The debate on the general principles of the 2022 Appropriation Bill commenced on Wednesday in the House of Representatives with special focus on the budget deficit, health, education and infrastructure.

Members of the lower legislative chamber took turns to contribute to the debate on the N16.34 trillion budget presented by President Muhammadu Buhari last Thursday.

House Leader, Ado Dogwa (APC, Kano), led the debate on the bill, urging members of the House to give the bill their supports.

In his contribution, the Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary, Luke Onofiok (PDP, Akwa-Ibom), made a case for increment in the N50 billion set aside for doctors hazard allowance and commended the government for the N10 billion added to the judiciary budget.

Mr Onofiok said doctors are being exposed to the COVID-19 virus, but are paid a meagre N5,000 allowance.

“There is a need for us to up that hazard allowance from N5,000 which has been for over 20 years to something that will boost the morale of those medical personnel,” he said.

The lawmaker also touched on the growing deficit and the government’s use of borrowing to offset the deficit. He instead called for an upward review of the oil price benchmark from the current $57 per barrel.

“Another source of concern is that the proposal before us has a deficit of N6.2 trillion and the government is proposing new borrowings to finance this deficit. What this implies is that the total public debt of Nigeria is expected to rise to N5 trillion in the 2022 fiscal year. This is worrisome not only for today but for generations unborn and the future of Nigeria.

“The pegging of oil price at $57 per barrel is totally quite very low. It is not sustainable. Permit me to add that in the last three years since 2018, we have had a year high at an average of about $60 per barrel. So we should be advocating that there should be the upping of the pegging of $57 per barrel to $60 per barrel,” he said.

Speaking on the bill, Kabir Abubakar (APC, Kano) who is the Chairman of Committee on Works, lamented the total amount allocated to the roads.

According to the lawmaker, the federal ministry of works has an outstanding liability of N640 billion, against the less than N300 billion proposed in the budget.

He called for an additional N500 billion to fund repairs and construction of roads across the country.

“Mr Speaker, over 800 contracts for roads and bridges are currently being executed across the nation by this government, covering over 13,000 kllometres of the 35,000 plus kilometres of federal highways and bridges. Every state in the federation has either a road or bridge project going on. To complete these projects, the federal government will need over N7 trillion.

“But the 2022 budget provision for the works sector in the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing from my sources at the ministry is less than N300 billion for capital allocation.”

He cited numerous roads across the country that are going at slow pace because of inadequate funding. Some of the roads include Lagos-Badagry expressway and Enugu – Onitsha Road. The lawmaker submitted that Nigeria will need N7 trillion to fix all the roads.

Also speaking on the budget, Deputy Minority Leader, Toby Okechukwu (PDP, Enugu), said the budget has not increased in real terms because of the weakened Naira. According to him, the proposed 2022 budget is the same as the 2014 budget when the exchange rate is factored in.

He called for urgent steps to address the growing deficit.

“We have over N3 trillion for debt servicing and more than N6 trillion for recurrent expenditure, this means that whatever that is going to capital expenditure — if you take TETFUND and these agencies away, it is about N2.8 trillion. There is no way we can continue to commit that level of fund to recurrent expenditure and debt servicing,” Mr Okechuckwu said.

The Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu (PDP, Delta), faulted the spate of loans by the federal government.

Haruna Mshellia (APC, Borno), decried the allocations to both education and healthcare sectors. According to the lawmaker, the 2.7% allocation to Healthcare and the less than 4% allocation to education are not sufficient to address the challenges in the two sectors.

“When we had the pandemic last year, we discovered that the health system was very weak. I thought we would have learnt our lesson. Look at the budget before us, you will discover that health has only 2.7%.”

The lawmaker called for allocation to healthcare to be increased to 10% of the budget.

Other lawmakers who spoke were Sergius Ogun (PDP, Edo), the Deputy Chief Whip, Nkeiruka Onyejeocha (APC, Abia), Manu Soro (APC, Bauchi), John Dyegh (APC, Benue).

The debate will continue on Thursday.

The 2021 bill has scaled second reading in the Senate.

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