In a bid to find quick solutions to the economic recession in the country, the Senate yesterday commenced debate on the issue, with Senate President Bukola Saraki presenting a 14-point plan to the federal government on how to make the crisis the shortest ever in history.
The Senate’s roadmap out of the recession was contained in Saraki’s speech to welcome his colleagues back from their annual vacation.
Going by the importance attached to finding urgent solutions to the recession, the Senate plenary commenced at 10.10 a.m. after the presiding and principal officers of the Senate filed into the chamber.
• The executive must immediately put in place leadership-level engagement platform with the private sector.
• Consider tweaking the pension funds policy within international best practice safeguards to accommodate investment in infrastructure and mortgages.
• The federal government and Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) must agree on a policy of monetary easing to stimulate the economy and harmonise monetary and fiscal policies until economic recovery is attained.
• Re-tool its export promotion policy scheme with incentives such as the resumption of the Export Expansion Grant (EEG), and introduce export-financing initiatives.
• Engage in meaningful dialogue with those aggrieved in the Niger Delta and avoid an escalation of the conflict in the region.
• Consider the immediate release of funds to ensure the implementation of the budget for the near short term to inject money into the economy.
• Similarly, the agricultural sector and agro-allied businesses should be directly supported to boost value addition and jobs creation.
• While government works on the medium to long-term plans, immediate strategies must be devised that would ease the suffering of the ordinary people across the country.
• The legislature and executive must co-operate to ensure the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) into law as soon as possible to stimulate new investment and boost oil revenue.
Saraki added that while the executive is working on the recommendations enumerated above, the National Assembly should support it with the necessary legislations and oversight activities such as:
• Accelerate bills aimed at reforming the mortgage sub-sector for growth and accessibility in a manner that deepens people’s access to housing, jobs and economic activities.
• Work on the National Development Bank of Nigeria (Establishment) Bill 2015 which will provide long term cheaper source of funds to the private sector.
• Quickly commence work on the amendment of the Nigerian Ports and Harbours Authority Act (Amendment) Bill 2016; National Road Fund (Establishment, etc); National Transport Commission Act 2001; Warehouse Receipts Act Bill 2016; Review of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), Investment and Securities Act (ISA) and Customs and Excise Management Act; Federal Competition Bill 2016; and the National Road Authority. These bills and some of the other economic reform bills will be considered in the coming days.
• Explore the possibility of backing certain key government policies with legislations that have time limitations. This will help give confidence to investors to go into certain areas of the economy and invest without the fear that such policies will suffer reversals and loss of investment.
Elaborating on the proposals from the Senate, Saraki lamented the current economic recession, recalling the contraction of the gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate in the second quarter of 2016 to 2.06 per cent following a decline to -0.36 per cent in the first quarter.
He pointed out that with the current trend, “the Nigerian economy has had two consecutive quarters of economic contraction”.
Saraki advised the government of President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately put the machinery in place to raise capital from the sale of assets and other sources with a view to raising foreign reserves, encouraging investors and discouraging currency speculation.
He said the federal government, in its search for economic recovery, should sell some of its assets including its holdings in the Nigeria Liquefied and Natural Gas (NLNG) Company; reduce government shares in upstream joint venture operations; sell government stakes in financial institutions; and concession and privatise major airports and refineries.
Saraki also suggested the need to situate pension funds within the international best practices to boost infrastructure investment, adding that both the federal government and the CBN must evolve uniform policies to stimulate the economy and ensure that local borrowing does not overshadow credit for the private sector.
“The executive must raise capital from asset sales and other sources to shore up foreign reserves. This will calm investors, discourage currency speculation and stabilise the economy. The measures should include part sale of NLNG holdings; reduction of government share in upstream oil joint venture operations; sale of government stake in financial institutions e.g. Africa Finance Corporation; and the privatisation and concession of major/regional refineries and airports.
However, Saraki talked tough, warning all who choose to introduce politics into the Senate’s roadmap to assist the government in salvaging the system by accusing it of disloyalty to steer clear, pointing out that the Senate would not be cowed by such insinuations to jettison its constitutional responsibilities.
He insisted that the Senate would take tough decisions capable of repositioning the economy irrespective of whose ox is gored.
He said: “Distinguished colleagues, let me also state clearly that we shall not hide under the cloak of partisan solidarity to abdicate our constitutional responsibility under the principles of checks and balances.
“We shall make critical interventions whenever they become necessary and undertake emergency actions whenever they are required, within the confines of the constitution.
“The task at hand requires us to take tough decisions and do all that is necessary to dig our economy out of this recession. This imperative must take precedence over partisan loyalty. This is what the people expect of us and it is the only way we can continue to justify our presence here.
