- As Data cleansing delaying budget – National Assembly
An economic retreat convened by the present administration to offer solutions to the current economic challenges facing Nigeria will hold on Monday and Tuesday next week. The retreat, being put together by the National Economic Council, which has the 36 state governors as members and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo as chairman, will hold in the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
According to a statement on Thursday by the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, President Muhammadu Buhari will deliver the keynote address during the retreat’s opening session on Monday. Akande said Osinbajo, being the chairman of NEC, which is an advisory body to the President, would preside over the retreat with governors from the 36 states of the federation attending.
Others expected at the meeting, according to the statement, are the Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele; and the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma, among other top government functionaries. The statement reads, “The objective of the NEC retreat is to provide a forum for in-depth discussions by NEC members of the policy actions that the states and the Federal Government can consider in order to stimulate local production, cut costs and enhance public revenues among other measures to stimulate the economy.
“Contrary to suggestions, the retreat is not an emergency national economic conference. “The idea was mooted at the last regular NEC meeting in January, where members requested an intensive session to review economic trends and evolve strategies to cope.”
The retreat, which was earlier fixed for March 10 and 11, was later put off to allow for more preparations on the part of the organisers. Nobel laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, had called on the President to summon an emergency economic meeting to chart a course to save the country from further drift. Soyinka, who made the call when he visited the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, in Abuja, had said experts and consumers should be invited to the meeting.
“The President should call an emergency economic conference, with experts to be invited; consumers, producers, labour unions, university experts, professors, etc. I think we really need an emergency economic conference, a rescue operation, bringing as many heads as possible together to plot the way forward,” Soyinka had said.
Meanwhile, Buhari said the current economic crisis, plaguing the nation, was a blessing in disguise. Buhari said this at the opening ceremony of the International Islamic Conference on Peace and Nation Building in Abuja on Thursday. The President said through the hardship, Nigerians would be able to come up with ideas that would in turn lead to development.
He said, “The global economic challenges the world is grappling with today might well turn out to be a blessing for us in Nigeria, because it will stimulate the latent economic opportunities that we have left untapped for decades. “Poverty breeds disaffection, which in turn leads to crime and lawlessness, including confrontation against the state. To checkmate this, we must work hard to lift our economy, engage our youths and rebuild infrastructure.’’
Buhari lamented the level of official corruption in the nation, adding that it led to many years of hardship for Nigerians. He, however, promised to do everything possible to curb the menace. While declaring the conference open, the President commended the Jama’atu Izalatil Bid’a Wa Iqamatis Sunna and the Muslim World League for the event at a time when the nation was grappling with insecurity.
Buhari, who described Boko Haram as a mindless terrorist organisation, said the Federal Government was winning the fight against insurgency. He said once the war was over, the government would commission a sociological study to determine the origin, the remote and immediate causes of the movement, its sponsors, its international connections if any, to ensure that measures were taken to prevent a resurgence.
The President added, “The tragic paradox of the global insurgency situation is that most of the atrocities committed by various insurgents all over the world today are being carried out mainly by people who pretend to be Muslims, yet most of the victims and casualties are equally Muslims.
“No religion approves of such heinous crimes against humanity; definitely not Islam or Christianity, the two to which most Nigerians belong. “Religious leaders must intensify their efforts to send out the real teachings of their religion in order to counter the diabolical ideology that motivates the insurgent elements.”
In the meantime, the National Assembly again on Thursday failed to lay the report of the 2016 budget, saying it was still engaging in “data cleansing.” On Wednesday, the Joint Committee of the Senate/House of Representatives on Appropriation had also failed to keep its promise to produce the report, a prerequisite for passing the N6.07trillon budget.
Jointly addressing journalists on the development after a plenary on Thursday, the spokesperson for the Senate, Senator Sabi Abdullahi, and his counterpart for the House, Abdulrazaq Namdas, said the document was not ready for submission because the committee members were still engaging in ‘data cleansing.’
The spokespersons addressed journalists, just at The PUNCH learnt on Thursday that the Senate had produced a booklet containing the paddling and errors in the budget. They also said that the readiness of the budget next week depended on God and hope. Abdullahi and his colleague, however, assured Nigerians that the budget would be laid and passed on Tuesday next week because the National Assembly would not pass a budget that would be full of errors.
Abdullahi said, “As far as we are concerned, we have not failed. What is happening is the seriousness with which we take the 2016 appropriation. It’s such that we cannot also afford to make errors that will become very costly to this nation.
“We have finished all the necessary work within the context of the various committees. But remember when you do the paperwork, you have to also get the people who will sit down and check; what we call data cleansing and integration.” He added that the two appropriation committees (of both chambers) must integrate their reports, adding that the process was technical and tedious because the budget was a voluminous document.
Abdullahi added, “You will recall that we promised Nigerians that by today March 17, we will be able to pass the 2016 appropriation. Yesterday, (Wednesday) I also confirmed to you that today (Thursday), that same appropriation bill would be laid, barring any last minute technical hitches or otherwise.
“We are here to let you know that as of today, we are unable to lay the 2016 appropriation bill and thus we are hoping that by next week, the process will be completed. When I briefed you, I recalled you were asking if the passage would be completed by next week. And we said yes.
“When you lay the budget report, the next thing is for you to discuss it and get it passed. The two activities will be carried out next week God willing. And let me pre-empt you because I know you will say we have failed to keep to our promise.” The senator said that the lawmakers would not rush the passage of budget in an attempt to keep the promise, adding that what they owed Nigerians was a budget that would be implementable.
He added, “It’s a budget that will help to create jobs and stimulate our economic rebirth. So, that is what we have seen as a key objective and I want to assure you that for those of you who know statistics, in everything you do, you must give freedom for a degree of error.
“We are still working on the figures and we hope by the grace of God that the budget will be ready next week. “I am a Muslim, I say by God’s grace because He must play a role in anything we do. Hope because we are humans; we give chances for human errors,” he stated.