The Majority Leader in the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, and the Minority Leader of the House of Representative, Hon. Leo Ogor, on Thursday argued at plenary session during the debate into the general principles of the N7.3 trillion 2017 Appropriation Bill.
This was coming after some lawmakers condemned the economic policies of President Muhammadu Buhari which they said do not seem competent of taken the country out of the economic downturn.
Ogor, while contributing to the debate on the budget, described it as one whose foundation is laid on sinking sand.
“There is nothing spectacular about the 2017 budget…even a secondary school student can see that the assumptions are faulty when considering realities on ground,” he said.
Ogor further argued that there is an almost 50 per cent depreciation of the naira from the time of the passage of the 2016 budget to the conception of the 2017 budget, from N199/$1 to N305/$1.
This depreciation effectively makes the N7.3 trillion budget worth N4.8 trillion, Ogor said.
His line of argument did not go down well with the Deputy Majority Leader, Hon. Buba Jibrin, who cited a point of order on the need to restrict the argument to the matter at hand and not delve into the already passed Medium Term Expenditure Framework which pegged the exchange rate at N305/$1.
As Ogor made to respond, Gbajabiamila interjected, and said Ogor should not make reference to an already concluded matter.
Ogor, however, noted that since he was speaking about the budget, it would be impossible not to make reference to the country’s financial position.
The House Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara, waded into the argument between both leaders, and urged Ogor to debate within the confines of the 2017 budget.
Ogor continued his presentation amid snippets of interruptions by Gbajamibiala.
Accusing the Buhari-led government of paying lip service to diversification of the economy through agriculture and mineral resources, Ogor noted that the recurrent component of the budget is the highest in the history of Nigeria.
Gbajabiamila persisted in his attempts to speak, leading Ogor to state: “Allow me to speak, Femi.” The development elicited laughter from the lawmakers.
Ogor resumed his presentation and urged the government to arrest capital flight through a stable and uniform foreign exchange policy.
“This government must build confidence, else investors would not commit,” he said.
Several lawmakers, on the third day of the budget debate, called for more attention to alternate sectors capable of diversifying the economic and reduce the dependence on oil.
Hon. Dickson Tarkighir (Benue APC) recalled promises by the Ministry of Agriculture to address the constant conflict between herdsmen and farmers, by importation of grass seeds, and establishment of ranches.
“The minister said five state governors have provided 20,000 hectares of land to be used for ranches, but I scanned the 2017 budget, and I cannot find any provision for these.
“If we are serious about achieving food sufficiency, then we must solve these constant farmers-herdsmen clashes. We have to separate cattle rearing from crop productions,” Tarkighir said.
Similarly, Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno (Borno APC) said the 1.6 per cent budgetary allocation to agriculture is not enough, even though it is an improvement on previous budgets.
Monguno who is the Chairman, House Committee on Agriculture, advocated an increment to five per cent, in line with the Maputo Declaration, and to aggressively pursue the diversification bid.
Earlier in the day, lawmakers debating a separate motion had bashed the economic policies of the federal government.
Hon. Emmanuel Orker-Jev (Benue APC) in a motion harped on the need for the government to take more proactive steps to abate the hardships being experienced by Nigerians as a result of the current economic recession.
Nigerians, Orker-Jev said, are grappling with skyrocketing prices of foodstuff, transportation, petroleum products, and other essential commodities, leaving the common man worst hit.
“As a result of the economic recession, commercial banks recently reviewed upwards the interest paid on credits to the effect that consumers of bank credit facilities now pay between 27 per cent and 30 per cent, while the exchange rate between the Naira and the dollar has not only been very unstable, but highly polarised and progressively depreciating against the dollar,” he said.
Ogor did not have kind words for the government, stating that the country is currently sliding fast from a recession into a depression.
“…And nothing is being done. This is as a result of the unclear economic policies of the government, it has led to these challenges. The dollar exchange rate in the 2016 budget was N199, in the 2017 budget, less than a year later, it’s N305.
“If the executive cannot play its responsibility, it is now time for the legislature to embark on a rescue mission,” he said.
Hon. Rita Orji (Lagos PDP) said many lawmakers cannot visit their constituencies because of the barrage of requests they are hit with, when they do.
The interest rates, she said, cannot ensure profit for businesses.
As the lawmakers continue to bash the economic policies of Buhari, the House Speaker, Dogara, made to douse the situation.
He called for any member who was part of a recent briefing by the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Mr. Udo Udoma, to speak on some of the efforts of the government to pull the country out of recession.
Hon. Bashir Babale (Kano APC) citing Udoma, said the government is committed to boosting agriculture and ensuring food sufficiency by the end of 2017.
Meanwhile, the House announced the suspension of plenary proceedings to allow the committees interface with the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) of government.
Spokesperson of the House, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, briefing journalists said the suspension would last for three weeks.