Atiku: Buhari is mortgaging Nigeria’s future with debts

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Former Vice President Atiku Abubakar yesterday accused President Muhammadu Buhari of borrowing away Nigeria’s future by sinking the nation into more debts. His criticism coincided with the signing into law of the 2020 Appropriation Bill of N10.594 trillion by Buhari at an event witnessed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Senate President Ahmad Lawan, House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha and presidential aides.

“The fact that Nigeria currently budgets more money for debt servicing (N2.7 trillion), than we do on capital expenditure (N2.4 trillion) is already an indicator that we have borrowed more money than we can afford to borrow. And the thing is that debt servicing is not debt repayment. Debt servicing just means that we are paying the barest minimum allowable by our creditors,” Atiku who contested against Buhari in the last presidential election, said in a statement, saying for example that: “By reforming the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Nigeria can raise the $29.6 billion the Buhari regime wants to borrow, and we will raise the money without going into debt.

Previously N10.33 trillion, the National Assembly increased the sum to N10.594 trillion. While N560.47 billion of the total budget is for statutory transfers, N2.7 trillion goes into debt servicing. The budget includes N4,842,974,600,640 for recurrent expenditure; capital expenditure; N2,465,418,006,955; fiscal deficit N2.28 trillion and deficit/GDP N1.52%.

The budget, as passed by the National Assembly, maintained Nigeria’s daily oil production rate at 2.18 million per barrel, but increased the oil benchmark price to $57 per barrel against the $55 proposed by the executive. The signed budget also retained inflation rate at 10.81% and the exchange rate at N305 to a dollar as proposed by the executive.

Comparing Nigeria’s fiscal predicament with its neighbor, Atiku asked: “Why are foreign investors leaving Nigeria for Ghana? The answer is that Ghana, unlike Nigeria, has learnt how to divorce key institutions from politics. The Ghanaian central bank enjoys a degree of independence that our own CBN can only dream of under the prevailing atmosphere.

“You will not hear Ghana’s leaders give flippant interviews overseas about their plans for the Cedi, as Buhari has done in Europe about the naira. It rang alarm bells because it is not the job of the executive to interfere in the role of the reserve bank. Neither will you find Ghana’s leaders blatantly intimidating the judiciary by obviously setting up judges and invading courtrooms. Why would any investor come to Nigeria under such prevailing circumstances? Their thought would be that if they had industrial disputes, our courts, under this administration, could not be counted on to deliver impartial justice,” Atiku said.

Faulting the budget, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said in a statement: “It is indefensible for the Buhari presidency to propose a whopping N37 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex, which was built at the cost of N7 billion.” It said the embedding of the N37 billion in the budget of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) leaves a burden of explanation on the president’s doorsteps.

Buhari was however full of praise for the budget. He stressed that his government was determined to implement the budget for the benefit of Nigerians. “We are well positioned to effectively implement the budget and deliver our promises to Nigerians. Businesses will also benefit, as they are now in a position to plan more effectively,” he said.

The 2020 budget is the second Buhari will sign this year, having signed the 2019 Appropriation Bill in May. He noted: “I have directed the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and all Federal MDAs to ensure effective implementation of the 2020 budget.” He also commended the parliament for restoring the budget to a January-December cycle. According to him, in the 20 years since the return to democracy, “this will be just the fourth time that the federal budget was passed before the end of the previous year, and this is the earliest.”

He further directed that the presentation of the 2021 Appropriation Bill should be done in September 2020, urging all federal ministries, departments and agencies to cooperate with the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and keep to the timeline.

Meanwhile, Atiku also expressed displeasure with the speed with which the six-year single term proposal for president and governors was rejected by the House of Representatives. A bill proposing a single term of six years for Nigerian president, governors, and lawmakers has failed to sail through the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill sponsored by John Dyegh (APC-Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency) was rejected by the majority of the members present at the plenary on Tuesday.

Reacting in a statement by his Media Adviser, Paul Ibe, on Tuesday in Abuja, Atiku said he was disappointed by the fact that the lawmakers had thrown away the baby with the bath water at the expense of the larger interest of the country. Atiku said in view of the challenges facing Nigeria’s current democratic order, especially the culture of election rigging that subverts the will of the people, six-year single term would have ended such untoward practices in its electoral process.

“The desperation for second term by the incumbents is the main reason why they go for broke and set the rule book on fire, thereby making free and fair elections impossible by legitimizing rigging at the expense of their challengers that have no access to public funds. “A situation where the incumbents deploy more public resources to their second term projects than using the funds for people’s welfare encourages massive rigging that undermines electoral integrity. Six-year single term would remove such desperation and enable the incumbents to concentrate on the job for which they were elected in the first place.”

Atiku regretted that eight-year term of office rewards incompetence because even incumbents that have failed would use their access to public funds to return to power by fair or foul means. “I don’t agree with the logic that eight years would give elected leaders better opportunity to fulfill their campaign promises. An inherently incompetent incumbent will perform below average even if you give him/her 20 years in office or give him or her $20 billion dollars,” Atiku stressed.

According to him, it is not how long a man spends in office, but how well he is adequately prepared for the job. He argued that the desperation for second term was not necessarily driven by patriotism or the passion for service, but by the obsession with the greed for power for its own sake. “Second term obsession rewards incompetence by allowing failed incumbents to be reelected regardless of their performance record.

“It also denies political parties the opportunity to replace failed incumbents with better candidates within the parties in the name of right of first refusal.” The former vice president said that the rejection of the six-year single term was a mistake because little attention was paid to its merits.