Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, on Thursday, apprised President Muhammadu Buhari of the activities lined up by the National Assembly, saying after the meeting that Nigeria is a poor nation that has no option but to borrow to fund infrastructure.
Fielding questions from correspondents after the meeting at the presidential villa, Abuja, he, however, assured that the legislature would not be frivolous in granting Executive requests for loans.
According to him, such requests would be subjected to thorough scrutiny to be sure that they are necessary and when approved, the use of the loan would be monitored through oversight.
Lawan pointed out that there are outstanding issues requiring the attention of the National Assembly before it proceeds on its summer break and this includes considering the president’s request for loans.
He said: “We’ll also have the loan request from Mr President. The loan request is to fund the 2021 Appropriation Act and of course, this is not a new request. It’s something that we had passed in the MTEF and it’s something that when we pass the budget 2021, we also passed that.
“So, it’s only to give the necessary legislative approval for the administration to go further and collect the funds.
“What I want to assure Nigerians here is that we are not going to be frivolously supporting or approving loans for the executive arm of government.
“Whenever we have to approve any loan, we have to insist on the details of what projects will be funded by those loans. We’ll have to look at the conditions that are attached to the loans. They must be favourable conditions before we approve and we will be up to date with our oversight to ensure that what we have approved is directly deployed and on those projects that we have also approved for implementation.
“So, we will not be frivolous and will not take it lightly to just approve any loan.
“Our options are really very limited as a country. First, we don’t have the necessary revenues, Nigeria is poor, we shouldn’t deceive ourselves. Nigeria is not rich, given the circumstances we live in, given the challenges we have; our resources are so low, our revenues are so low and therefore, the option of not doing anything, just to sit because we have no money, we shouldn’t go for infrastructure development, is not even an option worthy of consideration. You cannot keep the economy stagnant.
“Two, you cannot, in my view and judgement, tax Nigerians further for you to raise the money for infrastructure development. Other countries do that, but we have serious situation across the country, so you cannot put taxes on people.
“The other option is a public-private partnership. You need to create the environment to attract investors to come into our country because of the security challenges we face today. Not many investors would like to come to Nigeria. In fact, even those inside Nigeria may not like to invest properly in this sector of infrastructure development.
“So, the only option left is for us to borrow, borrow responsibly, utilise prudently and economically, and ensure that the projects are self-sustaining that they can pay back the loans that the Nigerian economy will benefit from the implementation of such infrastructure development.
“So, that is the only option we have and I believe that Nigerians will understand. Of course, it’s not desirable, it’s not something that we like too, no Nigerian would like to have.
“In fact, even an individual does not like to be on loan, but when you must, then you have to, and I want to be very practical here that we do so with that feeling of ‘this is our country, we must move forward, we must provide the enabling environment for our economy to grow and Nigeria to develop.”
Lawan itemized the immediate activities the legislature would undertake before the recess including the receipt of the joint committee’s report on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) and the passage of the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill.
He explained: “Today, I’m alone, but I’ve come to update Mr President on the activities that are lined up in the Senate, particularly, and the National Assembly in general.
“You’ll recall that we have several bills, very important ones at that, that are pending and we are working around the clock. At the moment, we are dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s on the PIB; the Petrol Industry Bill, and by the grace of God, our committees, the joint committees, will finish their work on it by the end of the week, hopefully. The reports would be laid on Tuesday in both chambers. This is what we have planned and this is what we’re working towards.
“You also know that President, the executive arm of government, had submitted a Supplementary Budget request. In the Senate, we have had the second reading yesterday and we have given the Appropriations Committee, particularly to deal with it with the relevant committees of defence-related and other security agencies related committees and of course.
“For COVID-19 vaccines that we have to procure, we need the Health Committee and, of course, the Primary Healthcare Committee as well to work on the Supplementary Budget request for Mr President.
“We’re expecting a report on this by Tuesday, by the grace of God and we may consider that report on Wednesday next week so that we’re able to pass the request because of the urgency and the need for us to hit the ground running.
“We need to give so much attention to our security agencies because of the situation across the country and of course, the COVID-19 vaccines, procurement is also an essential thing that we need to do.
“We also have some work to do on the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill. Our committee in the Senate and indeed, in the House, have worked jointly and we have very little to do really, to get the reports and consider in the two chambers.
“We expect that we’ll do that before we go on our annual summer recess, which comes up on the 15th of July, by the grace of God. So, before we go on summer recess, we should be able to pass the Electoral Act (amendment) Bill.
“We also have outstanding confirmation requests for National Commissioners of INEC, we’ll do that, we’ll consider those confirmation requests from Mr President before we go.”
The Senate President affirmed Buhari’s constant support and respect for the members of the National Assembly and hopes that he would ensure other members of the executive branch do the same.
He maintained: “So, there are really series of issues that we discussed with Mr President and Mr President has always shown his support for the National Assembly and respect for the members of the National Assembly and I believe that he will always be there to ensure that those people manning the side of the affairs today, those ministers, special advisers, and so on and so forth, are also doing exactly the same.
“When we approve loans, that they also, at their own level of the executive level, are able to be responsible because when we detect anything going wrong, we will not show any understanding, we will be stiff, will be rigid.
“Just like I said yesterday in plenary, there are Chief Executives of MDA’s who have refused to appear before our Public Accounts Committee.
“I’ve given advice to the Public Accounts Committee in the Senate, write to remind them, if they fail, give us a list of all of them, we’ll publish the names and we’ll insist that they are brought to the National Assembly under a warrant of arrest.
“But we want something smooth, we want to have a relationship that is decent, that is cordial for the benefit of people of Nigeria.”