“As I had mentioned earlier, on our part, we will do the following: Go immediately to debate the state of the economy and come up with economic measures that we will submit to the executive. This, we will do, along with passing the necessary legislation we have identified.”
He urged his colleagues to put behind them ethnic, religious and political sentiments and confront the current challenges in the spirit of unity and oneness, pointing out that even though he is the most persecuted functionary by Buhari’s government, he would yet not be swayed by that to be indifferent to the current economic crisis.
In this regard, he encouraged his colleagues to imbibe the same spirit in the handling of the situation.
“I do not think anybody in this chamber has gone through more political persecution than myself since the inception of this government, but I will be the last to fold my arms and say that the current economic problem is not my problem. No, it is,” he said.
While further tasking his colleagues to brace up for the current challenges, Saraki said this was not the time to engage in a blame game or political horse-trading but rather the time to be deeply committed to ending the economic crisis, bearing in mind that Nigerians are desperate for solutions and so “don’t care about our politics; they don’t care about our political affiliations; they don’t care if we are APC or PDP, north or south, Christians or Muslims”.
“What they want is for us to lead the way out of this crisis and deliver on the promises that we made to them,” he stressed.
He added: “We will work in concert, not at cross-purposes. Our goal is clear; to work together with the executive to get our economy out of this recession.
“We will proffer our solutions on policy issues, and where necessary enact the necessary legislation to ensure that investors’ confidence returns to the market.”
He also said the National Assembly would back the executive with the necessary laws to boost investor confidence and restated the commitment of the Senate to hasten the passage of the necessary bills such as the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), submitting that the passage of the PIB would stimulate fresh investments and boost oil revenue.
“The impasse of not passing the bill is doing great harm to the industry and the Nigerian economy as a whole,” he observed.
However, the Senate’s plan to dissolve into an executive session for a briefing by an expert on the true state of the recession was stalled by the need to observe the National Assembly’s tradition to adjourn plenary in honour of a late colleague.
Hence, yesterday’s plenary was adjourned after Saraki’s speech in honour of a member of the House of Representatives who represented Ifako-Ijaye federal constituency in Lagos State, Hon. Adewale Oluwatayo. Oluwatayo passed on in July while the National Assembly was on recess.
The executive session will now hold today.
Also speaking after yesterday’s plenary, Senate Leader, Ali Ndume, said the current recession was not peculiar to only Nigeria but had also hit a number of other countries such as Venezuela whose mainstay is oil.
He described it as a blessing in disguise, saying it would provide the platform for the nation to explore other sources of revenue such as the solid minerals’ sector.
RMAFC Opposes Sale of NLNG Shares
However, as the Senate joined the clamour for the federal government to divest of some of its interest in the NLNG in order to augment the revenue shortfall and boost foreign exchange reserves, the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) has kicked against the recommendation.
The CBN Governor, Godwin Emefiele, and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, had advised the government to consider the partial sale of its oil assets as the recession bites harder.
But in a statement signed by the RMAFC’s acting Chairman, Shettima Umar Abba Gana, the commission argued that it would be unwise for the federal government to dispose of its crown jewels that generate revenue and keep the Federation Account healthy over the long term.
Citing the NEITI 2013 audit and financial report of Nigeria’s oil and gas industry, RMAFC disclosed that the sum of $12.9 billion was received by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) from the NLNG over an eight-year period which the corporation did not remit to the Federation Account.
The audit, according to the commission, also revealed that NLNG paid $1.289 billion as dividends in 2013.
“It is the considered view of the commission that Nigeria’s assets like NLNG and other strategic national resources should not be sold to meet short-term financial obligation,” it said.
RMAFC recalled that the CBN governor indicated that the sum of $10 billion could be realised from the sale of oil and gas sector assets held by the federal government.
It said: “The commission is of the strong opinion that the same amount could be borrowed from the IMF and the revenue from these assets could be used to amortise the loans over an agreed period.
“It should be noted that after the amortisation of the loans, those assets would still be owned by the federation in addition to their regular dividends and revenue.”
RMAFC said instead of selling off such vital assets, which generate funds for the federation, wealthy Nigerians should be encouraged to set up their own LNG projects, since Nigeria is ranked seventh in the world and first in Africa with natural gas reserves base totalling 188 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) as at May 1, 2015.
In addition, Nigeria’s natural gas is regarded as one of the best in the world as it has low hydrogen sulphide (H2S) or carbon dioxide (CO2) impurity levels, the commission added.
Fiscal Federalism: Lagos Demands One Percent in Revenue Allocation Formula
Lagos State Government on Monday demanded a one percent share in the revenue allocation formula, maintaining that the special status of the State and its prosperity directly or indirectly have multiplying effects on the South-West region and the entire country.
