By Olu Onemola
In September, just two weeks after the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) confirmed that the Nigerian economy was in a recession, President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, initiated an economic debate on the floor of the Senate to highlight the steps that the legislature and the executive needed to take to get Nigeria out of the recession.
This economic debate culminated in the formation of a 20-point economic plan, that highlighted both legislative interventions and executive policy actions that would help to stimulate the economy, boost investor confidence, and promote job creation across all sectors.
On Wednesday, December 14th, 2016, while presenting the 2017 Appropriations Bill to a Joint Session of the National Assembly, President Muhammadu Buhari, keyed into several of the Senate and the National Assembly’s economic recommendations, calling the suggestions “useful” — while also emphasizing that many of the legislature’s economic proposals have been included in the Federal Government’s economic plan.
President Buhari, also embraced the ‘Made in Nigeria’ agenda — that started in the Senate, by stating that “The underlying philosophy of [Nigeria’s] Economic Recovery and Growth Plan is optimising the use of local content and empowering local businesses.” In this regard, the President committed to facilitating, enabling and supporting the economic activities of businesses owned by Nigerians. What this means is that the Senate’s amendment of the 2007 Public Procurement Act to favour local manufacturers and ensure speedy completion of projects. The amendment is aimed at increasing the patronage of local content by empowering local companies to produce locally made goods and it will thereafter serve as a key component of the economic recovery plan.
Additionally, as the Senate economic plan highlighted the need for the harmonization of fiscal and monetary policies for SMES and investors in the real sector, President Buhari underscored the importance of the Senate’s recommendations — assuring the National Assembly that the “Fiscal, monetary and trade policies will be fully aligned and underpinned by the use of policy instruments to promote import substitution.”
The activities of the Niger-Delta Avengers have pushed Nigeria’s oil production far below our average 2.2 million barrel output capacity. As a result of this, the legislature’s economic plan stressed the need for dialogue and high-level engagement with the Niger Delta militants, as opposed to the over-militarization of the zone. Buhari, in his budget address, acquiesced to the legislature’s recommendations, revealing that his government would continue the on-going engagement with communities in the Niger Delta — in order to ensure that disruptions in Nigeria’s oil production are reduced. Nigeria’s oil sector remains its primary revenue generator. Since the 8th Senate was inaugurated, the Senate President has prioritized the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill (PIB). This Bill, which is currently at Committee Stage, is at its farthest stage in 17 years. President Buhari, in the budget address, stressed that the executive would also continue its ongoing reforms to enhance the efficiency of the management of Nigeria’s oil and gas resources. With both branches of government being in-sync on the need to reform the oil sector, Nigerians can be optimistic that the PIB governance framework legislation — which seeks to create an efficient and effective governing institution with clear and separate roles for the petroleum industry — can be signed, sealed and delivered in 2017.
Regarding infrastructure, over the past year, the Senate has passed a repeal and re-amendment of the Nigerian Railway Corporation Act. This bill, once passed and signed into law will modernize Nigeria’s rail sector by opening it up to the private sector for participation. Additionally, the Senate has also prioritized the passage of the Nigerian Ports and Habours Authority Act Amendment Bill; the National Road Fund Establishment Bill; the Amendment of the National Transport Commission Act of 2001; and the National Road Authority Bill.
The Senate’s economic plan also accentuated the need for targeted funding in areas like the construction and maintenance of Nigeria’s national highway networks and rail system; and the upgrade of Nigeria’s power generation, transmission and distribution capabilities.
President Buhari, acknowledging the legislature’s commitment to providing a legal framework for Nigeria’s transportation, infrastructure, and power generation and distribution sectors, played up the importance of this sector, saying that “In 2017, [Nigeria] will focus on the rapid development of infrastructure, especially rail, roads and power.” The President specifically stressed that the legislature and the executive’s efforts to fast-track the modernization of Nigeria’s railway system would remain a priority in the 2017 Budget.
With the aforementioned policies and legislative interventions at various stages of completion, Nigerians now wait for the National Assembly consideration and passage of the 2017 budget. However, with President Buhari, making a point to state that the cooperation between the executive and legislature is crucial to ending the economic crisis, it is encouraging to note that the cooperation in question transcends lip-service as both branches of government are now in-line and in-sync on key economic issues. Working together for the greater good and success remains their only option.
– Onemola is a Senior Legislative Aide to the President of the Senate.