Economic Woes: Why Senate Put The Buck On Buhari’s Table
Contrary to President Mohammadu Buhari administration’s constant blame of the economic recession on former President Goodluck Jonathan and his lieutenants, the Nigerian Senate identifies the programmes of the current regime as the immediate causes of the economic hardship in the country.
Some of the policies and programmes identified by the Senate are the total implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) without considering side effects; restrictions on foreign exchange; high monetary rates; assigning of vital ministerial portfolios to non-professionals; delay in board appointments; partisan approach to national issues and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s unlawful ways of fighting corruption.
These are aside the delay in constituting the federal cabinet and the flaws in the 2016 budget which analysts count as part of the remote causes of the recession, but not highlighted by the Senate in its report.
Generally, the Senate however, blamed the country and all past leaders for not investing revenues from crude oil and gas in infrastructures and industrialization as well as saving ahead of glut, pointing out that the inability of past governments, including Buhari’s military regime only constitutes the remote cause of the recession.
But former presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan and some public commentators reacted against these in the media, stating that efforts to do so as well as remove fuel subsidy, were rebuffed by state governors and civil society organisations hired by those who are now leading the country on the platform of the APC.
The Senate, which had been cowed by President Buhari through corruption cases, rose from slumber, true to the promise of its President, Senator Bukola Saraki that it will grill the executive on resumption. Thus, it investigated the economy and state of insecurity in the country and adopted the inputs of different senators from report by a special committee on State of the Nigeria Economy.
Since after resumption, the Senate has also taken critical look at appointments and monetary presentations made to it by President Buhari, for approval, notably those of the non-career ambassadors, Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and the controversial $30billion foreign loan. The Senate also stooped the National Communications Commission (NCC) and the Department of Petroleum Resources not to hike the prices of internet browsing and motor petrol, respectively.
Miffed by the nation’s economic woes, under the Buhari Administration, the Upper Chambers of the National Assembly, stated that its intervention was fueled by the visits of senators to communities in their senatorial districts, where they saw the stark realities of poverty on the faces of the people.
The Senate using a report presented by the Chairman of the recession committee, Senator Yahaha Abdullahi explicitly stated that the economy plunged into the worst situation despite after being rated as the best in Africa because the Buhari administration hurriedly and fully implemented the TSA which the Jonathan regime conceived but put on hold due to fear of negative impact.
“… the immediate adoption and near-total implementation of the TSA without palliative mechanisms and the restrictive monetary policies led to cash liquidity crunch in banks and in circulation …
“… the restrictions on foreign exchange deposits and transactions sent wrong signals to investors (local and foreign) and caused massive withdrawal of Dollars from the banks, and collapse of the economy in the country …” the report stressed.
It pointed out that the image of the country has been battered by the unfriendly economic programmes of the Buhari regime, and some of the unlawful methods used by the EFCC to tackle corruption.
Indeed, there have been mass closure of companies, downsizing and retrenchment of staff as well as non-payment or salary cut in the private sector, just as in the public sector where workers are owed months of salary or are paid half of monthly salary. The country and its citizens are thus not grappling with austerity alone but are victims of criminal acts, social vices and insecurity unleashed by youths who have resorted to such activities to survive.
Thus, the Senate’s position on reviving the economy as well as re-strategizing the anti-corruption battle that has caused more sentiments is seeing by pundits as being in line with criticisms by local and foreign observers concerning partisanship; presumption of guilt of suspects; media trial; rejection of court orders and arbitrary arrests/detention of suspects and seizure of property.
Senators therefore, unanimously called on the executive to scrap the TSA and revert or fine-tune some of its programmes that are denting the image of the country as well as scaring investors, as part of the ways forward to reviving the economy.
The Senate also wants the executive to call the EFFC to order and stop some of its authocratic and illegal approaches to fighting corruption, without recourse to violation of fundamental rights of suspects and pursuing away foreign firms.
To urgently revive the economy, it has also suggested that President Buhari should re-assign ministerial portfolios according to professional qualifications and capabilities, just as it wants boards to be made up of technocrats and professionals.
It will be recalled that the Buhari regime has since inception being criticized for appointing ethnic allies, party loyalists and those of godfathers of his party, the APC without recourse to professional suitability as was in the Jonathan and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo regimes which appointed professionals onto relevant positions.
On the issue of militancy in the Niger Delta and demands of the region, the Senate identified it as one immediate factor that caused the recession, noting there has been a sharp decline in revenues from oil and gas supply from the region which has powered the economy more than five decades from 1956. And that this, it said, is aside dwindling price of oil and gas at the international market.
