2021 Budget: Settling Down to Legislative Dissection

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The National Assembly, last week, began the screening of the estimates of the 2021 N13.08trn Appropriation Bill, which President Muhammadu Buhari submitted before it on October 8, report Deji Elumoye, Adedayo Akinwale and Udora Orizu

President Muhammadu Buhari, on October 8, presented a budget estimate of N13.08 trillion to a joint session of the National Assembly for consideration and approval. The President asked the lawmakers to pay close attention to revenue generating agencies and revenue generation, which he said was a major challenge to the government. He also appealed to the lawmakers to quickly pass the document to enable his administration begin implementation in January 2021.

President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmed Lawan and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, however, assured the President that the Appropriation Bill would passed on time in order to maintain the January-December budget cycle.

To ensure that the January-December budget cycle is achieved, both the Red and the Green Chambers suspended plenary activities for them to have enough time to peruse the budget and ensure its passage by December.

Last week, both the Senate and the House hit the ground running with the various committees meeting with agencies of government to access the level of budget implementation of the 2020 Appropriation Act and also deliberate on the 2021 budget proposal.

Budget Defence in the Senate

During the budget defence, Managing Director of Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN), Sule Abdulaziz, told the Senate Committee on Power that out of N165 billion required by TCN for capital projects in 2020, N4 billion envelope was given, out of which only N3 billion was cash-backed.

These revelations came up during 2021 budget defence session that the Minister of Power, Mamman Saleh and the TCN MD had with the Senate Committee.

Chairman of the Committee, Senator Gabriel Suswam and other members like Senators Shaibu Lau, Danjuma Goje and James Manager wondered why no dime was allocated for the Mambilla power project in the 2021 budget.

Lau, who hails from Taraba State, where the power project is located, told the committee members that despite promises made on the project by the federal government on a yearly basis, no access road to the project site and no indication of site clearance, not to talk of possible grand-breaking.

He said: “Nothing in the proposed 2021 budget that concerns Mambilla, showing that there is no commitment from the government. The truth about the project, going by glaring realities on the ground over the last ten years is that, Mambilla will not see the light of the day.”

It was against this background that the Senate asked Nigerians not to expect stable power supply in the nearest future due to gross underfunding of the power sector and apparent lack of seriousness on the part of the federal government in fixing it.

Responding, the minister admitted that the project is yet to take off, adding that he was still trying to convince the President on it.

According to him, a special fund of $200million targeted for the project was still in the office of the Chief of Staff, while the N850million expected from Nigeria as 15% of the contract sum is yet to be paid. The 85% balance of the contract sum is to be financed by the Chinese NEXIM Bank.

Saleh explained that the project is a 3,050 Hydroelectric power project, which after completion would be the largest power generating installation in the country.

Chairman and other members of the committee told the Minister that solution must be found to the Mambilla issue as part of moves to address the issue of epileptic power supply in the country.

In his contribution, Senator Manager was of the view that going by the submission of the minister, there was no seriousness from the government on the project, which is getting Nigerians frustrated.

Goje, on his part, said, “The hope of getting stable power supply in Nigeria in the nearest future is dashed going by gross underfunding of the sector and lack of required seriousness on those managing the sector to get it fixed up.”

The Committee also accused the Power Minister of uneven distribution of mini-grid power projects for rural communities. It accused Saleh of proposing to locate 20 of such projects in Lau Local Government Area of Taraba State, where he hails from.

The panel, therefore, asked the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency, Mr. Ahmad Salijo, who appeared before the committee to defend the agency’s 2021 budget estimate, to go back to the minister and draw his attention to the lopsided distribution of the projects and rectify the error.

A member of the committee, Senator Yusuf Abubakar Yusuf, from Taraba Central senatorial district, drew the attention of his colleagues to the lopsidedness in the distribution of the electrification projects. According to him, many of the power projects were concentrated in the minister’s LGA.

“It is not just the N52 million project but if you look at the proposal from number 85, N30 million, N20 million and N40 million, respectively are to be spent on rural electricity and they are all concentrated in one local government area, which is the minister’s local government area. Twenty projects are in Lau Local Government Area. I am not challenging him but I am sure,” he said.

Another member of the committee, Senator Bala Ibn Na’ Allah, stated that the minister by his action violated the 1999 Constitution (as amended).

“Those who elected us to this office expected us to ensure that the constitution, which they have made for themselves and given to us, will be executed to the letter. The president wants to be the president of every citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Therefore, he would want loyalty and co-operation from every citizen of the country.

“If we sit down here and agree that a budget that pleases a minister can come, he (minister) is not doing himself good, because he has sworn to do justice to all manner of people and not to allow his personal interest to affect his official conduct and decision. He has by this clearly shown that he has allowed his personal interest to affect his official conduct and decision, and that is a very serious matter.”

Chairman of the Committee, Senator Gabriel Suswan, thereafter, asked the management of the agency to go back and correct the anomalies discovered in the project identification, location and ensure even distribution of the projects before re-appearing before the Senate committee next Monday.

Also, during another defence session on October 27, the Minister of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, gave next year as the date for the takeoff of a new national carrier, while adding that 10 new airports were under construction nationwide. But the Senate lamented the deplorable state of Minna, Ilorin and Makurdi airports.

Sirika, while appearing before the Senate Committee on Aviation, unveiled the federal government’s road map for the aviation sector in 2021, with the establishment of a national carrier topping its priority.

Other projects to be executed are the establishment of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility, development of agro-allied cargo infrastructure, the establishment of Aviation Leasing Company, Search and Rescue Unit and establishment of Aerospace University with the support of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Specifically on the national carrier, the minister stated that all required agreements and arrangements with other partners had been worked out.

