Thursday, 30th November 2023

Labour, Atiku slam NASS’ speedy approval of Tinubu’s $800m loan, N500b palliative

By Azimazi Momoh Jimoh, Adamu Abuh (Abuja) and Gloria Nwafor (Lagos)
14 July 2023   |   4:15 am
Organised labour, yesterday, described as laughable and economic waste, the plans by the Federal Government to transfer N8,000 to 12 million poor households in the country for six months.

• N8,000 monthly to 12 million Nigerians laughable, economic waste – Organised labour
• Tinubu’s palliative of N53 per day an avenue to divert public funds, says Atiku
• President’s N70b allocation to National Assembly not palliative, says Kalu
• Okon: Nigeria’s data deficit will deny key beneficiaries the cash transfer
• TUC: Move will not create impact on citizens, economy

Organised labour, yesterday, described as laughable and economic waste, the plans by the Federal Government to transfer N8,000 to 12 million poor households in the country for six months.

In separate requests to the two chambers of the National Assembly, President Bola Tinubu had sought approval from the Senate and House of Representatives for a $800 million loan and N500 billion palliative for the removal of petrol subsidy.

In May, former President Muhammadu Buhari had asked the Senate to approve the loan request despite the public outcry it generated. Tinubu’s letter, which was tagged ‘Request for approval of additional financing of the national social safety net programme set up by the National Assembly,’ stated: “The purpose of the facility is to expand coverage of shock responsive safety net support for all and vulnerable Nigerians and the cost of meeting basic needs.

“Under the conditional cash transfer window of the programme, the Federal Government will transfer the sum of N8,000 a month to 12 million poor and low income households for a period of six months with a multiplier effect on about 60 million individuals.”

President Tinubu further explained that “to guarantee credibility of the process, digital transfers will be made directly to beneficiaries’ accounts and mobile wallets.

“It is expected that the programme will stimulate economic activities in the informal sector and improve nutrition, health and education outcomes for beneficial households.”

The Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Dr. Ben Akabueze, had recently criticised the continuous accumulation of public debt, saying the lean revenue does not support the move.

Speaking at the induction programme for lawmakers elected into the 10th National Assembly, Akabueze lamented: “We now have very limited borrowing space, not because our debt-to-GDP is high, but because our revenue is too small to sustain the size of our debt. That explains our high debt service ratio.

“Once a country’s debt service ratio exceeds 30 per cent, that country is in trouble and we are pushing towards 100 per cent. That tells you how much trouble we are in. We have limited space to borrow. When you take how much you can generate in terms of revenue and what you can reasonably borrow, that establishes the size of the budget.”

BUT without delay, the Senate approved Tinubu’s requests – the $800 million World Bank loan and N500 billion fuel subsidy removal palliative.

According to the Senate, the N500 billion request meant to cushion the negative effects of the removal of fuel subsidy by the executive shows that the nation has a “government that listens.”

In a remark shortly after the approval was granted, President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio said: “Let me thank colleagues for today’s deliberation. I must thank all of you for your show of patriotism despite the hiccups. That’s the Senate for you; very matured. Your attitude today has shown your commitment and determination to ensure that the present administration succeeds.”

Also yesterday, the Senate passed amendments to the N819.500 billion 2022 supplementary budget. In passing that amended supplementary budget, the Senate approved N500 billion for palliatives and other capital expenditure to cushion the effect of the recent subsidy removal policy.

N185,236,937,815 was approved for the Ministry of Works and Housing to alleviate the impact of the severe flooding experienced in the country in 2022 on road infrastructure across the six geopolitical zones.

The sum of N19,200,000,000 was approved by the Federal Ministry of Agriculture to ameliorate the massive destruction to farmlands across the country during the severe flooding experienced last year.

Also, the sum of N35 billion was approved for the National Judicial Council; N10 billion to Federal Capital Territory Administration for critical projects, while the National Assembly got N70 billion to support the working conditions of new members in the Assembly.

ARGUING against what it termed wasteful spending, the organised labour called on the government to halt the policy implementation, querying what N8,000 monthly to 12 million Nigerians could do, compared to the hyperinflation and socio-economic challenges the nation is currently battling with.