It will be recalled that while the government has always picked on the Niger Delta issue this way, apparently showing keen interest in the black gold only, activists notably Prof. Wole Soyinka, have called for peaceful resolution and lasting measures to address the plight of the region. Many have called for restructuring of the false federal system to true fiscal federalism, especially using the Dr. Jonathan National Conference Report, but the Buhari administration has paid deaf ear to the calls which could help unite the country.
However, National Assembly is doing a piece meal effort in some aspects of that conference report. A resource control bill currently at second reading in the House of Representatives, meant to amend the 1999 Constitution, to grant states rights over mineral resources, will be a beacon of hope for even justice and development of states, hence the country if it is not killed.
The Senate, now usually working in cooperation with the lower chambers is expected to give its blessing to the resource control bill, just as President Buhari who professes love for a corruptless and united Nigeria ought to do same. Taking away resources from a people to develop the centre and other places as mandated by the country’s perverted federalism is the major cause of corruption, disunity and underdevelopment. Thus Buhari’s integrity will be on test with the resource control bill – whether he will promote it and give assent or not.
President Buhari and his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo have both drawn the ire of many citizens for publicly rejecting calls for restructuring, on the grounds that Nigeria’s unity “is not negotiable” neither is restructuring the solution to the nation’s problems. These comments and outright threats by the President to crush Niger Delta agitators liked Boko Haram, besides stereotypes that the Niger Delta youths are “militants” and “criminals”, have incised the crises in the region more, President Buhari has been silent about the killings by alleged Fulani Herdsmen.
Against these backdrops the Senate demanded that the Federal Government should without further delay resolve the crisis in the Niger Delta through dialogue. Contrary to the military solution cherished by President Buhari and the Army, the Senate further called for measures that will make the economic activities to boom in the region.
The report is not concrete on measures to assuage the feelings of the region through infrastructures instead it stresses creation of peaceful atmosphere to get more revenues from the oil wells being destroyed. But it calls for aggressive infrastructural development in the entire country, which might benefit the Niger Delta as well. Meanwhile, what the region wants is control of its resources, a stance professed by the agitators labeled ‘militants’ by government and the media.
As part of measures to address the nation’s woes, the Senate has endorsed the clamour for restructuring of the federal system.
“Restructuring of the government of the government to diffuse more socio-economic powers to States and Local Governments for grassroots development rather than dependence on handouts from the Federal government…” will serve as lasting solution to the problems.
Accordingly, the Senate wants more powers to enable it help in re-structure the polity by making fundamental amendments in the Nation’s skewed 1999 Constitution, stating that restructuring will curb corruption and underdevelopment, just as it would promote national integration. It stressed that without doing so, the economic and security problems will continue, regretting that the current situation of the Country, fueled mostly by “corruption, divisive and partisanship” leadership in the country, has eroded the confidence earlier reposed on the Buhari Administration to reposition the system.
With the laudable posture, the National Assembly appears to have just come to terms with the realities on ground. It has the powers to amend the constitution to reflect true federalism, but refused to do so since 1999. Instead it made frivolous amendments and also enacted laws inauspicious to national progress. The Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) meant to stabilize the Oil industry has continued to remain a political/ethnic game, and was welcoming dust despite calls for its speedy passage to develop the Niger Delta and the Country.
The PIB has however been split into pats and to be considered in tranches, according the Senate. The prayer of the oil states is that this approach should not be another gimmick to undo the oil communities by throwing out causes most useful to them or outright killing of part favourable to them.
Despite its weaknesses and politickings, the move to make the executive act urgently and sincerely on the current problems of the country has been applauded by many persons.
Apart from the suggestions above, the Senate has reeled out others such as diversification of the economy; stimulus packages/quick-win-jobs; reduction of bank rates, incentives to investors, relaxation of foreign currency policies; cancellation of conflicting and multiple taxes; adequate funding of the controversial 2016 Budget; ban on importation of agricultural and textile products; massive development and reviving of infrastructures; payment of arrears and current salaries and allowances to civil servants/pensioners and cabinet reshuffle.
The Senate toed the line of some patriots and advised the executive not to sell national assets as a measure to power the depressed economy. The Senate may have reasoned that such planned sales if not transparently done and if the proceeds are not well managed, will cause more harm than good in the long run.
The recommendations of the Senate which have been ratified are to be formally forwarded President Buhari as resolutions of the upper chambers, just as the House of Representatives is not in akimbo on issues.
Membership of the Senate Special Committee on State of the Economy which collated findings from the entire senators included Senator Ben Murray Bruce (PDP, Bayelsa East), aka “Common Sense Revolution”.