Senate President Ahmad Lawan, on Friday, described the country’s rising debt profile as a “necessary burden to keep a stagnated economy moving”.
Many Nigerians have expressed concern over the country’s debt stock, which the Debt Management Office (DMO) put at N33.10 trillion.
Speaking at a media briefing on the second anniversary of the ninth Senate, Lawan acknowledged that the country’s debt burden was “too heavy”.
He, however, said the loans were necessary because the federal government, with the current state of the economy, could not afford to raise taxes to fund infrastructure which, he said, was a must for the country.
He said: “Many Nigerians feel that the debt burden is too heavy. Honestly, it is. But permit me to have an opinion. It is a necessary burden because to do otherwise will be irresponsible of any government to keep an economy that is stagnated.
“We have to move on. But we must ensure also that those projects, when completed, are to generate revenue to pay for the debt.”
Lawan said amidst the falling revenue, responsible borrowing remained the only option for the federal government to build roads and other amenities that would boost the economy.
He said, “Many Nigerians are talking about the country’s debt profile. Before us in the Senate are two requests from the executive arm of government for loans that we have already approved to fund the 2021 budget.
“The N32.9trn is not only for the federal government. Part of it belongs to the states. It is just that the federal government gives the guarantee.
“Let us imagine a scenario where we have no money as a country and yet for us to develop, the country would need to build infrastructure.
“What we have to do is to raise funds and there are so many ways to do this. Are we going to raise taxes? Can we afford to raise taxes in the current situation for us to fund the infrastructure and it is a must to have infrastructure like roads, railways and so on?
“Definitely one option is out, and that is not to do anything. We cannot afford not to construct roads and other social amenities that would boost our economy.
“We cannot afford to raise taxes. The only option is to borrow, and to borrow, responsibly.
“Before we borrow, we have to identify those essential infrastructures that we need to provide for our economy to grow.
“The job of the National Assembly is to look at the request and check whether those projects are identified as essential projects for funding with the loan.
“We have to ensure the fair distribution of the projects because Nigeria is so large but we have to touch every part. We have to carry every segment of the country along.
“Before we approved the loans, our committee on foreign and domestic debts went to see the areas covered in the loans. We have also started oversight functions to ensure judicious utilisation of the loans in the overall interest of Nigerians.”
‘Not rubber-stamp legislature’
Lawan said the parliament’s peaceful working relationship with the Executive, which, he said, had achieved fruitful results, was misconstrued by Nigerians.
“We are not a rubber-stamp. We are not pocketed,” he said.
He, however, said there was the need for the parliament to let Nigerians know the result of what the rancour-free relationship between both arms of governments had achieved.
According to him, the ninth assembly’s resolve to collaborate with the executive arm of government owed to its decision to work patriotically in the interest of Nigerians.
He added that a frosty relationship between both arms of government as previously characterised in past assemblies had time and again failed to work in the overall interest of Nigerians as they always are the losers.
“I can tell you we disagree with the executive, but the difference between us and what might have happened previously is that we are able to sit down and talk and say no, we are not accepting this one, you should withdraw it,” he added.
Senate President expressed optimism that the planned dialogue between the federal government and Twitter would resolve the dispute with the microblogging site.
Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed had, on Wednesday, said that Twitter had reached out to the federal government for dialogue.
Responding to a question on the position of the Red Chamber on the Twitter ban, Lawan said: “The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had informed Nigerians that they are talking with Twitter to resolve the matter. Our belief is that Nigerians need Twitter and Twitter needs Nigeria.
“We believe that this engagement will resolve the issue. I’m an optimist. I believe that all of us would have learned our lesson.”
Lawan said that the National Assembly won’t hesitate to issue a warrant of arrest on any government official who refuses to appear before its committees to account for public funds in their trust.
The Senate President emphasised: “We will not hesitate to sign the warrant of arrest on anyone who refuses or fails to appear to account for public funds in his or her trust. We will not hesitate.
“But I can assure you that majority of public servants invited to come before the committees of the National Assembly appear, only a few sometimes fail to appear.
“Now, those few, if we judge their absence to be defiance, we will take the appropriate action.”
‘Stick, carrot approach’
Lawan urged the security operatives to employ a carrot and stick approach towards tackling mounting insecurity in the country.
He said the country’s security challenges, which have stretched the security agencies almost to an elastic limit, required a multi-pronged approach to tackle, given the unconventional means of the enemies.
“We should employ stick and carrot approach to tackle our security challenges.
“Where we can use force, we should do so. And where we cannot minimise force and achieve a result, we should not hesitate to do so,” he said.