According to them, with about 133 million Nigerians that are multi-dimensionally suffering from poverty, N8,000 for six months, which translates to N48,000 in six months, will neither eradicate nor alleviate poverty in 12 million household’s lives.

They maintained that what the government has done was an ambush and gone beyond what it was supposed to do, stating that it has compromised the workings of the Presidential Steering Committee it inaugurated to come up with a framework on how palliatives would be distributed to cushion the effect of subsidy removal on Nigerians.

Also, the Special Assistant on Public Communications to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Mr. Phrank Shaibu, described Tinubu’s plan to hand out N8,000 to 12 million households for six months as a brazen attempt to divert public funds.

Shaibu said in a statement that Tinubu’s plan to spend $800m on palliatives under an opaque arrangement was reminiscent of former President Buhari’s conditional cash transfer and COVID-19 intervention initiative, which saw politicians keeping food items and provisions in their homes while the poor went hungry.

He said Buhari’s interventionist programmes only ended up making Nigerians poorer as shown in reports released by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

Atiku’s aide stated: “After announcing the removal of petrol subsidy without proper planning, Tinubu has asked for the approval of $800m loan, which he claims will be disbursed to 12 million households for six months at N8,000 for each household per month. This is a continuation of the scam of the All Progressives Congress.

“According to statistics, a Nigerian household as at 2019 counted on an average of 5.06 members. So, with Tinubu’s uninspiring plan, each individual in a household will get N1,600 per month or N53 per day. What should they do with it? Use the money to buy sachet (pure) water or a cup of boiled groundnut on a daily basis? And this is the man they claim transformed the economy of Lagos State? This must be a joke or a more sinister attempt to divert public funds.”

Shaibu argued that Tinubu lacked a clear economic policy apart from taxing Nigerians. He said having deceptively attained presidential power, Tinubu has been exposed as an economic illiterate.

“His only plan is to tax Nigerians to death as he did in Lagos and that is why the people of Lagos rejected him in the last election. Tinubu promised to turn Nigeria’s economy into a $1 trillion economy but it is all a scam and can never be achieved with his brand of agberonomics.”

He added: “Agriculture makes up about 30 per cent of Nigeria’s GDP. He should have invested funds in the production aspect of agriculture and other issues affecting crop yields. The rural areas, which are mostly agrarian, are in the throes of insecurity. On Tinubu’s watch, over 200 people have so far been killed. However, he seems clueless on how to tackle this menace.

“The so-called palliatives that Tinubu seeks to share to the poor are just another avenue to divert public funds. For years, the Nigerian government has rejected calls to publish the list of the beneficiaries of the so-called palliatives but this has never been done because it is all a scam.”

Already, Nigerians are agitated, calling for salary increases and palliatives that would benefit all, following the removal of the petrol subsidy. Chairman of the Progressives Governors’ Forum (PGF) and governor of Imo State, Hope Uzodinma, at a recent meeting, said the President’s decision to remove subsidy was in tandem with his campaign promises.

He expressed optimism that the new administration would come up with palliatives that would cushion the effect associated with the removal of fuel subsidies.

Earlier in April, the Buhari-led administration had promised that it would pay N5,000 to 10 million households or 50 million Nigerians for six months as palliative for removing petrol subsidy after June, using the $800 million World Bank loan to fund the project.

The then Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, said the effort was led by the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. “They developed the register with the support of the World Bank. The register has about 10 million households, equivalent to 50 million Nigerians.”

But the disbursement did not come to fruition until the administration left office on May 29. Just as it kicked against the earlier decision on the spending plan of the $800 million loan, the organised labour yesterday, kicked against this fresh proposal by the government. Labour said while it was watching the government keenly, as it doesn’t want to be drawn into the argument, “the problem of Nigeria is deeper than sharing money or talking about palliative.”

President of the Association of Senior Civil Servants of Nigeria (ASCSN), Dr. Tommy Okon, said the poverty situation in Nigeria could not be wished away by mere palliatives, adding that as far as labour is concerned, the government is paying lip service to the poverty situation in the country.

