Reviewing the state of the nation as it affects the economy, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu yesterday advised President Muhammadu Buhari to remove Budget and National Planning Minister, Sen. Udoma Udo Udoma and Finance Minister, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun.
However, Senator Shehu Sani (APC, Kaduna Central) said sacking the two ministers will not solve the current economic crisis.
Ekweremadu said the Buhari administration “should not put square pegs in round hole.” This is even as the Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara urged Mr. President to address the National Assemlby, a view expressed by Sen. Ekweremadu who said Nigerians want to see Buhari and not his ministers at Town Hall meetings.
The Deputy Senate President spoke yesterday while contributing to the debate on the economy especially the current recession. The Senate resumed from its two-month recess on Tuesday when Senate President Bukola Saraki joined a business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote in calling for the sale of national assets such as the Nigeria LNG, refineries and stakes in African Finance Corporation.
Ekweremadu said: “The President needs to look at his cabinet. He has to put square peg in square hole. Udo Udoma is my friend. He is an accomplished lawyer for that matter, but in fairness to him, I believe he can do better in another ministry especially like trade and investment, certainly not Budget and Planning.
“The Minister of Finance can do much better in another ministry. At this critical, time we need somebody who is more experienced to man the Ministry of Finance so that he can coordinate the strategies for this recovery.
“I also believe that we need to have all hands on deck right now. It does not matter their religion. It does not matter their party. We need to go all out and look for the best brain to come and help us to come out of this recession. America was in recession in 1930s, but they recovered within three years.
“What did they do? All Americans came together irrespective of their political persuasion and they were able to come up with a solution. At this point, it does not matter to us whether you are APC or PDP or you are non-align. The important thing is that the President has to look for the best people to come together to proffer solutions. It does not matter which party you belong.
“I also believe that since oil is one of our, we need to begin to negotiate in terms of engagement with our oil majors, a situation where the production cost in Nigeria is between $18 and $24 is unacceptable and it is not happening anywhere in the world.
“Our people do not need to hear lamentations. They want to listen and hear messages of hope. It is important that our people hear the right message. International community hear the wrong message when investors are told that our economy cannot recover that our people are corrupt.
“This is the time for us to be united. This is the time for the President to ignore this issue of Town Hall meetings and go directly to the people. My people did not vote for Lai Mohammed or any minister. They want to see the President they voted for.
“The President needs to go round and visit this country and assure them that they are part and parcel of this country called Nigeria. I also believe that in the long term, we need to also diversify the economy. I am happy that this is happening now and it is time for us to learn from the hardship that would enable us to look beyond oil,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Deputy Senate President aligned with other Senators who dismissed the proposal to sell national assets. The Senators warned against the call, rather they sought constitutional amendment to stop the complete sharing of revenues accruable to the Federation Account.
Ekwerenmadu cautioned that the sale of assets was not the way out of the recession, maintaining that no country resorts to selling its national assets while in crisis.
“UAE does not even allow you close to the oil wells let alone selling them. A country like Saudi Arabia their budget each year is run by investments from their oil revenue.”
Contributing, Senator George Akume stressed on the need to refrain from such calls, but said the focus should be on recovering stolen funds.
He said a lot of money had been reported to have been stolen, recalling that former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Charles Soludo had pointed to a stolen $60 billion.
Akume noted that another CBN governor and Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, also pointed to another $20 billion that was stolen and could be recovered.
“From these and from monies going through other sources at least, we should be able to recoup over $50 billion. If we succeed in doing this, do we still have to sell our assets as is being canvassed?
“There is a buyers’ market and there is a sellers’ market, if we want to dispose of our oil assets at this time when the prices of oil had crashed, precisely how much are we going to realise?’ he said.
Also speaking, Senator Sani buttressed the need to review the sharing formula, saying that it had contributed to our economic woes.
“This sharing formula federalism has seriously contributed to where we are. The situation whereby states simply come to Abuja every month to collect cheques and then go back to execute capital and recurrent expenditure has simply made it impossible for any initiative to boost our economy,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dogara yesterday called on Buhari to brief a joint session of the National Assembly on the state of the economy in order to articulate his plans on how he intends to pull the country out of recession.
Dogara, in his welcome address to mark resumption of plenary stressed the need for government to engage the people, saying the National Assembly would be a good avenue to do this.
Dogara said a detailed briefing of lawmakers would help bolster existing synergy between the legislature and the executive.
“We must never miss the opportunity the present travails offer us to launch Nigeria into its rightful destiny and place among the Comity of Prosperous Nations.
“We need to immediately take a second look at the pace of budget execution; the spiralling rise of the dollar against the naira and the multiple exchange rate regime; the impact of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) on the economy, investment in infrastructure, tackling unemployment, among others.
“The recent retreat by Mr. President with his cabinet and sundry statutory appointees is most commendable. It is in this regard, that I urge Mr President to consider holding a joint emergency session of the National Assembly to brief both the legislature and, indeed, Nigerians of his plans to pull Nigeria out of recession.
“This will provide opportunity for all stakeholders to be on the same page and to act in concert for urgent national recovery. It will also further consolidate existing ongoing consultations between the Presidency and the National Assembly on the way forward.We must never miss the opportunity the present travails offers us to launch Nigeria into its rightful destiny and place among the comity of prosperous nations,” he said.
The Speaker sought a bi-partisan approach to solving the country’s economic problems said the situation was too dire for politicians to trade blames.
“The state of our economy is of urgent and critical importance.That Nigeria has gone into recession is a very worrisome development that calls for emergency measures to be taken. All hands must be on deck to tackle the myriads of problems facing us. This is not the time for partisanship. This is not the time to score political points.
“This is not the time for grandstanding. This is not the time for blame games. The situation and the times call for bold, courageous, enlightened and purposeful leadership.”
Buhari had earlier said his government was working to address the economic crisis and his office said last month that many solutions are being proposed, including sweeping emergency powers for him.
Speaking directly to accusations by the former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Abdulmumin Jibrin that he, his deputy, Yussuff Lasun, House Majority Whip, Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor cornered N40 billion out of the N100 billion allocated for constituency projects in the 2016 budget and that insertions of 2,000 projects to the tune of N284 billion were made, he described them as ‘”strange propaganda”.
Dogara reminded Jibrin that history was replete with examples to show that individuals seldom win wars against institutions.
The Speaker also posited that the former chairman had failed in his objective of instigating the removal of the House leadership. He, however, said lawmakers accused of graft by the former chairman can still pursue legal redress to clear their names.
According to him, recent events in the National Assembly related to the 2016 budget process have exposed the need for more engagement with the Nigerian public on the functions and modus operandi of the National Assembly, adding that this will make it more difficult for anyone to deliberately confuse them with falsehood about legislative processes.
The House later adjourned debate on the motion to today.