1. Mr. President, on behalf of my colleagues, Distinguished Senators of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Honourable Members of the House of Representatives, I welcome you and members of your Executive team to this joint session of the National Assembly.
2. What a delight it is to see you looking so well and rejuvenated, Mr. President. We are most grateful to God for your revived state of health in this period of national recovery, and we pray it continues. Let me use this opportunity to thank all those Members of the National Assembly that put the country first and resisted the urge to play politics during Mr. President’s time away.
3. It is pleasing to note that the budget is being presented earlier than December. This is a welcome development.
4. I must commend Mr. President, the Economic Management Team, my Distinguished colleagues and Honourable members of the House of Representatives as well as all Nigerians, for working together to make the necessary sacrifices to get the economy out of recession. Without doubt, this recovery benefitted from greater policy coordination, prioritization and passage of economic reform bills, but more importantly, the resilience of the Nigerian people. Having said that, it is pertinent to note that the implementation of the 2018 Budget – how it is implemented – will be a defining element of this Administration. We must therefore continue to work together to steady the ship of this recovery.
5. As the country gradually recovers, it is important to reset the fundamentals that drive our economy – so we do not slide back into recession. We must reassess the relationship between oil and our economy. Oil prices are gradually inching up, but that is no reason for complacency in our diversification drive. We must grow our economy away from oil – as well as the need to increase non-oil revenue generation and collection.
6. Revenue from taxes as well as independent revenues from State Owned Enterprises must be taken seriously. If the budget is to be funded, we cannot afford to turn a blind eye to revenue under-performance. While there is a need to review extant laws guiding the operation of some Government enterprises, I would urge for more determined effort on the part of the Executive, to plug leakages. This sector alone accounts for over 40 trillion naira in valuation, of which less than 400 billion naira is remitted as revenue to the Consolidated Federation Account. This is not acceptable. We need to vigorously address this area.
7. The budgets of parastatals and agencies are meant to be submitted with this budget presentation, as stipulated by the constitution. We must work to ensure that these are passed by the end of the year, and sanction those parastatals and agencies that fail to submit their budget along with the 2018 budget, and deny access to capital expenditure unless budget is passed.
8. Further to the area of increasing independent revenue, there is the need to review agreements that government has signed with some private sector service providers. Many of these agreements are biased, and clearly, not in the interest of the country.
9. We appreciate the need to spend, Mr. President. However, we must ensure that our borrowing is targeted at productive projects that will stimulate the economy. We must ensure real value-for-money in projects funded by borrowing, and make doubly sure that the projects are not overpriced.
10. To ensure consistency in government’s economic programmes and tax policies, we will be requiring that the submission of the 2018 Budget – and budget submissions going forward – be accompanied by a Finance Bill. This bill – which should clearly detail the imposition, alteration or regulation of taxes such as the proposed tax on luxury items and excise taxes, among others – will put the financial proposals of government into effect.
11. As we are all aware, many businesses were adversely affected by the recession; many lost their means of livelihood. As the country emerges from that period of uncertainty, the question on the lips of many Nigerians has been this: How does the recovery translate into tangible economic benefits for me? We must remember that the real gains must be felt on a personal level by the individual, for economic recovery to have meaning. People are seeking to get back to work but cannot find jobs. Entrepreneurs want to restart their businesses but are finding it difficult to access the needed capital. As for our farmers, the last thing they want is for produce to go to waste because people cannot afford to buy.
12. Looking around today, we see that many of our undergraduates are apprehensive about their graduation day; and our National Youth Corps members are not looking forward to the end of the service year, for fear of being tagged ‘unemployed’. While I commend your current efforts at tackling unemployment – especially among the youth through Federal Youth Programmes such as YouWin, N-Power, and YES-Programme – deliberate steps must be taken to make the 2018 budget a job oriented one.
13. In line with that, we must see to the implementation of the Procurement law, with particular relevance to the part that has to do with support for Made-In-Nigeria goods. The implementation of the 2018 budget must anchor on the Made-In-Nigeria project. This should be reflected in government procurements in 2018.
14. As we strive to start implementing the budget from January, all would be in vain if we do not eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and speed up the procurement process. We are working towards reviewing the Procurement Act to achieve this.
15. Also, government should continue to create the enabling environment for private sector businesses to thrive through its policies and spending priorities. As we pat ourselves on the back that Nigeria has made a quantum leap, going up 24 places in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking, we cannot rest on our laurels. There is a need to complement reforms in the ease of doing business with targeted spending on those critical infrastructure projects that enhance economic activity and job creation.
16. In view of this, we must move beyond budgetary provisions without adequate funding available for the execution of projects – and ensure that selection of contractors, as well as the release of funds, are transparent. We must therefore make project completion a top priority, especially those projects that directly impact the lives of our people.
17. On our part, the 8th National Assembly is standing firm on its objective of expanding economic opportunities through economic reform bills that we have prioritized. Some of these are beginning to affirm the vision of reforms that we need in order to move our country forward.
18. Let me now talk about mainstreaming social inclusion. Mr. President, each and every Nigerian wants to be part of the economic progress. We must never lose sight of the need for equity and balanced development across the entire spread of our country. Infrastructural development should be seen to be well distributed, to create growth pools away from the major city centres and drive the regeneration of our rural areas. Agriculture, for instance, is meaningless without those that will engage in farming in the countryside. The current rate of rural-to-urban migration is alarming and unsustainable – congesting the cities and stretching resources to breaking point, while undermining the economic viability of some states. People must be able to see a future for themselves in every corner of this country, not just in the big cities.
19. Mr. President, there are big ticket projects like Power, Rail and A-Trunk roads, but also, there are smaller projects which impact people’s lives. We must do both. Those in charge should ensure proper execution or face sanction.
20. It is important that I emphasize that the presentation of the budget should in no way dampen enthusiasm for the implementation of the 2017 Budget. Whatever needs to be done to ensure that we achieve close to full implementation of the budget, is what must be done.
21. As I close, Mr. President, I would like to advise and caution that there is no better time in this Administration than now for a rigorous drive for good working relationship between the Executive and the Legislature. The early passage of the 2018 budget will depend on this good working relationship. The passage of important Executive bills that improve ‘ease of doing business’ is also dependent on this. So, Mr. President, the 469 Members in this chamber are your true partners that will ensure the success of your administration in achieving its goals and objectives. So, lobby them (not the PDP way), close ranks and let them work for you.
22. Let me assure Mr. President that, in considering the 2018 Budget proposal, the National Assembly will work with your team, as we are convinced that more can be achieved together.
23. On this note, I hereby invite Your Excellency to deliver your speech and lay the 2018 Budget proposal for the consideration of the National Assembly, in accordance with Section 81 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
24. I thank you all for your attention.
PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE