THE Senate, yesterday, approved President Muhammadu Buhari’s request for a loan of N850 billion to fund the 2020 budget, which is threatened by falling crude oil prices. To fight the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, the Upper Chamber of the National Assembly asked the Federal Government to rejig its implementation strategy and set aside 10 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product, GDP, as a stimulus package for investment in healthcare, education, agriculture and solid minerals among others.
These were some of the decisions the Senate took yesterday upon resumption from 36-day recess induced by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. President Buhari had asked the National Assembly to approve N850 billion loan, to be raised from the domestic capital market to fund the 2020 budget.
The president’s request was contained in a letter read by Senate President Ahmad Lawan on Tuesday. According to the president, borrowing from the international market is unattractive because of the COVID-19 pandemic and falling oil prices. “Recent developments in the global economic environment as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the decline in international oil prices has made it less attractive to borrow from the international market at this time.
“To ensure that there are adequate funds to finance critical projects and programmes in the 2020 budget, I hereby seek the Senate’s approval by resolution to raise the N850 billion of new external borrowing in naira from the domestic capital market instead of the international capital market,” the President’s letter read in part.
The Senate, which suspended its Rules to observe social distancing at the plenary, approved the loan after giving it “speedy consideration” and suspending its relevant orders. Senate President Ahmad Lawan directed the committees on Finance and Appropriations to get more details of the loan request from the Ministry of Finance.
Upon resumption, the Senators went into a closed door session at 10.40am and it ended at 12.02 pm. The Senate Leader, Yahaya Abdullahi moved that the Senate suspend Order 11 of the Senate Standing Order as Amended in order to enable the Senators speak from seats not belonging to them to enable them comply with social distancing.
The only matter on the Order Paper yesterday was a motion titled ” COVID-19 Pandemic: Reviewing the National Response to the challenges and the way forward”.
It also urged the Federal Government to ensure better coordination among the federal, state, local governments and private sector, particularly in detection, isolation, treatment of cases, distribution of palliatives and other interventions.
The Senate also urged the Federal Government to use “this grim period to change the trajectory and structure of the Nigerian economy by appropriating at least 10 percent of the GDP as stimulus package for investment” into the key sectors of the economy.
The sectors, according to the Upper Chamber are Health and Education infrastructure, Agriculture value chain, Solid Minerals, Renewable Energy, Petroleum Industry, Infrastructure and Public works like roads, railways, harbours, waterways, integrating research, science and technology, and innovation into Agriculture, Industry and Manufacturing.
The upper legislative chamber has also asked the Executive to fast track the submission of the revised Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, Fiscal Strategy Paper, FSP and the 2020 budget to the National Assembly for consideration and passage. Tech committee on COVID-19 The Senate has also charged the executive to set up a national technical committee on COVID-19 made of relevant scientists and health professionals, both at home and abroad. It said:
“The committee should be charged with the responsibility of developing national strategic response to the pandemic including the detailed epidemiology of the disease in Nigeria, the development or production of rapid testing kits, effective therapy and prevention mechanism, etc.”
Resolutions of the Senate, yesterday, were sequel to a motion titled: ” COVID-19 Pandemic: Reviewing the National Response to the challenges and the way forward” The motion was sponsored by the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Yahaya Abdullahi, APC, Kebbi North and the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Abia South and co- sponsored by other senators.
The Senate urged the executive to articulate a coherent and coordinated exit strategy from the lock-down through a phased opening of the economic and social spheres of the nation without compromising the safety of citizens and ensuring that there is no increase in the rate of the infection. It also called on the Presidential Task Force, PTF and state governors to embark on massive mobilisation, education and enlightenment of Nigerians on the reality of the pandemic and means of protecting themselves, their families and communities from contacting and spreading the virus.
Presenting the motion, the Senate Leader, Senator Abdullahi said that the Senate is disturbed that “despite all actions by the PTF and the National Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, the cases of COVID-19 have continued to rise in Nigeria with community transmission now happening and becoming a major threat to people’s lives.” PDP expresses concern, demands accountability Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, has expressed concern over what it called the hasty approval of N850 billion loan for the President Buhari administration by the Senate.
The party also expressed worry that the government “failed to articulate tangible wealth creation programmes to buoy our economy, despite the huge natural and human resources at its disposal, but relishes only in accumulating loans without precise repayment plans, thereby pawning the economy as In a statement by its Spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, yesterday, the PDP said:
“Nigerians are alarmed that the Buhari administration’s over dependence on loans is wrecking our economy while amassing huge problems for our future generation. “It is even more worrisome that the loans are not transparently managed as most of them are being trailed by allegations of mismanagement and embezzlement.
“The PDP holds that instead of constantly resorting to borrowing, the federal government should articulate innovative ways to create wealth and plug wastes. “What is expected at a time like this is for the Buhari Presidency to immediately cut on luxury, slash the number of Presidential appointees, cut down huge allowances that gulp billions of naira and maintain a lean budget that will centre on health, research and growth of our economy among other critical needs.
“The PDP therefore charges the Senate Presiding officers to note that in approving this loan, the nation holds them responsible to ensure strict oversight monitoring of the handling of the money.”