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Docile legislature and our debt burden 

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The recent unbridled approvals of loan and other requests from the Executive by the National Assembly have seriously compromised its role and significance as prescribed in the 1999 Constitution. More annoying has been a recent careless utterance of the Chairman of the Joint Session of the National Assembly and President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan that “…call me anything, we won’t change our style.” This is coming from the leadership of an institution that ordinarily should represent a symbol of democracy, where the people’s voice and opinion count. Are we really in a democracy or a meretricious civil rule? Senator Lawan’s curious declaration is so incredible from the leadership of the National Assembly.

Does the leadership of the National Assembly realise that in a democracy sovereignty rests with the people? It appears Senator Lawan has forgotten that the National Assembly is supposed to make laws as representatives of the people and that their legislative activities should be very sensitive to the yearnings of the people, who put them there. If they derail from the views of the general populace, then they are on their own and should be aware that there are always consequences for them, as leaders. Why can’t they change their styles of the people want them to do so as far as debt burden is concerned?
 
Specifically, one issue that has generated a lot of concern to most Nigerians is the insensitivity of the National Assembly in approving the borrowing plans of the Executive branch of government in a manner many consider to be very reckless. Nigerians have cried foul at the speed at which these public liabilities are being incurred and instead of being sensitive to such public outcry, what the Senate President is indicating is “I-don’t-care” attitude. Have the National Assembly’s leaders fully considered the intergenerational implications of the new loans? They have continued to approve the loan requests from President anyhow without seemingly caring about the consequences.

The Assembly is supposed to have questioned the necessity of these requests as was done in the Eight Assembly. The speed at which these foreign credits are being approved by the Ninth Assembly does not suggest that any deep analysis and evaluation were carried out such that the benefits are seen to outweigh the costs prior to granting approvals. If it turns out that the costs overrun the benefits, the country will definitely be in a worse situation in future. If this happens, who will be held responsible, the executive or the legislature? There should be ways to hold people responsible. If nobody is held responsible when things go wrong, nobody will listen to even good counsel.
 
These unbridled approvals are reckless. They represent a sign of insensitivity to the feelings of the governed. This has also been seen by many as a clear manifestation of the “culture of impunity” at the highest level of legislative governance. It is doubtful if the country can make progress with this negative mindset of the legislators. Need we remind the current National Assembly that their functions, as prescribed by the Constitution, include the making of laws and controlling of the finances of the state. They also have a critical role to check the actions of the government’s ministries and agencies? The organic law of the land gives the legislators the power over the treasury. That is the reason the constitution empowers them to receive audit reports from the executive arms through the Public Accounts Committees in both chambers.  Are they aware that the incoming government even beyond 2023 would definitely be stifled by the current actions of the National Assembly? How can a new government thrive when it is confronted with a debt service-to-revenue ratio of close to 70%? That implies that, for N100 revenue generated, that government will only have about N30 to run its recurrent and capital budget after paying N70 as debt service. Probably the National Assembly expects the new government to struggle from the outset, in providing governance. Or are they expected to even borrow more to stay afloat? 

 
What we expect of our National Assembly at this critical time is this: providing checks and balances in handling request emanating from the executive arm. For the Ninth National Assembly, according to the Senate President, “whatever comes from President Buhari is good for the country”. This directive principle smacks of incipient impotence. Loan requests from the executive must be evaluated from a long term perspective, taking into account the volatility of the global oil market, the slow growth of the non-oil sector, the mass poverty and low per capita income base of the society, the unlikelihood of the benefits manifesting in the near future and the probability of corruption in the processing of the loans.

Merely saying that the country needs to invest in infrastructure is not enough reason to procure burdensome liabilities senselessly. How does the country repay?  This defence put forward by the Senate President that the previous government did not invest in infrastructure in the years of boom and that the current borrowing is to fill up the gap is untenable. This blame game of the Buhari administration, which is now being re-echoed by the leadership of the legislature is no longer acceptable to the people. What the citizens want is development that can be sustainable. The Senate President needs to be availed of the fact that many Nigerians from across the six geopolitical zones of the country have affirmed several times that the quality of life they experience now is unhealthy and the future of their offspring could be worse off if the debt burden being piled up today is uncontrolled. 
 
Presiding officers and members of the National Assembly should be uncomfortable that they are taking loans like chieftaincy titles despite opposition from well meaning Nigerians. It took Nigeria over three decades to reach debt overhang of about 32 billion USD and this administration is taking about the same amount in quick succession just within five years in office.  The most heart-rending aspect is that it will be spent on frivolity and would be substantially looted if history is any guide. It is so sad that on the watch of the docile, complicit and rent-seeking elite, Nigeria is not ready for the country and global competitiveness, which investment in quality education triggers in this 21st century. This country, the only hope of the black race, should therefore not be allowed to remain the butt of ridicule because of poor parliamentary leadership that would allow leaders at all levels to celebrate an avoidable debt burden. 


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