Budget Debate: Omo-Agege kicks against sale of N5bn Zamfara gold to CBN

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As Senate continued debate on the general principles of the 2021 Appropriation Bill Presented by President Muhammadu Buhari, the controversial and lingering issue of resource control reared its head, this time, strong lamentation from the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ovie Omo Agege, All Progressives Congress, APC, Delta Central.

Speaking on Wednesday in Abuja during debate on the general principles of the N13.08 trillion 2021 budget, Omo- Agege who lamented the Youths in the Niger Delta are jobless in spite of the fact that the people  lay the golden eggs that take care of this economy,

Nigeria’s budget for 2021 is predicated on a benchmark crude oil price of $40 per barrel and daily production of 1.86 million barrels.

Speaking further, Omo-Agege noted that it was imperative for the government to ensure that there is peace in the Niger-Delta; describing it as the “goose that lay the golden eggs,  lamenting the situation of acute joblessness and infrastructure deficit in the Niger-Delta;  submitting that it could be safe to conclude that the government has failed the people.

He said, “We must maintain the peace in the Niger Delta Region before we can achieve this. Mr. President when I say this, it begins to sound like a broken record. Every day, for those of us who represent the Niger Delta, we hardly sleep. We are very worried of every concern because these are the people that lay the golden eggs that take care of this economy. But Mr. President, they are jobless.

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“There is nothing for them to do. It is very important that the youths of these communities are youths is for the oil companies engaged. The only way to engage these who explore oil in these communities in the Niger Delta that they help in creating jobs for the youths and the only way to do that is to have their business operations headquarters located within the Niger Delta.

“In the absence of this, you will have all the youths participating in this agitation against SARS. The only reason they are in the streets is that there are no jobs to engage them. Once again, I want to appeal that the oil companies doing businesses in this country should relocate their headquarters to the region.

” I also want to touch on something else. In the absence of oil companies operating within the states, the infrastructure in the region is in a serious state of decay.

“As we speak right now, major roads connecting Delta State to Edo State has been cut in half. A journey that normally takes about 40 minutes from Warri to Benin, now takes about six hours. How do we explain this? We can probably explain this that we have failed the people.

“Six hours for a journey of 40 minutes? I have spoken to the Minister of Works and he laid the blame at the feet of the National that because of the budgetary process we have now adopted that there is no more room for contingency provisions in the budget.

“In the past, there were contingency provisions in the budget to undertake this type of repairs. But this time around, the budget as written there is no such contingency. We may understand that here,  but the people in the streets in Delta, Edo, and in each of those Niger Delta states, they don’t understand that. So, it is bad enough that the economy is in a state it is right now, we also need to at least maintain the little infrastructure we have.”

Omo- Agege who doubles as the Chairman of Senate Committee on Constitution Review,  raised the alarm over the arrangement that allowed Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle to keep the proceeds of the sale of N5 billion worth of Gold bar to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) at a time when the proceeds of oil in the Niger Delta Region are shared by all the federating units.

Omo-Agege who noted that the matter came at a time the country was looking for ways to finance the budget,  said that the people of the Niger-Delta region are worried and want to know who owns the gold in Zamfara that is being sold to the CBN when the oil in the Niger-Delta is not being sold by the people.

READ ALSO: Budget 2020: FG in fresh bid to borrow N5.51trn

He however wondered why Nigeria seems to concentrate all its efforts on revenue from oil; and completely neglecting the huge potential in its solid mineral deposits that can help reduce the burden on external borrowings, even as he reiterated that oil Companies doing businesses in this country should relocate their headquarters to the region.

Omo- Agege said, “there is also something that is troubling our people which I think I should also bring up here. It is clear that the only two sources identified in the budget for the funding of the budget are the revenue from oil on the most part and borrowings both local and foreign.

“But we also have other sources or potential sources if revenue that is not being looked at. We often talk of leakages (in the system) but why even go into leakages when we can go directly to the solid mineral sector? Mr. President, not too long ago, we saw the Governor of Zamfara State come before the CBN to present a gold bar worth close to about N5billion.

“The gold bar was presented for sale to the CBN. Mr. President, our people are beginning to wonder who owns this gold that is being sold to the CBN. They don’t sell oil in any of the Niger Delta states. I am wondering why a Governor of a state should be selling a gold bar from Zamfara to the CBN. There are two problems with that. We believe that whatever revenue that ought to come from that transaction belongs to the entire country and not belonging to the state government.

“That is number one and we should actually look into that. That is an area we really need to develop. There is a lot of revenue that could come from there that will take the burden from these international borrowings. On this note, I will like to say that I support the passage of this budget.”

There was no response from any of the lawmakers to Omo-Agege’s submissions including the President of the Senate, Senator Ahmad Lawan.

