2016 Budget Implementation The Best Since 1999 — Senator Buhari - Leadership
By Ruth Choji
Sen. Abdulfatai Buhari represents Oyo North senatorial district in the senate and in this interview with RUTH CHOJI , the chairman, senate committee on ICT and cybercrime said the 2016 budget implementation is the best the country has recorded so far since the dawn of democracy in 1999. He also spoke on some other issues.
What was provided for the ICT in the 2017 budget ?
We see the ICT as an avenue that can generate money for government if it is fully harnessed . For example, the Nigcomsat. It has only one line. So we want to get another one for them before we will pass a law that all the service providers must use them. If we can do that, we will generate lots of money for this country. Btu if we don’t get a backup, the communication operators will not agree to risk their business because one could crash.
In the past, the FG came up with an initiative that will provide infrastructure for ICT in Nigeria. Has that been achieved?
The main problem with the initiative is funding.So what we want to do now is to enter into partnership with international partners that will invest in Nigerian ICT. All we need now is built confidence in the economy so that these people can come and invest.
When you mention ICT in Nigeria, the first thought that comes to mind is urban areas. Is anything being done to ensure that, ICT is taken to rural areas?
That is why the NCC and other partners are building ICT centers in rural areas. I have some in my local government. Very soon, every part of Nigeria will be connected to ICT. We also want to ensure that, people explore the many opportunities that abound in the ICT world. It could generate wealth for people.
Some have also attributed the slow growth of ICT in Nigeria to brain drain syndrome, do you share such views?
Yes, I do but I also believe that, if we develop the sector, Nigerians in diaspora will come and invest in ICT. Look at countries like Japan, they have gone far because of technology. Nigerians are still lagging behind because our ICT is not fully developed. If government can inject money into the sector or go into partnership with developed nations that have made advancement in ICT, more people will invest in it.
How much will it cost Nigeria to have a viable ICT Sector ?
I am a professional. So I can’t just reel off figures without variable facts. The dollar keeps increasing so whatever figure I give you today might change tomorrow.
Nigerians were perplexed when the FG said the president has extended his leave indefinitely. Shouldn’t they inform Nigerians about the true state of Mr. President’s health?
The president is first a human being and he can fall sick like you and me. It is his prerogative to tell Nigerians what is wrong with him or not. I was sick for four days recently and so many people did not know. I decided on who to tell or not. So Nigerians should pray for the president that he should get well and come back to continue the good work he has started.
As one who has been opportune to see the 2017 budget, what should Nigerians expect?
2017 is now in the appropriation committee where we are looking at it. The various ministers have started coming for defense.
What will make the budget different from the 2016 budget?
What will make it different is that, last year’s budget was pegged at $40pb but unfortunately, the oil prices fell to about $25pb. The uniqueness of this year’s budget is that, it was based on $45pb and oil prices have risen to $57pb recently. You can see the difference. We can use the $11-$12 difference. We can do a lot with the extra money. If the militants can stop bombing pipelines and believe that, this country belongs to all of us, then this will be the best budget Nigerians have seen in a long time.
2016 budget was riddled with lots of crises like delays, stolen budget and budget padding, how come the 2017 budget is different?
The beauty of it is that, we are determined to pass the budget on time and if it is implemented by the executive, things will get better. The 2016 budget, despite its rough beginning, has experienced about 60 percent implementation which is the best we have had in the last 16years, we have never reached that percentage. By the end of March, I am sure we will exceed that percentage. Things might be rough no doubt, but there is no way that while planning to restore a damage of 16years that things will not be rough, but with determination, we will get there.
Does this government have the capacity to solve the economic problems?
You can come out of recession after you have double negative growth if you are focused and have the political will. You can see that we are trying to push ourselves away from negative growth. We are now beginning to consume what we can produce. I was shocked when I ate Nigerian rice. When we gave it out during the Christmas period, we were shocked with the reception we got. Nobody complained about the rice. That means we are using what we have in our locality to serve the people. This alone is creating jobs. This has made people to stop importing rice from Thailand. Lagos State signed a pact with Kebbi government on rice farming. Almost everybody in Lagos eats Kebbi rice instead of rubber rice or one fake rice people used to import. If these partnership can be exploited in to the states, within a twinkle of an eye, Nigerian farmers will get out of the wood and rice will become cheap. Now for two years, nobody has imported toothpick. The importation of foreign goods has also reduced seriously because there are no dollars anywhere to import them
But are you not worried with the rate of dollar to the naira when this government promised us during their campaign that they would make one dollar equal to one naira?
I am very worried but a lot of factors have come into effect on that. The government met a lot of turbulence when it came to power especially with the Niger-delta youth and then the global recession. However, we are able to minimise the situation. I am not saying that we can bring a dollar to a naira but the steps are being taken to ensure that, the naira stabilises.
But does this government have the capacity to stabilise the naira?
Why not? I told you that, we have a four-year agreement with Nigerians and we have spent almost two years. It is a gradual process.
The FG has just set up a task force that will bring down the prices of food and some are of the opinion that the government should concentrate on policies that will affect the farming process and not to import prices on people. What is your take on this?
Policy or not, how you achieve what you set out to do and achieve is the issue. Nigerians’ path is to wait for the result to come out and if it fails, then they can berate the government. How they achieve it is not the problem of the masses. If the setting up of the committee will bring down the prices of food stuff, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.
There has been an upsurge in Fulani attack in some communities and Nigerians are getting worried?
I am scared and worried about the way Nigerians, after over 55year of nationhood don’t see each other as one. Our population is not as much as India, Pakistan or America. Why can’t we live as brothers and sisters? Your religion is yours and mine is mine. You can’t force me to practice your religion neither can I force you to practice mine. Both religions teach peace yet we are not living peaceful. I see what is happening as an act of selfishness on the path of some persons who are set on destabilising our peaceful co-existence. It is unheard of that people will turn on their neighbours and start killing them. If the FG are serious, they must set up punitive measures. Some scapegoats must face the wrath of the law. There is nowhere in the world that, there are no challenges but the security forces should be able to nip it in the bud before it becomes worse. Anybody that is found wanting should be punished because nobody is above the law. There is nowhere that, there is no turbulence. Look at what happened in America, the woman won with about three million popular votes and somebody won with just the Electoral College votes which is not more than five hundred thousand and you declare him president. You can see the protest that followed, we hav not heard of killings or things like that.
But is federalism working in Nigeria?
Yes, it is but I think we should make presidency less attractive by reducing its powers and empowering the states more. We cannot change to regionalism because it also has its problems. Look at Ghana that is using unicameral legislature, they are also complaining. So our bicameral is good except that we need to work on some areas. You can see there have been lots of improvement even in our democracy. Qualified people are coming in now that the system is being sanitised, to seek political office and if this continues, we will start having quality leaders. We need to persevere and be patient