- Buhari to Presents 2017 Budget to N’Assembly Today
President Muhammadu Buhari will today (Wednesday) present the 2017 Appropriation Bill to a joint session of the National Assembly.
The document will be the second one to be presented by the President after his inauguration in May 2015.
Buhari, who will be accompanied by top government officials, is expected to present the document at 10am.
The Federal Executive Council had on November 30 approved the document for presentation to the National Assembly.
Speaking to State House correspondents at the end of the council’s meeting, the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, refused to give details of the budget proposal as approved by the council.
He said it was only the President who would unveil the document on the floor of the National Assembly.
“The 2017 budget has been approved by the Federal Executive Council and the details will be revealed when the President presents the budget to the National Assembly,” Udoma said.
The budget of N6.07tn for 2016 was predicated on a benchmark price of $38 per barrel of crude oil and N197 to a dollar exchange rate.
Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives have said that the key parameters of the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework upon which the budget will be based are not sustainable, asking the Federal Government to seek more realistic solutions to the economy.
They voiced their opinions as they debated the MTEF in Abuja on Tuesday, less than 24 hours to the presentation of the 2017 budget estimates to the legislature by the President.
The development came as the Speaker, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, declared a public hearing on the controversial Oil Prospecting License 245 open, saying that the House was prepared to assist the government to resolve the issues surrounding the lucrative oil well.
Nigeria is believed to have lost over $1.1bn on the OPL 245, better known as Malabu oil deal.
The MTEF’s crude oil production, benchmark and exchange rate projections for 2017 did not receive the full backing of members.
The government plans to spend over N7tn next year, but revenue projection is around N4.9tn, a figure that also accommodates a huge deficit.
The Majority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, while leading the debate, urged his colleagues to accept the projections.
Gbajabiamila argued that a sudden rise in oil price by about $20 in the past few days suggested that the government could sustain a benchmark of $42.5 proposed in the MTEF.
He also stated that ongoing negotiations between the government and militants in the Niger Delta were indications that peace could return to the region to make the 2.2 million barrels’ daily production projection realisable.
But, other lawmakers called for a review of the projections.
For instance, the Chairman, Committee on Financial Crimes, Mr. Kayode Oladele, said the fact of oil price gaining extra $20 did not justify retaining $42.5 as the benchmark price for the 2017 budget.
He said the price could suddenly drop below $60 or $50, making whatever gains achieved useless.
Oladele said, “Let us look at the daily oil production of 2.2 million barrels; it has not been achieved this year and there are no signs that things will change.
“We can’t even rely on the $42.2 benchmark price because prices are likely to drop.”
Oladele also said the exchange rate of N290 to $1 was not sustainable, adding, “The market rate today is N490/$1, which makes the projection in the MTEF unrealistic.”
Another member, Mr. Shehu Garba, described the MTEF as a document that contained “so many illogical issues.”
“We cannot continue to use figures that are unrealistic. Which of the three exchange rates will be used for investment in Nigeria?” Garba queried.
The Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Leo Ogor, also faulted the MTEF and asked how the government planned to finance the budget deficit.
Ogor noted, “We have not achieved 2.2 million barrels per day of crude in the last five years. Then, there is the budget deficit. We are looking at a revenue of N4.9tn or so, but we want to spend more than N7tn.
“Where is the money going to come from to finance the budget?”
However, the Deputy Speaker, Mr. Yussuff Lasun, advised members to downplay emphasis on the benchmark and the exchange rate, and focus more on the government’s plan to diversify the economy.
“What is more important to us is that this government is serious about diversifying the economy. Let us allow the government to use whatever proceeds from oil to diversify our economy,” Lasun said.
The document was later passed for second reading.
Speaking at the hearing on the OPL 245, Dogara recalled that efforts by successive governments to resolve the controversies had failed, making Nigeria to appear before the international community as a country that was not serious with its anti-corruption crusade.
However, he expressed confidence in the current administration to end the controversies.
2023 Voter’s Registration Will Be Online, Biometric To Be Captured Physically- INEC
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) yesterday unfolded plans to allow online filing during the continuous voter registration for the 2023 general election.
The National Commissioner and Chairman, Information and Voter Education Committee of INEC, Mr. Festus Okoye, however, said only the biometric would be captured physically by INEC officials.
But the commission suffered another setback yesterday as arsonists torched its office in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State.
Okoye, during a stakeholders’ meeting on expanding voter access to polling units in Kano yesterday, said: “On June 28, the voter registration exercise for those above 18 years and those who have not registered before will commence with two new innovations. Those versatile with computer can register online and only visit a registration centre to capture their biometrics.”
Okoye stated that the online registration would be introduced to reduce crowd at registration centres in line with COVID-19 protocols.
The commission called on citizens, especially those willing to contest elections, whose voter cards have been defaced, whose names were wrongly spelt or addresses and locations wrongly captured to present themselves for authentication or correction.
INEC also called for valid data of all those with disabilities or physical challenges to be captured during the continuous registration for proper projections ahead of the 2023 general election.
INEC also warned political parties and politicians who have started campaigning to desist from doing so.
Okoye said: “There is a ban on political campaigns which has not been lifted yet. And I find it necessary to draw your attention for you to understand the legal implication of violating this ban.
