculture, increasing the petroleum refining capacity of the nation through establishment of modular refineries, reform of health and education sectors to discourage medical and educational tourism, strengthening the rule of law and the justice system, revisiting the cut in the amnesty budget for ex-militants, balancing of imports with local production to grow local businesses, spending on infrastructural development, stoppage in tax increases, boosting local production and proper planning to aid development also formed part of the lawmakers prescriptions.
Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume had opened the debate by giving his colleagues a general overview of the recession malaise, pointing out that the recession affect most countries that depend largely on oil revenue for their sustenance and not peculiar to Nigeria alone.
On his part, Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu said that recession simply means that there is poverty in the land.
As a short term measure to redress the recession, Ekweremadu called on the Federal Government to consciously release money into the economy to stem the financial decline. He said the Federal Government could inject recovered funds put at about N3trillion to finance the capital component of the 2016 budget.
He also called on President Buhari to reshuffle his cabinet with a view to putting the right caliber of persons in the right places. He further said it had become imperative for the federal government to renegotiate its agreements with oil majors with a view to increasing what accrues to the government from their operations.
He said the federal government needs to build confidence by not blowing the war against corruption out of proportion thereby discouraging potential investors who wants to establish businesses in the country.
“We need to prevent corruption and not wait for it to take place first before fighting it,” he said.
On the long term solutions, according to the Deputy Senate President, there is need to restructure the country by devolving powers to the states and local governments and that the President should takes steps to unify the nation by making his voice heard across the country through visit to states instead of ministers organizing town hall meetings.
He also stated that Federal Government should sell off non-performing assets as well as amend the constitution to give the federal government the legal backing to save some percentage of the nation’s revenues against the raining day.
Senator Shehu Sani in his contribution said there is need to chart a new national direction. He decried over-dependence on one source of revenue for too long saying there is need for urgent diversification of the economy.
Sani said it is time to cut interest rates and also support small scale industries to produce goods for exports, adding that the “sharing formula federalism” led the nation to the dire situation confronting Nigerians today.
Senator John Enoh called on his colleagues to put politics aside and think for the country on how to solve the recession through new direction and initiatives.
He said the recession was painful as it is provides an opportunity for the country to re-strategize and move forward. “Let government increase spending. The economy has contracted but deficit spending will make sure the economy do not suffer,” Enoh said.
The lawmaker further called on the federal government to provide guarantees for depositors funds in the various banks to prevent Nigerians from running to the banks to withdraw their deposits due to lack of confidence.
He called for board of federal government agencies to be immediately constituted by the executive as a confidence building measure.
On his part, Senator Dino Melaye noted that hunger and poverty do not recognize nor respect political parties or religious affiliations. “Let us put politics aside because our bolekeja approach to this boju-boju economics will not help us,” he said.
The Kogi West lawmaker called for more concerted efforts to attract Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs), blocking of leakages and dialogue with the Niger Delta Avengers. Senators Peter Nwaoboshi, Francis Ailimikhena and Mao Ohunabunwa also agreed with Melaye in the employment of dialogue to rein in the Niger Delta militants who are destroying pipelines and thereby drastically reducing the revenue inflow to the federal government.
Melaye further reiterated the need for strategic ministries and agencies of government to be manned by competent and experienced Nigerians.
He called on the Senate President to personally take the resolutions of the Senate after the debate to the President.
Senator George 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 urged the Federal Government to recover the over $50billion foreign reserve accumulated by ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo but which was allegedly looted during the last administration.
Other senators who contributed included Senators Sam Anyanwu, Mohammed Hassan, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Isiaka Adeleke, Emmanuel Bwacha, Adamu Aliero, Danjuma Goje, Peter Nwaoboshi, Shabba Lafiaji, Barnabas Gemade, Albert Bassey, Matthew Urhoghide, Fatimat Raji-Rasaki, Kabiru Marafa, Lanre Tejuoso, Sam Egwu, Francis Ailimikhena and Mao Ohuanbunwa.
Senate President, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki thanked his colleagues for being nationalistic and patriotic in their contributions and said the Senate will further take a look at the recommendations after conclusion of debate before coming up with a formal resolution today (Thursday).