Recession: Senators disagree on sale of national assets

•Seek dialogue with Niger Delta militants •Redeploy Adeosun, Udoma, Ekweremadu tells Buhari •Kwakwanso asks for increment in workers’ salary

SENATORS were, on Wednesday, divided over the appropriate model that could see Nigeria out of the current economic doldrums.

The lawmakers, who began a debate on the ways out of the recession, sharply disagreed on the propriety or otherwise of the need to sell national assets to shore up the foreign reserves.

On Tuesday, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, had advocated the sale of national assets to shore the nation’s foreign reserves, adding that such a step would encourage investors and calm currency speculators.

But at the Wednesday’s sitting, the lawmakers were divided on the idea. While some agreed with the idea postulated by the Senate president, others disagreed and insisted that national assets should be kept sacred.

Some of the senators who spoke against the sale of national assets the organisations could end up in the hands of persons who had illegally acquired money.

Canvassing for the sale, on Tuesday, Saraki had said “the measures should include part sale of NLNG Holdings; reduction of government share in upstream oil joint venture operations; sale of government stake in financial institutions, e.g. Africa Finance Corporation; and the privatisation and concession of major/regional airports and refineries.”

Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, on Wednesday, led the pack of those who spoke against the sale of national assets, adding that doing so would impose more economic woes on the people.

“I have heard about the issue of selling our assets. I need to caution that other countries are not doing the same. The United Arab Emirates does not even allow people to have access to their oil wells, let alone selling them. And, of course, a country like Saudi Arabia, their budget each year is run by investments from their oil revenue, not even the earnings from other sources.

“So, while other countries are investing and we are planning to sell the investments we have, we have to be careful because I am not sure we will be fair to the next generation. If we must sell, we have to sell the non-performing assets so that people can turn them around and create employment,” he said.

Former governor of Benue State, Senator George Akume, also opposed the sale of national assets, adding that those canvassing the sale could be persons with deep pockets and eyes on the assets.

“Our assets must remain for us: even Saudi Arabia didn’t sell part of their national assets as alleged. There are other areas that we can tackle,” he said.

Senator Bukar Abba Ibrahim, also a former governor, however, supported the suggestion that national assets could be sold, adding that the sale appeared the most viable option before the country at the moment.

In his further contributions, Senator Ekwermadu asked President Muhammadu Buhari to immediately redeploy the Finance minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun and her Budget and National Planning counterpart, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, to other ministries, to enable fresh hands to work on the economy.

Ekweremadu insisted that the president needed to look at his cabinet and put square pegs in square holes.

According to him, while Udo Udoma is well known to him as an accomplished lawyer, he believed that the former senator could do better in a ministry like Trade and Investment rather than Budget.

“At this critical time, we need somebody who is more experienced to man the ministry of finance, so that he can be able to coordinate the strategies for this recovery,” he said.

Ekweremadu also asked the president to deliberately release funds into the economy, especially funds already recovered through the anti-corruption war.

“Yes we are saying there is no money; the oil price had dropped but we were also told that through the TSA, we have about N3 trillion somewhere. We were also told that the former Minister of Petroleum returned $20 million. We were also told that politicians have returned several billions of Naira, dollars and pounds.

“It is either that this is not true or that the money is somewhere and if it is not true, someone needs to apologise to us and state the correct thing. And if it is true, this money has to be released to contractors so that they can be able to go to work and those in the construction industries will be paid and then they will pay the school fees of their children and money will circulate.

“If we have money in the economy, I am sure that shortly, we will also find some reliefs,” he said.

Other senators who contributed to the debate on Wednesday also canvassed the injection of money into the economy and massive investments in agriculture, as well as diversification of sources of foreign exchange as some of the ways out of recession.

Senator Mathew Urhoghide said government must urgently enter into dialogue with Niger Delta militants to stabilise oil production in the area.

In his contribution, former Kano State governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, supported the idea of dialogue with Niger Delta militants, adding that other security challenges like kidnapping, incessant clashes between farmers and herdsmen, as well as cattle rustling should be tackled.

The senator also suggested that workers’ minimum wage should be increased, to reduce the plight of the workers.

“The current minimum wage is no longer realistic, due to rise in prices of commodities and services such that today, the minimum wage of N18,000 can hardly buy a bag of rice.

“It is, therefore, only logical for a review of such minimum wages and demand for higher productivity from the workers,” he said.

He also insisted that the government must pursue areas of affordable power to jumpstart the economy and ensure diversification.