Senators on Wednesday called for more efforts by the Federal Government at building sustainable alternative sources of budget funding with focus on the agriculture sector.
The senators made the call in separate contributions during a debate on the general principles of the 2019 Appropriation Bill, after it passed second reading at plenary.
Their contributions came after the Leader of the Senate, Sen. Ahmed Lawan, led the debate with an overview of the budget proposal.
The proposed total budget of N8.83 trillion, presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on Dec. 19, is based on oil price benchmark of 60 dollars and production estimate of 2.3 million barrels per day.
Some of the senators described the projections as unrealistic considering the volatility of the international oil market and uncertainties in daily production outputs.
They expressed concern over the government’s borrowing plans to fund the N1.86 trillion budget deficit, which constitutes 1.3 per cent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.
Deputy President of the Senate, Sen. Ike Ekweremadu (PDP-Enugu), said there were more creative ways of funding budgets without necessarily borrowing.
Ekweremadu urged the federal government to look in the direction of Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements and economic diversification, among others.
Sen. Andrew Uchendu (PDP-Rivers) said the benchmarks of 60 dollars/barrel and daily production output of 2.3 million barrels/day were unrealistic, calling for reduction of the figures
“The 60 dollars/barrel benchmark seems unrealisable because the international price as we speak is around 50 dollars per barrel.
“Again, our budgets have always been based on 2.3 million barrels per day, but this has not been realised over the years.
“It will make more sense to reduce the figures so that we gave more realistic projections,” Uchendu said.
He also urged the Federal Government to replicate the successes recorded in rice production in other products such as oil palm, for which the country has comparative advantage to boost non-oil revenues.
The Deputy Senate Leader, Sen. Bala Na’Allah (APC-Kebbi), allayed the fears on borrowing, noting that the country’s debt-GDP ratio was still very low, as already acknowledged by experts.
Na’Allah, however, said the budget should be adjusted to give adequate attention to even distribution of wealth among Nigerians which he said was one aspect the National Assembly (NASS) should look at.
“Maybe the NASS should set aside a date to look at agricultural funding in Nigeria because nothing is a critical as providing food for Nigerians,” he said.
Sen. Bassey Akpan (PDP-Akwa Ibom) also expressed concern over the “high volatility of the oil market”, urging more aggressive push at economic diversification.
Akpan also described as worrisome the N2.14 trillion earmarked for debt servicing, which he said called for urgent attention.
In his contribution, Sen. Barnabas Gemade (SDP-Benue), said attention should be given to blockage of leakages in revenue generation.
Gemade advocated the removal of oil subsidy (for which N305 billion is earmarked in 2019), to make funds available for priority projects and programmes.
He also called for increased funding of the agricultural and manufacturing sectors to boost the country’s non-oil exports and revenues.
Like his colleagues, he said the government should develop other crop value chains as already done in rice to boost production and create jobs.
Adamu Aliero (APC-Kebbi) lauded the Social Investment Programme of the federal government which he said had greatly improved the living conditions of millions of poor Nigerians.
He urged the government to release more funds for the programme, in addition to increased funding for power, rail and road projects.
All the senators called for speedy consideration and early passage of the bill to pave way for improved budget performance.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the President of the Senate, Sen. Bukola Saraki, announced postponement of further debate on the general principles of the bill till Tuesday.
The Senate, then adjourned, plenary until Tuesday to enable re-elected senators to receive their certificates of return at an event scheduled to hold in Abuja on Thursday.