The two chambers of the National Assembly (NASS) yesterday stepped up legislative activities for the passage of the 2019 Appropriation Bill on Tuesday, April 2.
The actions of the Senate and the House of Representatives came exactly three months after President Muhammadu Buhari on December 19, 2018, presented the N8.83trillion 2019 budget to them for scrutiny and passage for his final assent.
At yesterday's proceedings in the Upper and Lower Chambers of the National Assembly, the bill scaled through the second reading.
In the Red Chamber, the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, mandated the Appropriation Committee to work on the budget details within the next two weeks and report back to the House on April 2 for the possible passage of the budget bill.
Saraki said that "all things being equal", the bill could pass third reading that day.
He said: "We shall be here on April 2 to receive the report of the Appropriation Committee on this budget, consider, and possibly pass it for the third reading.
"In keeping to the date, chairmen of the various standing committees should ensure that they tidy up their budget defence sessions with heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) under their purview within the next two weeks.
"The best way out of the situation at hand as far as the passage of the 2019 budget is concerned, is for the various committees to push to the Appropriation Committee, the budget proposals of any MDA whose management refuses to appear, as originally proposed by the president," Saraki said.
Before his directives, nine senators during the continuation of the Senate debate on the general principles of the budget, which commenced on Wednesday last week, called for caution on the part of the Executive arm of government on the country's rising debt profile.
The budget bill as presented by President Buhari is anchored on key parameters of $60 per barrel oil price benchmark, 2.3 million barrel oil production per day and N305 exchange rate to one United States (US) dollar.
Others are 3.01 per cent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate and 9.18 per cent inflation rate.
The critical components of the budget are recurrent expenditure N4.038trillion, capital expenditure N2.031trillion, debt servicing N2.264trillion, and N492.360billion for statutory transfers.
At the House of Representatives yesterday, the lawmakers adjourned plenary till April 2 to enable their committees to interface with MDAs in the defence of the proposals as well as their performance in 2018.
The motion for adjournment was moved by the House leader, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, while the deputy speaker, Hon. Yussuf Sulaimon Lasun, urged all the standing committees to conclude their budget defence before the end of March.
Lasun said that the 2019 Appropriation Bill would be ready for passage upon resumption of plenary in April.
The Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, had earlier informed that President Buhari declined assent to some bills passed by both chambers and forwarded to him.
The House also considered some motions of urgent national importance and deferred the consideration of the report of the Committees on Finance, Appropriations, and Aids, Loans and Debt Management in the 2018-2021 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).
Other bills considered by the House before the adjournment included "A bill for an Act for the Repeal of the Nigerian Law Reform Commission Act Cap N118 LFN 2004 and Enact the Nigeria Law Reform Commission Bill to facilitate the effective implementation of the commission's law reform proposal and enhance its performance and related matters."
Senate Okays N30,000 Minimum Wage
Meanwhile, the Senate yesterday agreed with the House of Representatives by passing the N30,000 new minimum wage for workers in the country as against the N27,000 recommended by the Executive in the bill forwarded to that effect in January this year.
It, however, called for the immediate review of the present revenue sharing formula among the federal, state and local governments for the effective implementation of the new minimum wage at the three tiers of government.
The present revenue sharing formula gives the federal government 56 per cent of whatever money to be shared from the Consolidated Revenue Fund on a monthly basis while the 36 states of the federation take 24 per cent and the remaining 20 per cent goes to the 774 local government areas in the country.
In passing the minimum wage bill, the Senate asked the Executive to forward to the National Assembly a supplementary budget on the personnel cost component of the 2019 budget for the implementation of the approved N30,000 new minimum wage.
The passage of the bill by the Senate eight weeks after it scaled through in the House of Representatives was sequel to the report presented to that effect by the Senate deputy whip, Francis Alimikhena (APC, Edo North).
Senator Alimikhena in the presentation of the 18-clause report of the ad-hoc committee said that the N5,000 fine stipulated in Clause 3(1) of the bill against any employer who fails to keep records of employees was raised by the panel to N75,000 to ensure compliance.
