The House of Representatives on Tuesday commenced debate on general principles of the 2018 Appropriation Bill as issues regarding the non-implementation of Zonal Intervention projects in 2017 appropriation were highlighted.
Leading the debate, the House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (Lagos-APC), appealed to his colleagues not to lose sight of ideas behind the bill which seeks to consolidate on gains already attained by government, even as critical observations were raised.
There were objections raised by some opposition lawmakers who demanded suspension of the debate until work on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and Fiscal Strategy Paper (FSP) was concluded and passed.
Abubakar Chika (Niger-APC) also raised a constitutional point of order and the House Rules challenging the legality of the debate in the absence of MTEF.
The Deputy Speaker, Lasun Yusuf, who presided over the plenary session, assured Mr. Chika that the debate would only be a stop-gap measure that would not necessarily lead to the passage of the Bill through second reading until the MTEF was dealt with.
Mr. Lasun said that the House would definitely pass the MTEF within the days slated for debate on the appropriation bill.
“If we have to go strictly by our provision, we will be drawn back. I will plead with my colleagues to let us go on with the debate.
“The debate is not tantamount to passing the bill, this debate will allow us follow our calendar so that things will be done in the right order,” he said.
Responding, Mr. Gbajabiamila admitted the constitutional and legislative correctness of Rep. Chika.
He said that his colleague was “absolutely correct because we cannot be seen to violate our own laws which we passed in this House.’’
“As it is the practice, the MTEF cannot be left hanging for us to commence debate on the budget.
“But in line with your ruling, I seek the indulgence of the House to allow the debate and also urge our colleagues to show understanding. This would enable us reduce the work load on the document,’’ Mr. Gbajabiamila said.
He, therefore, urged his colleagues to look beyond the shortcomings observed and focus on the benefits of the budget to Nigerians.
He said, “The size of this budget is a deliberate attempt to take the nation’s economy out of recession and grow it to a sustainable level that upholds the minimum standard of living for Nigerians.
“The projected revenue for 2018 is N6.6 trillion, N2.4 trillion will be from oil, N1.3 trillion will be from non-oil, N710 billion will be from government assets and N847 billion will come from independent revenue.’’
Speaking on how the N8.6 trillion would be spent, the House Leader disclosed that N2.01 trillion which represents 23 per cent of the budget would be used for debt servicing, and N220 billion will go for payment of local contractors.
He added that N3.4 trillion would be dedicated to recurrent expenditure, pension and social intervention, and 30 per cent of the budget would be dedicated to capital expenditure.
Mr. Gbajabiamila noted that a N2.05 trillion deficit which represents 1.7 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), would be funded by borrowing.
Giving a snap shot of key areas that would be covered by the capital, he said N8 billion would be for the construction of the second run way of the Nnamdi Azikiwe Abuja Airport.
“N295 billion is for the construction of roads nationwide, N10 billion is for the second Niger bridge, N9.8 billion is for Mambila project among others.
“The capital aspect of this budget is purely to stimulate growth in all sectors of the economy, ranging from agriculture, aviation, rail and road transportation as well as solid minerals exploration.
“So, I put the ball in the court of my colleagues with a view to giving their support to the passage of this bill for second reading, and I must say that I expect to hear dissenting views on this, because no budget in the world is perfect.
“But let’s not lose sight of the bigger picture of this budget with regards to issues of job creation, anti-corruption war, insecurity and provision of infrastructure that would serve the best interest of our citizens,’’ Mr. Gbajabiamila said.
In his contribution to the debate, Denis Agbo (Enugu-PDP), raised concern over non implementation of zonal intervention (Constituency) projects by the executive in the 2017 budget.
Mr. Agbo said that it was those projects that had direct impact on the lives of the more than 170 million Nigerians, especially those in the nooks and crannies of the federation.
He added that out of the N4.2 trillion allocated to capital projects, only a N100 billion was meant for federal legislators to bring federal presence to their people.
“Of the entire capital allocation, zonal intervention project is just about 3.4 percent of capital expenditure, and I see no reason why government will not implement it’’.
Mohammed Monguno (Borno-APC) said there was the need for the House as a responsible arm of the legislature to take the bull by the horn in demanding adequate implementation of budgets.
Citing a newspaper publication which quoted the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) as saying the oil benchmark for 2017 budget had been exceeded by 18 per cent, Mr. Monguno questioned why the 2017 budget still suffered abysmal implementation if the nation was making more money than anticipated.
NAN reports that the debate continues on Wednesday.
NAN also reports that President Muhammadu Buhari presented the 2018-2020 Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly on November 7.