The Minister said safety and security are more of important issues to them in the aviation sector than the establishment of new airports, adding that airports such as that of Minna, Ilorin and Makurdi, whose facilities were not in proper shape, were being attended to.

Chairman of the Committee, Senator Smart Adeyemi, in his comments, requested the minister to ensure the upgrade of the Ajaokuta airstrip and the establishment of Lokoja airport, saying Lokoja deserves an airport, because of its proximity to Abuja like Minna.

Similarly, the Senate Committee on Interior suspended budget defence by the agencies under its purview on account of the #ENDSARS protests that was hijacked by hoodlums and the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the House of Representatives

The Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clement Agba while briefing House Committee on Civil Society and Development Partners on Donor Funds Receipts, Transfers and Disbursement to Government Agencies, Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organisations in Nigeria, disclosed that Nigeria received $26.942 billion Development Assistance funds from International Donors between 2015 and 2020.

The amount comprised of $2.339 billion received in 2015, $1.150 billion gotten in 2016, $774.933 million collected in 2017, $22.016 billion obtained in 2018, $655.642 million received in 2019 and $5.639 million gotten in 2020.

He explained that the donations came from the European Development Fund (EDF); United Nations Development Systems (UNDS); China through the Bilateral Agreement between the Government of Nigeria and the People’s Republic of China signed since1972; Japan Activities in Nigeria via the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA); Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA); Department for International Development DFID; United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the German International Cooperation (GIZ).

Agba, who said his Ministry does not receive donor funds, hence cannot transfer or disburse what is not received, also said Nigeria does not currently qualify for Budget support, because it is not classified as very poor but as a lower middle income country that is only qualified for projects/programmes support.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed, while responding to questions from the House Committee on Information, National Orientation, Ethics and Values to defend the 2021 budget proposal, said the nation was sitting on a keg of gun powder regarding the issue of fake news, hence the need for the government to immediately begin to regulate the social media space.

He said the biggest challenge facing the country was the issue of fake news and misinformation, warning that the next war that would be fought in the country and across the globe might be fought through social media, making reference to the recent #ENDSARS protest, which he said was fought on the social media.

The Minister, however, explained that the government was not seeking to shut down the social media space in the country because the social media has come to stay, but to have a social media policy that regulates the social media and check fake news and misinformation.

‘’The biggest challenge facing Nigeria today is fake news and misinformation. Based on that, we dedicated an entire National Council on Information meeting to see to that issue after which we launched a national campaign against fake news in July 2018.

“We said then that the next war will be fought without a shot being fired, but with the use of fake news. We didn’t stop there. We went on a tour of all media houses to solicit their support in the fight against fake news. We launched the campaign to regulate social media which was bitterly contested by the stakeholders,’’ he said.

But a member of the committee, Hon. Emmanuel Egoh Oghene warned against any attempt to shut down the social media in the country, saying the action would be counter-productive and could lead the youths to believe that there was an attempt to truncate democracy in the country. He said it was wrong to always look at the negative sides of the social media at all times without mentioning the good side.

Also, following the looting of a warehouse belonging to the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), in Kaduna State, where seized fake and expired drugs were said to have been stored and awaiting destruction, the House committee on Healthcare Services, called on Nigerians to be careful of the kind of drugs they purchase and consume this critical period.

Chairman of the committee, Hon. Yusuf Sununu, made the call while engaging heads of various agencies under the committee during the 2020/2021 budget defence. He said the drugs stolen from the facility in Kaduna were impounded or seized by the agency that was waiting for clearance and approvals from the relevant authority to destroy them.

Meanwhile, the committee rejected budget presentations by four different agencies and declined approval for their 2021 budget proposals, saying they were poorly prepared.

The agencies sent back to rearrange their documents and return to the committee are the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), National Blood Transfusion Services (NBTS), the Institute of Public Analysts of Nigeria (IPAN), as well the Inter-country Centre for Oral Health in Africa.

Also, the House Committee on Power has promised to put in place a law that would put an end to the banding of power, in order to ensure equitable supply of electricity to all Nigerians.

Chairman, House Committee on Power, Hon. Magaji Aliyu, stated this, when the Minister of Power came with members of his ministry to defend the 2021 budget.

The committee also lamented that it did not know if Nigeria was better off under National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) than they are under the Distribution Companies (DISCOs).

Aliyu said he received a minimum of 30 letters from his colleagues on issues of transformer everyday.

The Chairman, however, urged the minister to sanction the DISCOs for not doing what is expected of them, adding that Nigerians were being cheated.

“We don’t know what is the best arrangement, whether, as Hon. Wale Raji said, we are better off when we had PHCN than now. The problem you have put us in now, Honourable Minister, is that you have allowed them to have Bands A, B, C and D.

“They said people in my village don’t pay for power, so, they will not give us power. I have over 30 transformers in my place that are new but we don’t have light, because we are in Band D. They are only looking for Band A and Band B customers. So, we are going to make a law to disband this banding of power. Power should be supplied equitably to anybody. This segregation must be stopped,” Aliyu said.

Hon. Raji, however, urged the minister to carry the lawmakers along on the issue of 150 solar power projects, noting also that on the purchase of transformer, poles and others, it was not in tandem with the reality on ground, even though the minister had given the official position.

Contributing, another member of the committee, Hon. Olanrewaju Ibrahim, said he had to cough out N5 million to prevent his house from being burnt by his constituents.

Chairman of the committee, however, warned that the Power Ministry could lose its powers to the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), due to their interference in the Ministry of Power.

Meanwhile, the budget Defence in the two chambers of the National Assembly continues this week and may last till the Assembly reconvenes on November 24.T