Lagos State Government also proposed that the revenue sharing formula should be 34 percent for Federal Government including one percent for FCT – Abuja, 42 percent for State Governments, 23 percent for Local Governments and one percent for Lagos State (Special Status) as against the current revenue allocation formula, which are 52.68 percent, 26.72 percent and 20.60 percent for Federal Government, 36 state governments and 774 local governments respectively.
The demands were made by Lagos State Governor, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu at the opening of a two-day South-West Zonal Public hearing on the review of revenue allocation formula by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) held on Monday at Lagos Continental Hotel, Victoria Island.
Governor Sanwo-Olu in a memorandum on review of Revenue Allocation Formula he submitted to the RMAFC declared that allocating one percent for Lagos State (Special Status) and allowing the three tiers of government to share 99 percent in a new revenue sharing formula is very straightforward, self-justifying and in no way controversial.
He said the review of the current revenue allocation formula is long overdue, noting that the best way to guarantee national progress and development is by paying attention to sub-national development because the national is a summation and a reflection of the sub-national.
He also reiterated the call for Lagos State to be accorded special status in recognition of its huge financial commitments to infrastructure and provision of basic amenities for the increasing population of its residents, as well as its preeminent contribution to the national coffers.
He said the call, which has been re-echoed at different fora and at various levels and tiers of government, cannot be overemphasized, especially against the backdrop of the current economic situation of the country, the aftermath of the EndSARS protests a year ago, and the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, for which Lagos has been the national epicenter.
“Our demand is a sharing formula that is just, fair and equitable; reflecting the contribution of stakeholders to the common purse, and also one that enhances the capacity of state and local governments to deliver high-quality services and the full dividends of democracy to the greatest number of our people.
“Lagos State is no doubt the nation’s commercial capital, and population center. The level of funding required to service the State’s social and public infrastructure is so significant that it will be difficult for the State to bear the burden for much longer under the present arrangement.
“I should say that it will actually be unfair to expect the State to bear this heavy burden on its own. It is, therefore, necessary to give due consideration to all the variables that support our advocacy for a Special Status.
“The call for a special status for Lagos is not a selfish proposition; it is in the best interest of the country and all Nigerians, for Lagos which accounts for about 20 percent of the national GDP and about 10 percent of the nation’s population to continue to prosper,” the Governor said.
Justifying the need for Lagos State to be accorded special status, Governor Sanwo-Olu said Lagos is more than just another state in the Nigerian federation, noting that there is no tribe in the country that has no significant stake in Lagos State.
He said: “As the former capital of the country for 77 years (compared to the 30 years that Abuja has been the Federal Capital Territory), Nigeria’s largest metropolis still bears the heavy brunt of being home to all Nigerians; irrespective of age, class, gender, religious affiliation or tribe.
“There are several statistics that show the number of people that comes into Lagos every day, however, there are clear indications that most of these people migrate with the intention to make Lagos their new home and in pursuit of personal dreams due to the opportunities the city-state seemingly possesses, and this portends additional responsibilities on the government.
“Additionally, Lagos still harbors a huge number of federal establishments which could not be moved to Abuja. These include military cantonments and barracks, Police, Customs, Immigration, Civil Defence, Prisons, Road Safety and security/intelligence establishments.
“There are several reasons to justify the call for a special status for Lagos apart from the aforementioned factors and by extension, a review of the Revenue Allocation Sharing Formula.”
Governor Sanwo-Olu also said that it would be unfair for Lagos State to be left alone to bear the burden of the massive destruction experienced by the State during the EndSARS protests hijacked by hoodlums and the COVID-19 pandemic without assistance from the Centre.
“This month marks one year after the massive destruction experienced by the State in the violence that accompanied the hijacking of the EndSARS protests. Public buildings were burnt down, and historical infrastructure was destroyed.
“Although we have put that experience behind us and forged ahead, the reality of this unfortunate incident remains with us; resources that should be committed to other areas of need are now being used for the restoration of these public facilities. It will be totally unfair for Lagos State to be left alone to bear these huge expenses without assistance from the Centre.
“COVID-19 pandemic is another issue that has once again, supported the justification for Lagos to be accorded the privilege of special status. As much as this affects the entire country, it is a fact that the degree of the havoc caused by this virus differs from State to State.
“Lagos was the epicenter for this virus, the same way it was for the Ebola virus some years ago. The management of these unforeseen occurrences comes with huge responsibilities and financial commitments on the part of the State Government,” he said.
Governor Sanwo-Olu commended the Chairman and members of RMAFC for taking a bold step, which he believed will “result in a fundamental alteration of the current revenue sharing formula, in favour of one that is truly fair and equitable, and that takes into full consideration the specific and more pragmatic fiscal contexts of the sub-national governments of the Federation.”
FG Places 3,964 Nigerians on Watch List, Suspends Passports
No fewer than 3,964 Nigerians are currently on the watch list of the Nigeria Immigration Service.
