WELCOME BACK SPEECH BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE, FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR (DR) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI (CON) TO SENATORS OF THE 8TH SENATE ON RESUMPTION FROM A SENATE ANNUAL RECESS ON TUESDAY, 20 SEPTEMBER, 2016.
Distinguished colleagues, I am greatly pleased to welcome you back to the hallowed Chamber of the Senate after our annual recess. To our Muslim colleagues, I wish you all Eid Mubarak.
I hope that the recess has afforded us the opportunity to reconnect with our constituencies and to reflect on the great task that lies ahead of us.
During this years Sallah as it is my tradition, I had close interaction with a cross section of my people in Kwara Central including, the aged, youths, market women, and leaders of thought. I believe many of you did the same. I recall unforgettably, how one of the women came straight to me with a look of utter desperation and all she could mutter out was, please our Senator, do what you can to put an end to this suffering, it is becoming unbearable. I don’t know what your experience was, but if your experience mirrored mine, then the challenge before us could not have been made clearer. The words of this woman reverberated across the hall with such unison that it was impossible to under estimate the desperation in the land. In the last couple of days, I have interacted with many of you here, and it has become even clearer to me that the situation is virtually the same all across the country.
During my interaction which I described above, I remember trying to explain to my people that this kind of thing does not happen overnight; that the seeds for the condition that we suffer from today must have been planted by past administrations that refused to do what was necessary. However, I soon realized that my people are not so interested in how we got here or who to blame for our current situation. They only wanted to know that government has plans to get them out of this current predicament. To them, the only explanation that makes sense at the moment is that which puts food on the table, reduces price of rice, garri, salt, sugar, meat and saves jobs.
Yes, the collapse in oil prices from over $100 per barrel to about $48 recently meant the Nigerian economy would experience serious challenges. However, low sovereign savings have compounded our situation with FX reserves having declined from over $65bn in 2007 to about $30bn by 2015. The implications of this is that we must do something drastic and quick to restore confidence back into the economy and get people investing and spending again if we are to end the despair in the land.
It is no longer news, that the National Bureau of Statistics confirmed that the Nigerian economy has drifted into recession. With GDP growth in the second quarter of 2016 at -2.06% following a decline of 0.36% in the first quarter, the Nigerian economy has had two consecutive quarters of economic contraction.
It is clear to me that when people are desperately hungry, what they need is leadership with a clear vision; leadership whose daily actions reflects the very urgency of the people’s condition. Therefore, our response to the current challenge must be dictated by the urgency of the hardship that the people suffer on a daily basis. I say this to urge us that we must have an urgent debate on the way forward. But in having this debate we must resist the temptation of drowning the debate with apportioning blames that will neither bring solutions to the problem or reduce the cost of rice, maize or oil in the market. Rather this debate must be solution driven, it must be people oriented and less political.
Distinguished colleagues, the simple question for our debate must be; how do we tame the widespread hunger in the land? How do we save our businesses from collapse? How do we save jobs for the majority and create even a lot more? Only a few months ago, Naira was exchanging to the dollar at 200; today it is approaching 500. How do we arrest this drift so that our businesses can compete and our children can go to school wherever they may find opportunities? These and many more are questions in desperate need for answers. Unfortunately, the answers to all these questions are not easy. But we must ask them all the same. Because these are the questions Nigerians are asking and, they need us to justify our leadership by providing answers to them.
However, even as desperate as our people may be for solution, I did not feel that what they expect from us is a miracle. I believe what they want to see is that as leaders, all our hands are on the deck. They don’t care about our politics; they don’t care about our political affiliations; they don’t care if we are APC OR PDP; north or south. What they want is for us to lead the way out of this crisis and deliver on the promises that we made to them.
Distinguished colleagues, though the outlook is not cheer-inspiring, however, in the midst of this dire situation, I bring you good news, not fear. I bring a message of hope not despair, because once again, Nigeria shall overcome. Let no one write us off. We have done it before we will do it again. The world has come to know Nigeria as a people who have formed a habit of proving naysayers wrong and turning adversity into triumph.
Many times experts have quipped Nigeria is finished, but we come back stronger. This occasion will not be any different. But it will not happen by a slogan! No, it will take positive leadership and unity. Never in our history has the need to show leadership and unity been more acute, more urgent than now. We cannot afford to play politics with our current situation. As a parliament we are in this together with the Executive and the Judiciary, we cannot afford to fail Nigerians.
My expectation is that by the time we are done with our debate we should make key actionable recommendations to the Executive on what this chamber sees as the way forward in the immediate, mid term and long term solutions to this economic situation. And as representatives of our people we must follow up through regular oversight and pressure on the Executive to ensure that they deliver on our recommendations. On our path however, we are ready to pass the legislative measures that will facilitate our quick exit from this recession.
We will work in concert, not at cross-purposes. Our goal is clear; to work together with the Executive to get our economy out of recession. We will proffer our solutions on policy issues, and where necessary enact necessary legislation to ensure that investor confidence returns to the market.
We have already made inroads in this regard with the passage of some the key priority legislation necessary to get us out of this mess; including, the Procurement Act (Amendment) Bill, The Electronic Transactions Bill, The Railway Bill, The Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act (Amendment) Bill and The Commercial Agriculture Credit Scheme Bill,
Distinguished colleagues let me also state clearly that we shall not hide under the cloak of partisan solidarity to abdicate our constitutional responsibility under the principles of checks and balances. We shall make critical interventions whenever they become necessary and undertake emergency actions whenever they are required, within the confines of the constitution. The task at hand requires us to take tough decisions and do all that is necessary to dig our economy out of this recession. This imperative must take precedence over partisan loyalty. This is what the people expect of us and it is the only way we can continue to justify our presence here.
As I had mentioned earlier, on our part we will do the following;
Go immediately to debate the state of the economy and come up with economic measures that we will submit to the Executive. This we will do along with passing the necessary legislation we have identified.
I must hasten to add in my own opinion that the Executive must begin to take the following needful steps to show Nigerians, the international community and investors both local and international that we are ready to reform and do business.