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Senator Solomon Adeola, the lawmaker representing Lagos West and the chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, speaks with TOPE OMOGBOLAGUN about the 2023 budget, the Senate, and the state of the country
Talking about the 2023 budget, there was this issue that there was no provision for capital projects in the budget. What is the implication of that, sir?
There is no way that in the proposed budget of 19 trillion the executives are planning to make, there will be no provision for the capital budget. There is provision for the capital projects but the provision in this year’s budget is to the extent of ongoing capital projects from the previous year that is yet to be completed, to see to their completion. That is the provision in this year’s budget. There are other provisions but largely, the budget will focus on ongoing projects so that, among other things, they can promote and protect the legacy of the outgoing administration of President Muhammad Buhari. So, there is provision for capital projects but there is more focus on the ongoing projects within the current budget.
How do you think we can solve the problem of the budget deficit?
What I can say is that the budget deficit of N11.9tn is huge. Looking at the percentage or the ratio of the debt to revenue, you will quite agree with me that it’s huge, and it doesn’t speak well of us as a government.
As you are all aware, there are two scenarios: the first scenario will give us a budget deficit of about N12.4tn, while the second scenario will give us a budget with a deficit of about N11.9tn. So, we have opted for scenario two but even at that, we still believe it is huge, and something drastic must be done to reduce the deficit as proposed by the executives. And these so-called deficits are not fictitious but are deficits that we have as a result of some government policies that need to be addressed as soon as possible. Number one is the issue of subsidies.
The provision of the subsidy is about N3.6tn, and this is one hell of a fund that if we can take it off our budget, we will have so much money available to be used by the government but because of a lot of factors and considerations, the government of the day has decided to focus more on the people than an individual, and as such, they are leaving a deficit of 11 point something trillion Naira in the budget, and there is no way we can cope with that.
Aside from that, the issues of waivers, the total waivers as of today and provided for, are about six trillion naira, and there is no way that we won’t have money and we will be giving out money, because by extension, that waiver is like giving out money to those companies and organisations that are doing business, and there is no way we can do that. So, that’s why we are saying that we should cut down on the waivers and also look for a way to take out the subsidies, and then we will be fine; the deficit would be wiped out.
Also, all the revenue-generating agencies, especially the 63 government-owned enterprises, I believe, should be placed on the cost of collection. By putting them on the cost of collection, what that simply means is that if an agency generates N100bn this year, if we decide to give them five per cent of it, five per cent of the N100bn population is approximately five billion people. So, if you have N5bn to yourself, then anything you want to do within the confines of that N5bn, take it, while the remaining N95bn will be for the government.
So, in case you now want more money, which means more work for you, you can increase that N100bn to about N150bn. Then, when we give you five per cent of N150bn, which is about N7.5bn, that’s more money for you and more money for the government. It will be a win-win situation, unlike when one person is winning and the other person is losing. That is, the agent is winning to the extent of their own expenditure being covered, and the government is losing to the extent that it is only after the deduction of the expenditure that they now come back with revenue.
So, they are two completely different things. So, when we look at all these three items, I believe the issue of the deficit will be a thing of the past, as far as our country, Nigeria, is concerned.
During the interactive section, you said the Federal Government should consider scrapping about 400 ministries, departments and agencies from the recommendations of Steve Orosanye’s committee. If that is used to solve the larger economic problem now, don’t you think it will cause more problems, such as massive unemployment?
You see, for the best reason known to the government, they have decided to embark on the creation of agencies upon agencies, many of which are not viable at the end of the day. They are not even needed. Some of them should have a desk within their main parent ministry. But for whatever reason, the government felt the only way to do all this was to continue creating agencies, which invariably increases the cost of governance. That is why you find out that every budget year, the cost of running the government is higher than the cost of providing infrastructure or a dividend of democracy to the people.