“I have listened to comments on radio stations, which are capable of heating the polity. Media organisations should avoid providing platforms for such comments. The media should try to curtail such tensions.
“Political parties, politicians and their supporters should understand there is a legal framework for campaigns and it has not commenced yet.”
No Plans To Relocate AFRICOM HQ To Nigeria Or Any Part Of Africa- U.S. Replies Buhari
The United States has said there is no plan to relocate its Africa Command from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any other part of Africa despite the worsening state of insecurity in the region.
The US gave the response barely two weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari appealed to the US government to consider relocating AFRICOM to Africa to assist Nigeria and other adjoining countries to combat worsening terrorism, banditry and other security crises.
The President made the plea in a virtual meeting with the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, on April 27.
Germany-based Africa Command (AFRICOM) is the US military headquarters that oversees its operations in Africa.
Buhari’s request followed a series of recent military casualties in Nigeria’s decade-long fight against Boko Haram terrorists, fresh expansion of the insurgents’ bases to Niger and Nasarawa States, and heavy waves of abductions and killings by bandits in the North.
Buhari said, “The security challenges in Nigeria remain of great concern to us and impacted more negatively, by existing complex negative pressures in the Sahel, Central and West Africa, as well as the Lake Chad Region.
“Compounded as the situation remains, Nigeria and her security forces remain resolutely committed to containing them and addressing their root causes.
“The support of important and strategic partners like the United States cannot be overstated as the consequences of insecurity will affect all nations, hence the imperative for concerted cooperation and collaboration of all nations to overcome these challenges.
“In this connection, and considering the growing security challenges in West and Central Africa, Gulf of Guinea, Lake Chad region and the Sahel, weighing heavily on Africa, it underscores the need for the United States to consider relocating AFRICOM headquarters from Stuttgart, Germany to Africa and near the Theatre of Operation.”
However, the US government on Thursday ruled out any plan to relocate AFRICOM from its current base in Germany to Nigeria or any part of Africa.
According to the United States Department of Defence’ Pentagon, previous studies have shown that the cost of relocating AFRICOM from Germany to Africa is very huge.
In an emailed response to The PUNCH, the Pentagon said although it would continue to value Nigeria and other countries in Africa as important partners, the American government would not consider relocating AFRICOM to any part of the African continent at the moment.
This newspaper had asked if the US would consider Nigeria’s request to relocate AFRICOM to the continent.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate on any future actions. However, at this time, moving this headquarters (AFRICOM HQ) to Africa is not part of any plans, but USAFRICOM’s commitment to their mission, our African and other partners, remains as strong today as when we launched this command more than a decade ago,” US Pentagon spokesperson, Ms. Cindi King, said.
King also ruled out any plan to consider Buhari’s request in an ongoing global US defence review.
She said, “Although there is an ongoing Global Posture Review, the relocation of Combatant Command headquarters is outside the scope of its assessment. In the case of AFRICOM, previous studies have concluded that the cost associated with the relocation of this headquarters is significant and likely to incur the expense of other engagement opportunities and activities that more directly benefit our valued African partners.
“We greatly value the partnership with Nigeria and appreciate President Buhari’s recognition of the United States’ positive contribution to African peace and security, as well as other regional partners that have made similar past pronouncements. The United States remains committed to continuing our close partnership with African countries and organisations to promote security and stability.”
It’s ‘near impossible’ for America to accept Buhari’s invitation –Campbell, ex-US ambassador
Meanwhile, a former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, has listed reasons why it is “unlikely or near impossible” for the US government to relocate AFRICOM from Stuttgart in Germany to Nigeria or any part of the continent.
He said aside from the fact that the cost of doing so is very huge, the Nigerian military had proved to be a difficult partner for the US over the years.
China Urges U.N. States Not to Attend Xinjiang Event Next Week
China has urged United Nations member states not to attend an event planned next week by Germany, the United States and Britain on the repression of Uyghur Muslims and other minorities in Xinjiang, according to a note seen by Reuters on Friday.
“It is a politically-motivated event,” China’s U.N. mission wrote in the note, dated Thursday. “We request your mission NOT to participate in this anti-China event.”
China charged that the organizers of the event, which also include several other European states along with Australia and Canada, use “human rights issues as a political tool to interfere in China’s internal affairs like Xinjiang, to create division and turbulence and disrupt China’s development.”
“They are obsessed with provoking confrontation with China,” the note said, adding that “the provocative event can only lead to more confrontation.”
The Chinese mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ambassadors of the United States, Germany and Britain are due to address the virtual U.N. event on Wednesday, along with Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth and Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard.
The aim of the event is to “discuss how the U.N. system, member states and civil society can support and advocate for the human rights of members of ethnic Turkic communities in Xinjiang,” according to an invitation.
Western states and rights groups have accused authorities in Xinjiang of detaining and torturing Uyghurs in camps, which the United States has described as genocide. In January, Washington banned the import of cotton and tomato products from Xinjiang over allegations of forced labor.
Beijing denies the accusations and describes the camps as vocational training centers to combat religious extremism.
“Beijing has been trying for years to bully governments into silence but that strategy has failed miserably, as more and states step forward to voice horror and revulsion at China’s crimes against Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims,” Human Rights Watch U.N. director Louis Charbonneau said on Friday.
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