- Explains how N’Assembly will amend Land Use Act
Deji Elumoye, Chuks Okocha and Adedayo Akinwale in Abuja
The Senate President, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, Wednesday lamented that Nigeria goes the extra mile annually to fund its overpriced Appropriation Bills.
Lawan, who expressed this concern at the opening of a two-day public hearing on the 2020 Appropriation Bill, also explained that he believes in the arguments of some people that Nigeria is over-borrowing.
According to the Senate president, who was responding to the lecture by Prof. Nazifi Abdullahi Drama titled: ‘2020 Budget: Overcoming the challenges of the infrastructural deficit by sustainable development’, stated emphatically that “our budgets are overpriced, and we are going to do something about it; we need to streamline our procurements.”
He added: “Our budgets are ‘over cost’, if there is any word like that. They are overpriced. What may be procured with $10,000 in one country may be procured with $100,000 in Nigeria, knowing that we have a paucity of funds and revenues here. I think the time has come for us to do something about it. I recall that I had once told the minister of finance and budget that we need to streamline our procurement process.
The current budget cycle of June to May, Lawan said, had created problems for planning and for the proper implementation of the country’s macro-economic framework.
On the planned return to the budget cycle of January to December, the Senate president said: “The macro framework needs to be reasonably predictable the way it happens in other climes, and it is when the framework is predictable that it can positively influence the micro details in the budget proposal.
Commenting on the controversial Land Use reform, the chairman of the National Assembly explained that “there was an effort made in 2007 to 2008 that I think fizzled out. I think there is a lot that needs to be done for consultation with state and local governments because land belongs to them at that level.
“Until there is a buy-in from states, the land reform will be a difficult thing to do. The Land Use Act is in the constitution, and if you have to reform the land use in Nigeria, you have to carry out a constitutional amendment to that effect. Even if you pass it in the National Assembly, the state assemblies have to concur with 24 out of 36.”
He commended individuals, civil society organisations, non-governmental organisations, the media and the public for their interests in ensuring that these participatory and mutually rewarding processes of public engagement are smooth.
According to him, “Public hearing is about those wishing to be heard. To decide to be heard takes a lot of courage and conviction. In many cases, it is a product of patriotism and a determination to see that the nation progresses.
“Importantly as well, to be heard is a useful element of democracy, especially when it concerns a vital issue like the budget. The budget is critical to economic development and it is even more so for a country like ours, where our economy needs continuous stimulation.
“The importance of a budget proposal in national development cannot, therefore, be overemphasised. This is the reason why inputs have to be all-inclusive as we are now set to do.”
Lawan explained that a proposal is about fiscal targets, resource allocation, public expenditure policy, productivity and efficiency, adding that “we also understand that the process is one of passage, mobilisation and execution.
“For them to work well, however, we have to have increased participation, which also amounts to empowerment in the realm of information, awareness and education.
“An improved understanding most times comes through exchange of ideas. It comes in a process of agreement and disagreement. Better awareness or expansion of thoughts could also come through purposeful interactions. Other than this is the fact that public hearing is a legislative tool of participation. Through it, we engage with critical stakeholders and the public, either separately or collectively.
“As representatives of the people, we continuously hold them in high esteem. We do not show this through rhetoric, but through our actions, either as specified by statutes or as we deem right. The overall essence is not just engagement or consultation, but also for the greater good of the people. We promise that as a result, to continuously remain focused”.
He, therefore, advised participants at the public hearing “to be open-minded, honest and factual as we have to understand that we have a common goal, which is the economic prosperity of Nigeria, and if we are open-minded and thorough, we surely will be able to arrive at better consensus, and the budget will eventually be enhanced by it.”
Speaking earlier, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Femi Gbajabiamila, said the purpose of the public hearing was to present to the stakeholders the N10.33 trillion budget proposal as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 8 for stakeholders to examine and have input.
He said what the National Assembly seeks is a buy-in from all stakeholders, stressing that he believed nobody is a fountain of knowledge, even though the National Assembly is given full authority by the constitution to appropriate.
According to him, nation-building is a joint task “and this is the first exercise that we will be doing because the budget of any country is the blueprint of its economy; it is a basis upon which everything else is built, and for that reason, we thought it proper to hold this joint public hearing.”
Gbajabiamila noted that the National Assembly is seeking an outcome that would reflect the true federal character of Nigeria, where there would be no lopsidedness, and to ensure that everybody had an input at the end of the public hearing.