As we speak, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari has been the only government that has done more in the area of trying to ensure that there is some balancing between the cost of running the government and the cost of providing infrastructure. What do I mean by that? That is the only government that has grown the capital expenditure to about 28 per cent as opposed to the 67 per cent or 70 per cent cost of running the government.
Implementing Orosanye’s panel report will achieve a lot. First, it will rewrite the arithmetic, by ensuring that bringing down the cost of running the government and increasing the cost of providing infrastructure and dividend of democracy to the people.
Secondly, it will reposition all the agencies of the government that are either moribund or that are not functioning or not working, instead of having about 500 or 600 agencies of the government. It can be compressed to about 250 agencies, including the federal ministries, while about 300 agencies would be left out of it. And the funds raised can be put to good use by the government rather than perpetuating old traditions at the expense of Nigerians.
I don’t want to join the camp that believes it will cause untold hardship for people in terms of employment. A lot of people would still be absorbed, but the only thing is that their offices would be turned into area offices for that particular agency and ministry, and the cost of running and recognising them as an agency would be reduced.
How do you see an agency that is bringing up revenue of N2m or N3m, and it’s going away with a budget of over N15m to N20bn. The question is what is the need for that agency?
Yes, some agencies of the government are required to provide service. The government’s job is to provide service. But service doesn’t mean that revenue doesn’t come with it. But people are so comfortable, to the extent that they believe that the government will handle everything. We cannot continue like this. We are not running the government. It’s like we are running ourselves. That is why we cannot hold the government accountable for all they are doing because we are giving them the opportunity. We have opened them up to take advantage of what is not supposed to be. And that is why, any day, any time, I will vote for that Orosanye panel report, because I believe that is one way by which the government can bring down the cost of running the government and in turn increase the cost of providing infrastructure and the dividend of democracy to the people.
There have been quite a several controversies. Some argue that the 9th Senate did not perform; that they are a rubber stamp, and that they do not check the president’s excesses and collaborate with the judiciary. As a distinguished senator in the 9th Assembly, how would you assess this particular Senate?
We have performed excellently and I say that with all sense of responsibility. If there is anything we have not achieved as a legislature, returning the government accounting year from January to December is a major achievement. Because if Nigerians have not gone into recession today, that singular action of ours has prevented us from going into recession, because at every point in time, there is a document before the government where expenditures and everything else can be made, and money goes into the system. If that document is not there, the government will be handicapped in doing a lot of things
And on the issue of rubber stamps, I don’t think there is anything wrong if, as a ruling party, we give our president maximum cooperation. There is nothing bad about that. So, if that is their definition of rubber stamps, I don’t join that school of thought. We have worked within the confines of what we need to do as a legislature. And every bill, every law passed by this National Assembly, has been debated, discussed, and given a public hearing before reaching its final conclusion.
What about the Electoral Act that we amended, which the Independent National Electoral Commission now touts as one of the best electoral acts it has ever put together? It has increased INEC’s independence and everything like that. And it has done so much in terms of restoring public trust in our electoral system. If we had been a rubber stamp, we would have been tele-guided in passing that bill, but we have succeeded in doing that and other bills like that.
So, if anybody is claiming that this Senate has not performed, let them go and bring their score card. We have done more than enough to justify the reasons why we should be applauded rather than crucified. We have done so well in the last three years, contributing at least our quotas to the nation.
Talking about Lagos west politics, which you currently represent, how would you say that the people have enjoyed the dividends of democracy?
I strongly believe that my people would have judged me to have done well, in all ramifications. If I had decided to return to the Senate, I would have gotten my ticket as well, because I did well. I performed excellently. I placed my people ahead of me, and all that needed to be done to endear them to me, I did. I believe I’ve done well and am still doing it. I cease to be their senator on June 9, 2023, and I will continue to represent them and give them all that needs to be done as the senator representing them.
So, why are you moving from Lagos to Ogun State?
Simply put, I returned to my roots and people, and they accepted me. And that’s why I’m there, contesting for their Senate seat. So, it’s all about the people.