Nigerian Senate on Wednesday commenced debate on the general principles of the 2019 Appropriation Bill, ahead of passing it for second reading.
One of the critical issues that came to the fore during the debate was the rising annual debt profile of Nigeria with Senators calling for caution on the part of the executive so as not to return the country to a highly indebted nation as was the case before the 2005 debt relief granted it by the Paris Club.
First to raise the alarm was the Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekweremadu who made contributions after the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan had given the lead debate on the budget estimates.
Senator Ekweremadu in his contribution, said though the budget proposal has to be given expeditious consideration and passage in view of enormous time already lost on the bill but its borrowing plans must be scrutinized to prevent the country from exceeding its limit when juxtaposed with the ratio of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
“Time is already running out on us as regards consideration and passage of the 2019 budget estimates but the increasing borrowing proposals cum plans on our yearly budget is becoming unbearable.
“Yes, money must be sought for by any government to fund infrastructure but it must not be solely anchored on borrowing which in the long run, will take the country back to a problem it had earlier solved.”
In his contribution, Senator Dino Melaye, said the debt profile of the country now is $60 billion from less than $20billion it was before the present government came on board in 2015.
According to him, the components of the $60 billion debts profile are $23billion as external debt, $20billion as local debts while $12 billion is already being proposed for financing of Port Harcourt to Maiduguri Rail lines.
“Nigeria is gradually turning to a chartered borrowing Nation under this government all in the name of funding infrastructure. This must be stopped because the future of the country and in particular, lives of generations yet unborn are being put in danger,” he decried.
He added that even with the high level of indebtedness of the country , the government in power was planning to further devalue the Naira to about N500 to a US dollar and that the Nigeria Stock market suffered a misfortune of N300billion loss two weeks ago when President Muhammadu Buhari got re-elected.
“Inflation is on the rise, unemployment rate is increasing, assumptions made for the budget estimates as regards $60 oil price benchmark and 2.3million barrel oil production level per day are unrealisable and unrealistic,” he added .
Senators Shehu Sani, Albert Akpan Bassey, also called for caution on the part of the executive on the rising debts profile of the country. But Senators Gbenga Ashafa, Adamu Aliero, Jibrin Barau, and Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, said the debts profile was not as outrageous as being portrayed by those raising alarm.
Specifically Na’Allah in his contribution, said rather saying Nigeria is over borrowing, the country is grossly under borrowing when the total amount borrowed is juxtaposed with her population and resources both human and capital.
Though Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, moved motion for the budget to pass for second reading yesterday in view of enormous time already lost in its consideration but the Senate President, Bukola Saraki ruled that the debate should continue and end next week Tuesday.