President of the Senate, Dr. Ahmad Lawan, has advised President Muhammadu Buhari to reduce borrowing from external lending houses to fund the country’s annual budgets. Lawan said the administration should, instead, focus on blocking financial leakages and avoiding wastage in all tiers of government. Lawan declared these on Monday in Abuja in a chat with newsmen after a close-door meeting with Buhari at the State House.

The senate president said his discussion with Buhari centred on the need to take steps to increase revenue generation by government agencies and reduce dependence on external loans to fund the budget.

He stated, “I had discussions with the president on some other governance issues that have to do with making the revenues in the country, especially for government at the federal and the state levels, and even local governments, even more.

“There are so many agencies of government that are not remitting their internally generated revenues and this is something that we have to address as quickly as possible, because we need to find a way of reducing the borrowing that we do.

“So, if there are areas that we can now get revenues that will help us reduce the amount of borrowing, then, so be it. And this is something that we all agreed with Mr. President, that we should continue to look at those areas that we need to improve on revenue generation and collection.

“Thank God, we are on the same page with Mr. President on all these issues, and for us, it is a renewal of our commitment to Nigerians and to the administration, that in the National Assembly, our focus is Nigeria, our priority is Nigeria. We have no personal interest in anything. What will make Nigeria better is what concerns us. At the end of the day, we will have a date with history and want to be on the right side of history.”

Reacting to widespread allegations that members of the National Assembly were bribed with $10 million to peg the percentage approved for host communities in the recently passed Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) at three per cent, the senate president denied the accusation. He said at no point did the lawmakers collect any gratification before passing the PIB.

An online news website, SaharaReporters, had alleged that Lawan got $2 million (N823 million) while Gbajabiamila was paid $1.5 million (N617 million) as bribes to facilitate the contemptible percentage for oil producing communities. The online news medium further alleged that the Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Timipre Sylva, facilitated the payment of the bribes. It said each senator was paid $20, 000 (N8.2 million) while members of the House of Representatives were paid $5,000 (N2 million) each.

But Lawan dismissed the bribery allegation as the trivialisation of a serious national issue.

He said, “I really want to take this opportunity to take exception to those kinds of unwarranted, unprovable, false and fake information being fed to the Nigerian public and the danger people will face, which will cause unnecessary damage to the reputation of people.

“I had an occasion to take someone to court because of this kind of thing about three months ago, but Nigerians are better judges than anywhere else.

“The freedom of expression is there, probably more than anywhere in the world, but I want to caution that Nigerians should always think positive about their leaders and their administration and their governments and if they have issues they feel very strongly about, let them speak the truth and we are prepared to take corrections that we feel should be able to make us do better.”

On security, Lawan, who is also chairman of the National Assembly, assured that Buhari would leave the nation a more secure country in 2023.

According to him, “This administration has done so well to deal with the security issues inherited. Recall that in 2015, the security situation was so terrible in the North-east and, of course, the challenges of militancy in the South-south. Today, we are not talking too much about the security situation in the North-east and the militancy in the South-south.

“So, it has been quite a good, successful effort in those two geopolitical zones that we inherited. But we have new challenges in the North-west, particularly, and some parts of the North-central, where banditry is now a phenomenon that we have to deal with.

“I’m happy to inform Nigerians that Mr. President has shown willingness and the desire to continue to give more resources to the armed forces and other security agencies to continue to fight the banditry, the little bits of the insurgency left and, of course, the other security challenges and we are also fully in support of giving him all the resources that you will require from us in the National Assembly to ensure that lives and property of Nigerians are properly secured.

“Before this administration leaves, by the grace of God, in 2023, the security situation would have been stabilised, far better than what it is today. That is one in the area of security.”

Lawan stressed that although he was in support of reintegration of repentant Boko Haram members to the society, they should first be profiled to ensure they were truly repentant and ascertain that they no longer posed a threat to society.

He stated, “We need to screen to ensure that those, who are genuine and those, who may just follow in for some reasons (are identified). But I don’t subscribe to the idea of saying forget about people who are surrendering, all of them are criminals and the rest of it. In the law of war, when somebody surrenders, you have something to surrender and, of course, maybe you will do some profiling and find out whether this someone is genuine.

“I believe that we should give people the benefit of the doubt, but we should also be very circumspect on those, who may not be genuine in this. We should accept people, when they come and take the appropriate measures, and get the right strategies on how to deal with the reintegration of such people into the community.

“Don’t throw them just into the community like that, because you need to do some other things to ensure that everybody is sanitised, so to speak, before they are introduced into the society.”

Responding to a question on whether he was optimistic Boko Haram insurgency would end, Lawan said, “Yes, I’m optimistic that not only Boko Haram, the insurgency, because in addition to Boko Haram you have ISWAP and probably other tangential groups like that.

“I’m sure the new strategy by the current leadership of the armed forces is working. Boko Haram, having lost its leader and probably having lost so many commanders, some of them think they should just throw in the towel. Therefore, it’s one of those success stories of the fight against insurgency in the North-east.”

Lawan also said he had fruitful discussions with the president on the Appropriation Budget 2022, saying one of the legacies of the current administration will be to complete the second Niger bridge and some major road projects across the country.”

The senate president added, “We also had discussions on the budget 2022. We believe that the budget 2022 will be the icing on the cake, so to speak, that is to say, we have to make sufficient provision for the security agencies and also sufficient provisions for our legacy projects.

“We hope and our desire now is in tandem with what the Presidency wants, that is, to ensure that the legacy projects are completed by next year, by the grace of God. These are the major projects, like the Second Niger Bridge, the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano highway, and so forth, that these projects are completed within next year and Mr. President is able to commission them for Nigerians to benefit.

“These are projects that we have to make significant or sufficient provisions for in the 2022 budget, so that we are able to complete them. They should be part of the legacies Mr. President owes to this country in the area of infrastructure.”

The senate president also spoke on the disagreements in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), and boasted that no fewer than 100 million Nigerians would be registered as members of the party.

“I also had discussions with Mr. President on the need for us to continue to make sure that the party, our party, the All Progressives Congress, continues to give itself that colour, that disposition of the party that has genuinely come to salvage Nigerians,” he stated.

Lawan claimed Nigerians had shown greater interest in APC.

He said, “When we had our registration exercise, we had about 40 million Nigerians, who registered. I believe that we can go far above that figure. I was thinking we could register up to 100 million. So, we should make it possible for Nigerians to come out and register until we reach that kind of creamy state of having half of Nigerians registered as members of the party.

“The party is on very solid grounds. The Caretaker and Convention Planning Committee is working very hard; we are breaking new grounds, we are getting and attracting more and more members; very solid, high-profile people, from other political parties, especially, the Peoples Democratic Party, into the APC. This is to show the confidence that Nigerians place in our party. Therefore, we should all come together to ensure that this party continues to lead this country for as long as God wills.

“Mr. President is in full support of ensuring that this party is built from the bottom up. That is what we are all trying to do. If there are any disagreements, these are normal things that happen in political parties. In fact, even within families, people sometimes may hold different views, but at the end of the day, the focus, the direction and the target is always the same.

“That is to say that we are on our way, on a march to ensuring that we complete other congresses that will hold; the local government congresses that already has been slated for September 4.”