The names of the affected individuals, it was gathered, have been placed with security agencies at the nation’s international airports where they will be arrested on sight.
According to the 2020 NIS annual report suspect index, 308 persons were placed on the watch list in 2019, 166 in 2020, while 51 persons were stop-listed in two years.
No fewer than 3, 438 passports are also being watch, while 23 are on the exemption list.
The report states, “Suspect index reviews and maintains the list of persons whose entry into Nigeria is prohibited or on whom special instructions are in place with respect to entry and departure from Nigeria. The travel documents are the instruments used to achieve this objective through synergy with other law enforcement agencies and court of competent jurisdiction.”
In a related development, the NIS has revoked 149, 875 stolen or lost passports and uploaded them to Interpol’s Stolen and Lost Travel Documents database via the Web Services for Data Management platform.
Meanwhile, there are indications that the FG may not meet its 2021 revenue projection from NIS services.
Findings show that there might be revenue shortfall from visa; e-PASS, ECOWAS Residence Card, the Combined Expatriate Residence Permit and Aliens Card and other documents issued by the NIS due to the reduced number of foreign visitors and expatriates in the country following COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Immigration sources said the number of Italians, Britons, South Africans, Chinese, Indians, and other Asians, who constitute a large percentage of expatriates in the country, had reduced on account of travel restrictions imposed by their respective countries.
The erstwhile Comptroller-General of Immigration, Muhammad Babandede had said the service recorded a 40 per cent revenue shortfall in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Figures from the NIS showed that in 2018, the immigration service generated N20.3bn from CERPAC; N40.7bn in 2019, and N16.7bn in 2020.
Envoy Considers Establishment Of Chinese Banks In Nigeria To Boost Economy
Mr Cui Jianchun, the Chinese Ambassador to Nigeria, says he is in talks with Chinese owned Banks to establish operations in Nigeria.
This, the envoy said, is to boost Nigeria’s economy and expand trade relations between the two nations.
Cui made this known on Tuesday in Abuja while addressing Journalists during the commemoration of the 2021 Chinese Moon Festival and China-Nigeria Cultural week.
According to Cui, the establishment of Chinese Banks in Nigeria will also be one of the key areas of discussion during the China-Nigeria Binational Committee meeting, which he is also pushing for the establishment.
He said that an efficient financial institution was a key driver to achieving a strong economy, one Nigeria can learn from China’s experience.
“Before my departure from Beijing to Abuja, I talked to several banks in China. When you list the World’s 10 big banks, six are in China.
“The Banking sector is very important, because, without money, we cannot build our industries.
“What I am thinking here is best to talk to the governor of Central Bank and how we can allow the Chinese Banks to run office here and now, they are doing the feasibility studies on that.
“I am working hard that in the Bi-national meeting, I hope we can make a big decision and give a big push to let the banking industry and insurance industry because financial integration and institutions are key.
“If you go to China, you will find our banking industry is very powerful, not only for business but the change in the way of life.
“Because of the COVID-19, the Banking Industry is a little hesitant, but I told them Nigeria has a lot of human resources and as long as we work together, we can do big things.
“And that is why it is important to invest in the banking industry, to solve this problem,” Cui said.
Extolling the extant China-Nigeria trade relations, Cui noted that the volume of trade between China and Nigeria is nearly 20 billion US Dollars, with an increase from 2020’s 19.2 billion dollars.
Cui said the Chinese economy is restoring to the normal post-COVID-19 pandemic and both governments are working hard on how to expand imports and exports.
Speaking on the event, Cui said the China’s moon festival is a very important and significant one for China as it symbolises family reunion, national peace and social harmony.
The envoy said the 2021 celebration is also a special one as it coincides with the 50th Anniversary of China-Nigeria’s bilateral relations.
He said that both countries also share Oct. 1 as their National Days.
He said it is also on that note that the Chinese Embassy is honouring 50 Nigerian employees of Chinese Companies in Nigeria for their outstanding performance and contribution to strengthening diplomatic ties.
Dr Ifeoma Anyanwutaku, the Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Information and Culture, also lauded the Nigeria-China relations.
She said the relations had recorded great successes over the past five decades.
“The five decades of co-operation had since witnessed several cultural activities and exchanges in the spheres of arts, music, dance, exhibition, cultural administration, training and capacity building of cultural officers.
“And recently, the development of Cultural Industries centres in Nigeria, among others.
“I must add that China, through the youth-oriented programmes such as the photos competition and similar activities in the past is surely a dependable ally.
“In redirecting the energy and mind of our youth to creative ventures, thereby furthering the Nigerian government’s policy of lifting a hundred million Nigerians out of poverty in the next 10 years”, Anyanwukatu said. (NAN)
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