By Emmanuel Elebeke & Grace Udofia
ABUJA— The atmosphere was charged, yesterday, as participants at the special Town Hall meeting organized by Ministry of Information and Culture, in collaboration with the Alumni Association of National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies, AANI, in Abuja, confronted nine ministers, demanding for quick remedy to the current economic hardship in the country.
Some of the aggrieved participants told the ministers that Nigerians were tired of the talkshops and that government should do more to put food on their tables.
Speaking at the meeting, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, said 2017 Budget would be submitted to the National Assembly by October this year.
According to the minister, necessary consultations on preparing the 2017 budget are ongoing.
He revealed that government had already released N331.5 billion to date, as part of capital allocation of the 2016 budget, to key ministries covering sectors that will turn around the economy.
He said the ministries that received the capital released were power, works and housing, defence and security, water resources, transportation, agriculture and Niger Delta.
N100bn ready for capital projects
Presenting his scorecard at the meeting, Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, told the audience that the present administration had been able to reverse the negative trend of spending the bigger chunk of its annual budget on recurrent expenditure to capital by increasing the vote from 10-15 per cent to 30 per cent in the 2016 budget.
He, however, disclosed that the Federal Government was ready to release additional N100,00 billion for capital expenditure, in addition to the N331 billion earlier released in June.
Of the N331 billion, Fashola said his ministry received N102 billion as at July 29, and had paid N70 billion to contractors, project managers, consultant, who had not received money for about two and half years.
He said: “We are paying out, with the understanding that they will begin to bring back all the workers they have laid off. That is the way to go, and out of this recession. We are not doing anything usual, but working with thinner resources to do more.
He explained that the administration was trying to complete transmission lines from Gurara, Kashim Mambila plants, and some other NIPP projects across the country to boost power supply. The idea, he said, was to evacuate power immediately after generation, saying progress is being made on other transmission lines.
In her presentation, Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, said the current effort by Federal Government to borrow some funds was justifiable, in the sense that the funds would be channelled into infrastructure development.
Adeosun, who bemoaned the present economic hardship in the country, told the audience that she also inherited 1.2 million civil servants, with over N160 billion total wage bill per month.
She described the size of the public sector as a reflection of the failure of the private sector in the country.
“We can’t continue that way. That is why we have a very conservative appetite for borrowing,” Adeosun said, adding that there was no quick solution to the present economic challenges. She noted that there was a fundamental problem but assured that government was moving in the right direction.
On his part, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Chief Audu Ogbeh, said the Federal Government had adopted ranching as the only remedy to the lingering farmers and herdsmen crisis in the country.
Ogbeh, who traced the problem to the Structural Adjustment Programme, SAP, of Babangida’s administration of 1986, pointed out that “the situation in Nigeria at present did not start today.”
He said: “This recession started long time ago in 1986, when the then federal government introduced structural adjustment programme. Then we threw our doors open for all kinds of importation.”
To partner states in mining
Also in his presentation at the meeting, Minister of Solid Minerals, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, stated that there should be synergy among the federal, state and local governments for mining to thrive in the country.
He said: “Solid mineral is the backbone of industrialization. About $3.3 billion of skilled labor in iron ore and steel is imported into the country. This has to stop for the sector to move forward.
‘’We do not want people to come into the sector and export mining products. If you are in it, you have to set up processing plants to enable us create resources available in that area and send out finished products like cement,’’ Fayemi said.
Earlier, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had said the administration was always willing to engage with Nigerians to explain its policies and programmes, as well as seek the necessary input from them.
He lamented that some individuals and groups had made it their pastime to continually castigate the present government over an economic situation which was not its own making.