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When House of Reps tackled the monster



The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) had in August this year, announced that the nation’s economy was now in recession, and this development has been a source of concern as Nigerians battle with the reality.
The announcement came after the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun in July alerted that the country was in “ recession technically”.  Appearing before the Senate, she said “Things are tough, but we are not ignorant.  I want to assure Nigerians the economy is in good hands and we are absolutely doing our best. We want to assure Nigeria we are on the right path; we are on the right track. Technically, Nigeria is in recession but we should not go into definition; but what we are doing?”
This issue dominated discourse in the House of Representatives a day after it resumed from its annual recess.  For two legislative days, the House ruminated on the issue and the way forward.
From the speaker, Yakubu Dogara to the members, everyone expressed deep concern over the economic reality in the country, as they took turns to analyse how Nigeria got into problem and how to pull the country out of the economic dungeon.
Dogara set the tone for the discourse while delivering his welcome address. The speaker said the state of the nation’s economy was very worrisome.  He said the situation called for collaboration from Nigerians instead of apportioning blames.
He said: “The state of our economy is of urgent and critical importance. That Nigeria has gone into recession is a very worrisome development that calls for emergency measures to be taken. All hands must be on deck to tackle the myriads of problems facing us. This is not the time for partisanship. This is not the time to score political points. This is not the time for grandstanding. This is not the time for blame games. The situation and the times call for bold, courageous, enlightened and purposeful leadership. This is a patriotic call to action from all stakeholders and indeed all Nigerians. We must unite as a people to rescue Nigeria from the shackles of poverty, social and economic underdevelopment.”
The speaker also wants President Muhammad Buhari to engage the National Assembly in efforts the executive arm of government is making to get the country out of the woods economically.  To that end, Dogara wants the President to address a joint session of the two chambers.
“I urge President Buhari to consider holding a joint emergency session of the National Assembly to brief both the Legislature and Nigerians of his plans to pull Nigeria out of recession” he said.
Two members of the House, Olayiwole Kassim (APC, Ogun) and Tobby Okechukwu(PDP, Enugu) later moved a motion on the economic crisis in the country.
Kick-starting the debate on the motion, Kassim, who lamented the decline in the number of barrel of crude oil produced per day, said there is also a decline in the manufacturing sector.
He noted that it was necessary for the government to come up with measures to revamp the economy.  According to him, there is the need to make credit available to entrepreneurs at low interest rates.
However, the lawmaker lamented: “ Nigerian banks are charging the highest interest rates in the world. It is counter-productive. We should strive for a sustainable single digit interest rate.”
Speaking on the motion, Okechukwu said inconsistency in government economic policies is creating fear and uncertainty in the policy.  He said there is a lot of capital flight in the country because of inconsistency in government policies, adding that there is need for the government to come up with a clear cut economic direction.
“Unless there is focus, we will not make progress. There has to be a convergence of government policies, “ Okechukwu stated.
On her part, Nnenna Ukeje (PDP, Abia) said part of the problem is the lack of synergy by the various government officials managing the economy.  She said that lack of synergy had created fears in the polity.
In her words: “People in charge of the economy are speaking in discordant tunes. There is absolutely no synergy in the management of the economy. It is this lack of synergy that had created fears.”
Ukeje challenged the government to come up with a clear road map on how to move the country out of the current economic recession.
Contributing to the debate, House leader, Femi Gbajabiamila (APC, Lagos) advocated for the restructuring of the polity in such a way that the country can truly operate as a Federal state.
He said that only when that is done that the country can begin to make real progress.  The lawmaker said there is need to address bombing of petroleum pipelines, which had resulted in a sharp decline in the production of crude oil,  and the country’s dependence on oil as its major source of revenue.
Gbajabiamila, who said the economic recession is not restricted to Nigeria, called for concerted effort in tackling it. He noted that blaming one another will not do the country any good as economic recession does not recognize party, tribe or religion.
Speaking on the motion, the Minority Leader, Leo Ogor (PDP, Delta) said there is need for Nigerians to see the blessing in the current situation.  He said since 1999, the country has been paying lip service to the diversification of the nation’s economy.
Ogor blamed the lack of clear cut monetary policies, de-marketing of the country abroad by the leadership as part of the factors responsible for the economic recession.
He called for the ceding of some items in the exclusive legislative list to states, so as to empower the states and reduce the burden on the Federal government.
“Since 1999, we have been paying lip service to diversification.  Everybody is interested in oil.  Thank God, oil has fallen.  We need to look at the exclusive legislative list and divert some of the powers to the states.  How did we get here?  Lack of clear cut monetary policies.  One of these major problems is the ban of payment of money into domiciliary accounts. We indirectly devalued our currency.
“TSA is a beautiful concept.  But we gathered money and ware-housed them. We need to be able to market our country very well.”
In his contribution,  Hon Tajudeen Yusuf(PDP Kogi) said recession does not just happen. He said the economic recession in the country is as a result of past and current actions of the government.
“If we had saved in the time of surplus, we would have had something to fall back to.  But every attempt to save was resisted, especially by the governors. Unfortunately, we took certain decisions last year that contributed to where we are now.  The restriction of Forex for four months last year did the economy great harm,” Yusuf said.
He added that the intention of those who came up with the Treasury Single Account(TSA) is not to warehouse money, noting that it is spending that reflates the economy.  TSA is good but we must make sure that those who work must get their money immediately.
Besides, the lawmaker called for deliberate measure to reconcile the exchange rates, stating that the discrepancies of exchange rate makes it possible for round tripping.   Contributing, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha(PDP, Abia)  said one thing the country should not do in its quest to get out of recession is the sale of national assets. She said the executive arm of government must engage with the Nigerian people in finding a solution to the current economic downturn.
“One thing we should not do is to just focus on their sale of our assets.  Who are we going to sell them to?  Let it not be the same people who got waivers that are coming back to canvass for the sale of the assets”.
Zakari Mohammed (APC, Kwara),  while aligning himself with most of the positions canvassed noted that there is need for synergy between the executive and legislative arms of government.  According to him, there is no country that has gone into a recession and come out without a synergy between the two arms of government.
On his part, Goni Lawan (APC,Yobe)  added that for Nigeria to get out of its current economic woes, there must be diversification of the economy.  He said the agricultural potential in the country should be fully explored so that it can become a major income earner for the country.
Also, Lawan called for the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), noting there is also need for the government to negotiate with militants in the Niger Delta, whose activities in the region have brought about a decline in crude oil production.
However, analysts believe that the situation calls for more actions from the legislators.  After identifying the cause of the present economic state which the country has found itself, not a few believe that the lawmakers have a crucial role to play to help the country get out it.  A school of thought believes that the federal legislators can contribute to helping the country get out of the recession by strengthening their oversight functions, making laws to tackle those issues they have talked about and above all by ensuring that the country’s budget are faithfully implemented.