The Director-General of the Nigeria Employers’ Consultative Association (NECA), Adewale-Smatt Oyerinde, said the government must stop using scarce resources to fix policy problems. He said it was both unrealistic and unsustainable, alleging that the subsidy regime is a scam and has not in any way benefitted the so-called ‘vulnerable’ citizens.

He said it makes no economic sense to inject cash in the form of palliatives into an economy that is already beset with unending inflationary pressures.

“It is worthy of note that previous palliatives had proved not to palliate the economic woes of the citizens. In reality and within the context of our current economic situation, the majority of Nigerians are vulnerable, especially organised businesses.”

National President of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Festus Osifo, who kicked against the move, said any palliative payment by the Federal Government must be in line with the agreement reached with labour in line with the technical committee meeting.

The TUC Deputy President, Dr. Tommy Okon, also queried how the government would determine those who are to benefit from the data deficit in Nigeria.

He said it was proper for the government to allow the presidential committee on the removal of oil subsidy to conclude its report and arrive at a collective agreement with the organised labour before embarking on any palliative care distribution.

If done otherwise, he said it would amount to doing exactly what the previous administration did that yielded no positive impact on the environment and economy.

A top official of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), who does not want his name in print, said there is a question of integrity for the presidential steering committee, stating that ab-initio, it means that the committee is compromised at the sub-committees and presidential level.

“On the $800 million loan, our position remains that N8,000 to 12 million poor Nigerians is laughable. What will it do? N48,000 for 12 million Nigerians to alleviate poverty and you impose a life of long suffering on the people.

“Will N48,000 take care of a person for one month let alone six months? It shows they are not serious. Why do you want to implement it when the committees have not met? Government must be patient and work through the process. They must trust and be confident in the process it has initiated but what they have done is shunned the gun, improvising the work of the committee. It means you do not have trust in your ability to govern.

“What the government has done is an ambush and gone beyond what it is supposed to be and probably decided on what to do. Who told them that that is the amount required to fund the recommendation of the committee?

“So if they have a budget already, it means that they have activities and if they do, who generated them? It means that the committees are not relevant and means the government is not confident and does not trust in the process which they have already initiated,” he said.

A public affairs analyst, Jide Ojo, said the World Bank loan should have been earmarked for the improvement of infrastructure across 768 LGAs and six Area Councils of the FCT with an implementation committee to do need community assessment to improve dilapidated schools, roads or Primary Health Care (PHC) centres.

He said what happens with Conditional Cash Transfers is that those who are well-to-do are mostly beneficiaries and the most vulnerable will not get them.

According to him, “it is about the selection, as there is always lopsidedness in the distribution. It is better to look at critical infrastructure at the grassroots level like PHCs; some are moribund, which could be revived, especially things that will impact everybody’s lives in Local Government Areas, because there will be no transparency in the selection process.

Responding to questions at a press briefing, chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Temi Adaramodu, said the Senate had no reason to doubt the veracity of the data and explanations given by the presidency regarding how the fund for the palliatives will be spent.

Also, the Deputy Speaker the House of Representatives, Benjamin Kalu, has faulted notions held in certain quarters that the N70 billion allocation in the 2022 Supplementary Act amendment bill was a palliative to members of the National Assembly.

Speaking to reporters in Abuja shortly after the passage of President Tinubu’s request, Kalu explained that the monetary allocation was aimed at supporting the working conditions of new members of the National Assembly.

Flanked by the House Minority Leader, Kingsley Chinda and other key members of the House, he specified how the money would be utilised to improve the working conditions of his colleagues in both the House and the upper legislative chamber.

This is coming against the backdrop of the alleged payment of N4.68 billion to the 469 newly elected Senators and House of Representatives members to assist them in securing accommodation and furniture in Abuja prior to their inauguration last month.

Kalu explained that the N500 billion allocation domiciled with the Ministry of Finance was the only monetary allocation as palliative to underprivileged Nigerians cushion the effect of recent subsidy removal policy.