Finance, Budget and National Planning Minister, Zainab Ahmed, says Nigeria will be borrowing N6.17trillion in 2021. Disturbingly, the Buhari administration is not taking care of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Foreign Affairs Minister, Geoffrey Onyeama, is lamenting that the ministry appears not to be a priority for Abuja. He was speaking on Tuesday when he appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs to defend the 2021 budget estimates of his ministry.
Onyeama is also lamenting that a lot of the country’s foreign missions are eyesore, describing it as a terrible embarrassment for the country to have the foreign missions in such state, noting that due to poor funding, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) is trying to rationalise and cut down on the international organisations that Nigeria belongs to.
“When you look at what the ministry gets, compared to other ministries, foreign affairs ministry is underfunded, especially when you compare it to similar countries and even smaller countries like Egypt and South Africa.
‘’They have a similar number of missions to our own, and you would find out that you just cannot compare (them). Ours is really much lower. And, of course, there are competing interests; we have security issues, as education takes a lot of the budget, but I think that any suggestion of a collaboration between us and your committee to try to get more will be welcome.
“On the question or suggestion on how you can help, I think that at the end of the day, it is probably a question of priority of the government. Foreign Affairs, if we just look at all the ministries, we would really see that it is almost as if foreign affairs ministry is not a priority. But it should be one of the biggest consuming ministries.
“And for the size of a country, the giant Africa, we are supposed to defend the interest of Africa and the black race around the world. We have a vast network of technical assistance programme to the pacific, to the Caribbean and to other Africa countries, and we want to be a big player, which sits at the table as one of the countries running the world, and to be able to do that, we just need many resources”, the minister said
Chairman of the committee, Yusuf Yakub, says Nigeria remains the whipping child of the world, buffeted on all sides, while the country’s nationals still suffer the poor fate of carrying the green passport that many parts of the world hates to see.
He said while the problem was not about the ministry or the House, he expressed concern that Nigeria cannot get its international image to fit into the acceptable module of the international community.
Yakub stressed that the way the ministry appears and operates today, it is hardly the contemplation of anyone that has the interest of the Nigerian at heart.
Adding, he said, “from Ghana to Gabon, South Africa to Libya, Nigerians remain at the receiving end of, most times, state-supported violence and all forms of ill-treatment in foreign jurisdictions, including Europe, the Americas and Asia.”
In the meantime, the plan by the Buhari administration to borrow N6.17 trillion next year will bring the country’s total public debt profile to N38 trillion by December 2021.
Ahmed who was, however, speaking on Tuesday in her presentation to the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Debts said, “the total public debt stock comprising the external and home debts of the federal and state governments and the Federal Capital Territory stood at N31.01 trillion ($85.90 billion) as of June 30, 2020.
“It is projected, based on existing approval, to rise to N32.51 trillion by December 31, 2020, and N38.68 trillion by December 31, 2021.”
She is attributing numerous abandoned road projects across the country to poor funds releases occasioned by dwindling revenue, explaining that the current Sukuk fund was N162 billion for 45 roads cut across the six geopolitical zones.
“I am one person that feels that we should just take one major road in one geopolitical zone and finish it. We were not able to do that because of the processes in which appropriation is made both at the executive as well as the legislative arms of government.
“But truly, if we are able to just take one or two projects at a time and complete it before going to the next one, it will be better. What the contractor does is the bit that has been cut out for him to do in that particular area.
“Once the fund is released and it is finished, we stop again. That’s the consequence of these numerous projects that we put in the budget. It is not related to Sukuk-funded projects alone; it cuts across all the projects.
“You will see a road that costs, may be, N5.00 billion, and you will see a provision for N100 million, N200 million or N300 million. Of course, the project will never finish. After two years, the contractor comes back and asks for variation, and the amount keeps growing.
“I wish that we get to a point when we sit down as government and agree that, let us select a few projects, finish them in 2020, and then in 2021, we select the next. So that on a geopolitical basis, those selections are done as a collective process”, she said.
Continuing, the finance minister said work on the legacy projects, Lagos-Ibadan highway, 2nd Niger Bridge, East-West road, and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road, were ongoing without stop because funds were available and that they were few.
According to her, “the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority was assigned four major road projects to do. These projects are Lagos-Ibadan highway, 2nd Niger Bridge, East-West road, and Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road.”