THE Senate has invited three key government officials at the helm of the nation’s economic affairs – the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, the Minister of State for Petroleum, Timipre Sylva and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Godwin Emefiele – to find ways of steering the economy away from distress in the face of falling oil prices occasioned by the ravaging impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate has muted the idea of fuel subsidy removal and the devaluation of the Naira as part of measures to stem the looming economic devastation caused by the spread of the Corona virus (COVID-19), pointing out that a review of the Appropriation Act 2020 as passed by the National Assembly was inevitable in the face of the prevailing global impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Already, oil price, especially the Brent, Nigeria’s specie, has dropped to under $30, almost equivalent of 50 per cent loss in revenue, going by the $57 benchmark the 2020 Appropriation Act was hinged upon.
The World’s leading oil groups, International Energy Agency (IEA) and the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) have equally expressed worry about the continued fall of oil price in the international market.
IEA Executive Director Dr. Fatih Birol and the Secretary-General of OPEC, Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, spoke by phone yesterday to discuss and to review the current condition of global oil market. They have estimated that income from oil and gas could fall from between 50 per cent and 85 per cent in emerging markets as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The continued fall in oil and gas prices, they said, will have a profound impact on the income of economies dependent on natural resources. They expressed deep concerns about the COVID-19, which is already caused grave and unprecedented global health crisis with potentially far-reaching economic and social consequences.
Dr. Birol and Barkindo assessed the impact of the virus and the recent broad-based financial and oil market volatility on the global economy. In particular, they discussed the inherent risks of the fast-evolving dynamics, including the most recent developments in global oil markets.
The Senate said it has set out modalities to be adopted in the review of the budget. The position of the Senate is contained in the interim report of the Senate Joint Committee on Finance, Appropriations, National Planning, and Petroleum Resources (Upstream) which was set up last week to liaise with relevant agencies of the Federal Government to proffer a way forward for the country following the ravaging effects of COVID-19 on world economy.
The Joint Committee was tasked with the “need to assess, examine and suggest to the Senate the urgent steps to be taken on the economic situation of the sharp drop in oil prices and other economic issues caused by the outbreak of the COVID-19 and the uproar between the governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia.”
Chairman of the Joint Committee, Senator Solomon Adeola, in the report, said the committee during its inaugural meeting with Mrs. Ahmed, considered many issues.
Adeola, who represents Lagos West Senatorial District, said the issues bordered on the economic realities in the country which includes:
“The Appropriation Act 2020 passed by the National Assembly; cost of production of a barrel of crude oil compared with the other counterparts in the petroleum producing countries.
“The reality of the situation of the government in terms of number of agencies and parastatals of the government, putting into perspective the Oronsanye Panel Report.
“The need to prioritise the social and the real sector of the economy, looking at their importance to the overall benefit of Nigeria.
“Loss of revenue as a result of gas flaring, which runs into several billions of dollars.’’
The Senate adopted the interim recommendations of the committee, which among others, mandated the Senate Joint Committee to continue to engage the executive arm of government to keep the Senate abreast of the ongoings in the economic front.
Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, noted that the country is really in a very challenging period.
He insisted that the country should, more than ever before, begin to look inward to ward off threatening economic crisis.
Lawan said: I think we are in a very challenging period but every challenge normally presents some opportunities. I think like Senator Odebiyi asserted that we should take our opportunities.
“The PIB we had expected by now would have been in the National Assembly but it is not. We had thought we would be able to pass the PIB within this year so that we are able to make our petroleum industry to have the legal framework that investors would find attractive to be here. But we are still expecting that the executive would work faster and harder to present the PIB to the National Assembly in the shortest possible time