Senator Tayo Alasoadura (APC, Ondo Central) in his contribution, suggested that the fine should be increased to N500,000 for strict compliance by all employers of labour, but the Senate at the Committee of the Whole adopted the N75,000 fine recommended by the ad-hoc committee.
In their contributions, the senators concurred to the N30,000 minimum wage but insisted that the existing revenue sharing formula should be reviewed to enhance its implementation by both the state and local governments.
The Senate minority leader, Abiodun Olujimi (PDP, Ekiti South) said that without a review of the revenue sharing formula, states and local governments might not have the financial capacity to pay the new wage.
Senator Barnabas Gemade (SDP, Benue North East), said that a review of the existing formula was long overdue, adding that even without that, no state can claim not to have the financial capacity of paying the N30,000 new minimum wage.
In his remarks, Saraki said that with the passage of the new minimum wage bill, industrial harmony and improved national productivity would be achieved
Labour Seeks Speedy Presidential Assent To New Minimum Wage Bill
Also yesterday, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) asked the federal government to commence the implementation of the new wage before the May Day celebration.
Acting NLC president, Mr. Najeem Yasin, who commended the Senate for endorsing the minimum wage bill of N30,000, urged President Buhari to quickly assent to it.
Yasin told journalists in Abuja that the ball was now in the court of the president.
He said: "We commend the Senate for passing the minimum wage bill of N30,000 but the battle for the minimum wage is not yet over; workers will not rest until the bill is signed and implemented.
"We want the federal government to ensure its implementation before the May Day celebration, which is the Workers' Day. The government should greet workers with the commencement of the implementation," Yasin said.
Yasin, who is also the national president of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), further appealed to the federal government to ensure effective sanctions on employers who refused to implement the N30,000 new pay.
"We have been fighting for this N30,000 for a long time and the governors have been opposed to it. But now, it has been passed. Nigerian workers are now looking forward to the signing of the bill into law by the president," Yasin said.
NLC deputy president, Mr Amechi Asugwuni, also pleaded with President Buhari to follow the path of honour and immediately sign into law the new pay rise document once he receives it.
He, however, disagreed on the Senate call for a review of the revenue sharing formula.
Amechi argued that the minimum wage bill was an independent bill which should not be subjected to adjustments through the sharing formula by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission.
The NLC leader said that such calls could slow down the implementation of the new wage.
Also, Mr. Joe Ajaero, president, United Labour Congress (ULC), commended the Senate for the passage of the minimum wage bill.
Ajaero appealed to the federal government to ensure that the process for its implementation was not beyond March or April.
FG To Negotiate With Senior Civil Servants, Says Udoma
To ensure industrial harmony, the minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udoma, has hinted that the federal government would negotiate with senior civil servants soon after the new minimum wage bill is assented to by President Buhari.
Udoma stated this when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Finance yesterday in Abuja to defend the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP).
He said the Executive would meet with the relevant stakeholders on the matter as soon as the bill was signed into law.
Udom said: "Once we announce the minimum wage, we will enter into negotiations with those who are above the minimum wage.
"So, we have to be prepared for that. We will be meeting with the finance committee on how best this minimum wage will be addressed both from the federal and the state governments.
"This is to ensure that the whole government apparatus is not just to pay salaries. It is important we are able to pay the minimum wage and still have enough resources to execute infrastructure, health, agriculture and other programmes," he said.
The minister said that once the minimum wage becomes law, emphasis would be placed on productivity.
"As a result of the agitations from the unions, the president set up a tripartite committee on the minimum wage. It is expected that every five years a review is done.
"We know that the N18,000 is too low and it will be difficult to manage and the president supported the review. It is, however, important that as we are reviewing it, we make sure that we can fund it.
"That is why we set up a committee. So, we will be coming to you as there may be some changes to make sure we can fund the minimum wage," he said.