Instead,  the Senate proceeded with its debate on the general principles of the 2021 budget with many of the lawmakers especially those from the opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) picking holes in the budget document.

Recall that the Nigerian Minerals and Mining Act 2007 (“the Act”) was passed into law on March 16, 2007, to repeal the Minerals and Mining Act, No. 34 of 1999 for the purposes of regulating the exploration and exploitation of solid materials in Nigeria.

The Act vests control of all properties and minerals in Nigeria in the State and prohibit unauthorised exploration or exploitation of minerals.1. All lands in which minerals have been found in commercial quantities shall from the commencement of the Act be acquired by the Federal Government in accordance with the Land Use Act.

Speaking on the Budget, Senator Francis Alimikhena m, APC, Edo noted that since the Budget is about recovery, the Federal Government should endeavour to recover the bad roads like Abuja to Okene, from there to Auchi, to Agenebode and from Auchi to Benin, adding that the government should strengthen all fiscal policies to ensure that the country improves on revenue drive to stop borrowing.

On his part, Senator Matthew Urhoghide, PDP,  Edo South said, “The deficit that we are getting as a difference as the aggregate expenditure or aggregate revenue and of cause the expenditure is still too huge. That is the reason why we are engaging in borrowing these days and some people are trying to justify theses borrowing in running this government. The pressure of this government is too much.

On N100 billion constituency projects, he said that the allocation which has remained constant does not have an impact on the lives of people they present. “If look at this amount to a total aggregate of N13.08trillion it doesn’t make the anticipated impact on the people.

Urhoghide disclosed the secrecy surrounding the allocation to Wide Service Vote saying,” there is something lying hidden when it comes to releasing funds to Service Wide vote is a pull of money that is budgeted to meet up the shortfalls in recurrent and capital expenditure.

“Mr president, in Public Account, we have discovered that the disbursement to meet up funds for recurrent and capital funds to service-wide Service vote,  even the submissions from subcommittees that submit a report on the budget defense have not been able to give us accurate report on the funds that are released to service vote.

“Our Committee had to compel Finance minister and Auditor General of the Federation to give us insight into the releases made on service vote. The report on that is always an issue of secrecy.”

In his contribution, Senator Solomon Adeola, APC, Lagos West said, “Everyone wants one development or the other to come to their areas but all the infrastructure cannot be achieved if there is no revenue. As it is today,  The Federal Government has put some proposals before the National Assembly aimed at shoring up the revenue accruable to the nation.

“As of today,  whatever comes to the coffers of the country,  whatever that is being contributed either from the government-owned enterprises or any revenue-generating agencies of the government is not enough to either fund the budget or even support the budget. We need to do more in this regard.

“We need to produce a corresponding N13.08trn to fund the budget 100 per cent. The only retained revenue portion of the budget is N7.8trn, while N4.28trnis coming from borrowing while the balance is coming from privatisation, from some of the GOEs.”

On his part, Seen.Bima Enagi, APC, Niger South commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the total expenditure of about N13.08 trillion for 2021 which was about 21 per cent above the 2020 budget in spite of the contractions in the second quarter and the possibility of the economy going into recession.

“I consider the budget conservative and achievable. To have made the budget conservative in nature, the President and his team have shown a very good understanding of our people and country.

“The Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) is estimated to rise from N5.84 trillion to N8.43 trillion which represents about 44 per cent increase from that of last year.

“One could say that this is ambitious but it is achievable if the revenue-generating agencies like NNPC,  Nigeria Customs Service, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) transmit as expected of them.”

He, however, said that as laudable as the budget was, there were areas of concern: “considering the worsening insecurity, one expects the country to spend more on security so as to confront the evil challenge that is facing the country.”

“Our annual allocation to agriculture has remained below three per cent negating our commitment to the Malabo Declaration of not lower than 10  per cent of the annual budget.”

While making a case for Nigerian roads, Enagi who appealed to the Federal Government to tackle the country’s deplorable roads headlong, said, “We really need to declare an emergency in the road sector. All is not well and Nigerians are suffering.

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“I’m seriously worried about Nigerian roads, I’m seriously worried about Baro Port in Niger as commissioned by Mr President in January last year. But up till now, the port is not functional.

“The Nigerian roads must be improved upon; the Baro Port must be made functional. In the whole of northern Nigeria, there is no any inland water port ”

Also, Senator Adamu Aliero, APC, Kebbi South who reiterated that there was no way the over 600 roads across the country could be funded by budgetary provisions alone, said, “I propose that the National Assembly should come up with a workable solution on how to fund infrastructure in the country. For that reason, I recommend Public-Private Partnership to fund road infrastructure ”

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