The House of Representatives has called on the executive arm of government to increase budgetary allocation to the agricultural sector and the North East geopolitical zone to address the deplorable state of infrastructure in the region.
The chief whip of the House, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno, while contributing to the debate on the 2021 budget estimates on the floor of the House yesterday, explained that the increase in budgetary allocation became necessary in view of the damage done to infrastructure such as roads in the North East by the Boko Haram insurgents for over a decade.
Monguno who represents Marte/Monguno/Nganzai federal constituency of Borno State, said that steps should be taken to address some of the infrastructural challenges of the North East through annual budgets.
He noted that the North East region had suffered poor budgetary allocations even before the advent of the current administration.
Monguno also called on the government to focus more attention on the agricultural sector, which he said accounts for about 70 percent of employment, not just in Nigeria, but also in the entire African continent.
"Agriculture in Nigeria and Africa in general accounts for about 70 percent of employment. So, there's a need for an improvement in the agricultural sector in view of the fact that it accounts for 70 percent of employment," Monguno said.
While commending President Muhammadu Buhari for the timely presentation of the 2021 budget proposal, Monguno also lauded the executive arm for implementing nearly 50 percent of the 2020 Budget.
The chief whip equally called on the House to strengthen its oversight of the executive arm, so that Nigerians will continue to enjoy the dividends of democracy.
... Senate queries sectoral allocations, borrowing
Meanwhile, the debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill entered its second day in the Senate yesterday with Senators raising various issues around the proposed budget and possible way out.
The proposed 2021 budget was presented to a joint sitting of the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Thursday, October 8, 2020.
On the second allotted day for the consideration of the Bill, the debate deviated from politics as manifested on Tuesday as Senators raised issues of inadequate sectoral allocations, low revenue drive, excessive borrowing, cost of governance, including teething issues of unemployment and diversification of the economy.
Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege, who was the first to speak on the proposed budget, drew the attention of the Senate to the high rate of youth unemployment and infrastructural decay in the South-South region, saying relative peace in the area can only be sustainable if adequate care was given to the Niger Delta.
"We must maintain the peace in the Niger Delta Region before we can achieve this. Mr President when I say this, it begins to sound like a broken record. Every day, for those of us who represent the Niger Delta, we hardly sleep.
"But Mr President, they are jobless. There is nothing for them to do. It is very important that the youths of these communities are engaged.
"So, it is bad enough that the economy is in a state it is right now, we also need to at least maintain the little infrastructure we have.
"Finally, there is also something that is troubling our people which I think I should also bring up here. It is clear that the only two sources identified in the budget for the funding of the budget is the revenues from oil on the most part and borrowings, both local and foreign. But we also have other sources or potential sources of revenue that are not being looked at. We often talk of leakages but why even go into leakages when we can go directly to the solid mineral sector?" Omo-Agege queried.
He bemoaned a lack of commitment to the much-talked-about diversification of the national economy, a situation that has made the country vulnerable to economic shocks owing to over-reliance on crude oil.
On harnessing the nation's solid mineral resources for more revenues to reduce borrowings, he wondered why the gold in Zamfara State will solely belong to the state while crude oil in the Niger Delta belongs to the whole nation.
"Not too long ago, we saw the governor of Zamfara State come before the CBN to present a gold bar worth close to about N5 billion. The gold bar was presented for sale to the CBN. Mr President, our people are beginning to wonder who owns this gold that is being sold to the CBN.
They don't sell oil in any of the Niger Delta states. I am wondering why a governor of a state should be selling gold bars from Zamfara to the CBN.
"There are two problems with that. We believe that whatever revenue that ought to come from that transaction belongs to the entire country and not belonging to the state government. That is number one and we should actually look into that. That is an area we really need to develop. There is a lot of revenue that could come from there that will take the burden from this international borrowings," Omo-Agege added.
Also contributing, Senator Bima Enagi (APC, Niger South) commended President Buhari for the budget size of N13.08 trillion for the 2021 fiscal year, which is about 21 per cent above the 2020 budget in spite of the contractions in the second quarter and the possibility of the economy going into recession.
Enagi, however, said that as laudable as the budget was, there were areas of concern like worsening insecurity in the country and inadequate funding for the agricultural sector.
"One would expect the country to spend more on security so as to confront the evil challenge that is facing the country.
"Our annual allocation to agriculture has remained below three per cent negating our commitment to the Malabo Declaration of not lower than 10 per cent of the annual budget," Enagi observed.
Also, Senator Adamu Aliero (APC, Kebbi Central) speaking on infrastructural development, reiterated that there was no way the over 600 road network across the country could be funded by budgetary provisions alone.
"I propose that the National Assembly should come up with a workable solution on how to fund infrastructure in the country. For that reason, I recommend Public-Private Partnership to fund road infrastructure," he said.
The chairman of the Senate Public Accounts Committee (SPAC), Senator Mathew Urhoghide (PDP Edo South), also lamented the lack of transparency in the expenditure of Service Wide Votes in every annual budget.
Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate on Finance, Senator Olamilekan Adeola (APC, Lagos West), allayed his colleagues' fears on the workability or otherwise of the proposed budget, saying, all things being equal, the 2021 Appropriation Bill was implementable.
Olamilekan reminded fellow Senators of how the Senate had earlier approved the 2021-2023 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), on which parameters the 2021 budgetary proposals were predicated.
He, however, noted that with scarce resources available for the government against the backdrop of various developmental projects across the country, diversification of the economy becomes inevitable.
Olamilekan also called on the federal government to revisit the Steve Oronsaye Report on the merger of government agencies in order to reduce the high cost of governance.
The debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill will continue and end today, Thursday as the last batch of Senators will take their turns to contribute to the debate ahead of its passage for Second Reading.
The Senate will, therefore, refer the 2021 Appropriation Bill to its relevant Committees for further legislative inputs while Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the federal government (MDAs) will appear before the legislative committees to defend their 2020 budget performance and 2021 estimates in the weeks to come.