Abuja — Senators elected on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) counterparts yesterday engaged in a verbal war over the 2021 budget.
The clash between the APC and PDP lawmakers followed the debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill presented to a joint sitting of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, October 8, 2020.
On the first allotted day for the consideration of the Bill, the debate took a political dimension as Senators tackled each other's submission based on party affiliation.
LEADERSHIP reports that the 2021 Appropriation Bill is a Bill for an Act to authorise the issue from the Consolidated Revenue Fund of the Federation, the total sum of N13.08trn for expenditure for the 2021 fiscal year ending on December 31, 2021.
Senate leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi (APC, Kebbi North), who led the debate, said the Senate had come to a crossroads in history when Senators cannot afford to make any "grievous mistake that could plunge our nation and our people into turmoil and self-destruction," adding that it was a time for sober judgement, reflection and statecraft.
He called on fellow legislators not to lend themselves to the calls to dismember the country, saying they must stand by the honour of their status and oath of office.
He noted: "We as Senators of the Federal Republic should not contemplate the dangerous and destabilising temptations of dismembering our federation. We must stand by the honour of our status, our convictions and our oath of office which is to preserve and protect the interest of Nigeria and Nigerians, as a whole.
"We are obliged to place the social and economic challenges we face today in their proper historical perspectives with a view to determining the best course of action for our people and our nation at this point in history".
On the 2021 Appropriation Bill, the Senate leader said it should be examined against the backdrop of ups and downs suffered by the economy in the last few years owing to drop in crude oil price at the international market and the recent outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.
He continued: "It is in this context that we should place the 2021 budget proposals submitted by the executive. It is important to note at the outset, that this proposal is not strange to the leadership of the National Assembly and the Committees of Finance and National Planning. All the parameters were discussed and agreed upon, at least in principle.
"What remains for us is to closely examine the contents and the details in order to sort things out and smoothen the rough edges".
But the Senate minority leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe (PDP Abia South), disagreed with the position of the Senate leader, describing the proposed 2021 budget as unrealistic and implementable.
In a presentation titled 'More of the Same', Abaribe likened the proposed budget to "a template from yesteryears; just with different numbers.
"The budget does not reflect an understanding that the world has changed and that the nation's problems have intensified. The oil era is fading out, but the government retains an attitude of business-as-usual. This is not a time for tokenistic ideas. Nigeria needs big ideas. This 2021 budget proposal failed to deliver on that point," he said.
The minority leader added that the 2021 budget presents no overarching economic philosophy, noting that while Nigeria postures as a capitalistic economy, President Buhari's budgetary estimates de-emphasise the role of the markets in addressing the challenges in the economy, and seeks to expand the size of government.
Senate President Ahmed Lawan however reminded Abaribe that the budget proposal is an estimate and assumption, adding that it is what every government has done since 1999 and will continue to do.
"Concentrate on those things you think we can do to make this budget perform optimally," Lawan advised Abaribe.
But Abaribe rhetorically replied the Senate president, saying "if the budget was based on assumption, why are you not assuming properly?"
He added: "We should not also be assuming the wrong things. How would you budget 100% when you know you are going to get 30%. Every year we have a budget in which the capital budget and the debt are almost equal. What does that tell us, how do we go forward from there?
"This budget is nothing but what Fela had called 'Old news'. Every time, the same old news, nothing new".
For his part, Senate deputy whip, Senator Sabi Abdullahi (APC, Niger North), countered Abaribe's position, saying he was merely "playing to the gallery of the opposition."
"This administration's budget is that of 'recovery and resilience'. I know what recovery means as a veterinary doctor, I know what it means to bring an animal back to recovery. This government understands that the country is not all well," Abdullahi said.
He noted that the Senate leader in his presentation had earlier provided the history of where the country was coming from and why Nigeria found itself in the present economic mess.
He said, "It is very clear and true to say that, save for the good management of the economy by this administration, Nigeria would have been worse.
"We knew we were in recession in 2016, for us to have walked ourselves back alluded to good management of scarce resources.
"We know the challenges of our economy are infrastructural deficit. Today this government is gradually walking back our infrastructural deficit".
Senator Ike Ekweremadu (PDP Enugu West) also disagreed with the Senate leader's position that advocates of restructuring of Nigeria were hell-bent on dismembering the country.
The debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill continues today, Wednesday, as other senators will take their turns to contribute to the debate.
FG Releases N1.2trn For Capital Expenditure
Meanwhile, as the process for the scrutiny and passage of the 2021 budget is about to begin in both chambers of the National Assembly, the federal government says it has disbursed the total sum of N1.2 trillion for the funding of capital projects in the current 2020 budget.
"As at end of August 2020, N761.79 billion had been released for
capital expenditure, rising to N1.2 trillion by end of September
2020," minister of Finance, budget and national planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed said at the public presentation of the budget breakdown in Abuja yesterday.
On the expenditure side of the 2020 budget, N9.97 trillion was
appropriated (excluding government owned enterprises and project tied loans), while N6.25 trillion was spent.
Out of the total expenditure, N2.14 trillion was for debt service, and N2.18 trillion for personnel cost, including pensions.
An overview of the 2020 budget performance showed that recurrent expenditure stood at N5,133.89 trillion, while total funds on statutory transfers amounted to N349.91, with non-debt recurrent expenditure stood at N2,996.81 trillion.
Also, as at end of August 2020, federal government revenue available for budget funding (excluding GOEs) was N2.52 trillion, 71 per cent of target.
Revenue from oil as of August this year was N1.105 trillion
(representing 164 per cent performance, over and above the prorated sum in the revised 2020 budget) while non-oil tax revenues totaled N831.41bn (77 per cent of revised target).
Companies Income Tax (CIT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) collections were N447.52 billion and N117.75 billion, representing 82 per cent and 62 per cent respectively of the prorate revised targets for the period. Customs collections was N266.14 billion (77 per cent of revised target).
Other revenues amounted to N583.82 billion, of which Independent revenues was N281.81 billion, according to the minister.
The 2021 budget has a deficit of N5.21 trillion, which is over three
per cent of the nation's 2019 GDP growth. The minister said the Fiscal Responsibility Act gives President Buhari the discretion to raise the deficit above the stipulated GDP growth rate in certain circumstances.
The budget deficit will be financed by borrowing: 50 per cent domestic and 50 per cent foreign borrowing, Mrs Ahmed said.
The government also plans to fund the budget with expected revenues from privatisation of national assets and drawdown from bilateral partners. She did not state the particular bilateral/multilateral partners the funds would be drawn from.
Reps Bar Security Details Of MDAs From NASS
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives has barred armed security personnel attached to Ministers and Heads of Agencies from coming into the premises of the National Assembly.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila who announced this on Tuesday, advised all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) coming to the House for budget proposals defense to do so without their security details present, according to a new protocol of the House.
It would be recalled that the Speaker had warned the MDAs during the presentation of the 2021 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari that the House must take that course of action to prevent the unacceptable proliferation of side arms in the hearing rooms during such engagements.
Gbajabiamila said that the new protocol of the House must be followed because the House intended to adhere to the Covid-19 social distancing protocols, and they need to be able to limit the numbers of people in hearing rooms at any point in time.
"The world changes quickly, often without notice, and always with consequences. We have learned this lesson at a high cost in the past few months, and we must ensure that the lessons learned are reflected in the budget that emerges from the appropriations process. We must make sure that we are better prepared for next time because there will be the next time", he stated.