Fred Itua, Abuja
Nigeria’s rising debt profile yesterday, came to the front burner on the floor of the Senate during debate on the general principles of the N8.83 trillion 2019 budget, when senators called for caution on the part of the Executive to avoid throwing the country into another debt trap.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who raised the issue while contributions after the Senate Leader, Ahmed Lawan, gave the lead debate on the budget estimates for passage for second reading .
Ekweremadu in his contribution, said though the budget proposal has to be given expeditious consideration and passage in view of enormous time already lost on the bill, government’s borrowing plans must be scrutinised to prevent the country from exceeding its limit when juxtaposed against the ratio of borrowing to Gross Domestic Product ( GDP).
He said: “Time is already running out on us as regards consideration and passage of the 2019 budget estimates, but the increasing borrowing proposals cum plans on our yearly budget is becoming unbearable
“Yes , money must be sought for by any government to fund infrastructure. But it must not be solely anchored on borrowing which in the long run, will take the country back to a problem it had earlier solved. Besides, there are other creative ways of funding such highly needed infrastructure.”
Giving statistics on the rising debt profile, Dino Melaye, said the debt profile of the country now stands at $60 billion from less than $20 billion before the present government came on board in 2015.
According to him, the components of the $60 billion debts profile include $23billion as external debt, $20billion as local debts while $12 billion is already being proposed for financing of Port Harcourt to Maiduguri rail lines
“Nigeria is gradually turning to a chartered borrowing nation under this government all in the nane of funding infrastructure. This must be stopped because the future of the country and in particular, lives of generations yet unborn are being put in danger,” he lamented.
He added that even with the high level of indebtedness of the country, the government in power was planning to further devalue the Naira to about N500 to a US dollar and that the Nigeria stock market suffered a misfortune of N300 billion loss two weeks ago when President Muhammadu Buhari got reelected.
“Inflation is on the rise, unemployment rate is increasing , assumptions made for the budget estimates including $60 oil price benchmark and 2.3million barrel oil production level per day are unrealisable and unrealistic,” he added.
Senators Shehu Sani, Albert Akpan Bassey, among others, also called for caution on the part of the Executive on the rising debts profile of the country.
But Senators Gbenga Ashafa, Adamu Aliero, Jibrin Barau and Deputy Senate Leader, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, said the debt profile was not as outrageous as being portrayed by those raising alarm.
Specifically, Na’Allah in his contribution, said rather than saying Nigeria is over borrowing, the country is grossly under borrowing when the total amount borrowed is juxtaposed with her population and resources both human and capital.
Though Mohammed Ali Ndume moved motion for the budget to pass for second reading yesterday in view of enormous time already lost in its consideration, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki ruled that the debate should continue and end next week Tuesday.