By Lawrence Olaoye
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has disclosed that the federal government will engage the leadership of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) tomorrow with a view to addressing the grievances of the lecturers for them to suspend the ongoing strike action.
According to a statement made available to newsmen yesterday by his spokesman, Laolu Akande, the Vice President stated this while responding to a variety of questions from Nigerians across different professions and persuasions, at a town hall meeting in Abuja. Specifically, he said
“On the ASUU strike, the Vice President said that government is engaging the leadership of the union, noting that “the next meeting is on Thursday, November 15, 2018”.
He, however, explained that “we are dealing with a population of about 200 million people who depend on a budget of about N8.6 trillion and of that amount, 70% of it goes to salaries and overheads, and it goes to less than 2 million people. It is impossible to answer to all of the monetary needs of people by the size of the federal budget”.
On healthcare financing, Osinbajo said the Buhari administration had done much even as it has earned 60% less than the previous administrations.
According to him, “the first thing to bear in mind is that health care financing has suffered over the years even when we were earning the most money, we were underfunding healthcare.
“In 2015 when we came in, the healthcare budget was N22.7 billion and as of today we moved that to N86.5 billion and we are earning 60% less. Education was N23 billion in 2015, now it is N102 billion. The issue really is one of government commitment. For the first time, in the 2018 budget, we are setting aside 1% of our consolidated revenue to the health sector.”
Speaking on the misconceptions about the borrowing arrangements of the Buhari administration, the Vice President said, the country, under President Buhari, was not in a terribly bad debt situation as insinuated in some quarters.
According to him, very frequently you find people creating fear about the issue of debt and saying that this government has borrowed more than previous governments.
“I want to give you the facts and figures on the debt issue. The dollar denominated debts of Nigeria – that is the debts of the Federal Government, the States and Local governments.
“In 2010, Nigeria’s debt was $35 billion; 2011, it was $41billion; in 2012, it was $48 billion, in 2013, it became $64 billion; 2014, it rose to $67 billion; 2015, it fell to $63 billion; 2016, $57 billion;
2017, $70 billion; 2018, it is $73 billion. So, the difference between 2015 and now is $10 billion.
“One of the things that I always want you to bear in mind is that when oil prices are at their highest, between 2010 and 2014 that was when we had the sharpest rise in debts.”
Continuing on the debt issue, Prof. Osinbajo said “the other thing that I want us to bear in mind is what is called debt to GDP. Our debt to GDP is one of the lowest among the countries that are frequently compared to us. Our debt to GDP is 20%. When you compare it to other countries, you will see that Ghana is about 68% whereas Ethiopia’s is 48%. In terms of the size of our economy and debt, we are doing okay”
He, however, agreed that “Nigeria may have an issue with debt to revenue”, noting that “we are not collecting enough revenue compared to what we want to spend.”
The Vice President, who disclosed that another 1 million persons would be engaged by the government N-Power scheme, lamented that most Nigerians are not paying taxes.
Earlier, the Ministers of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola; Industry, Trade and investment, Dr. Okey Enelamah;
Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi; and Agriculture, Dr. Audu Ogbe, responded separately to issues relating to their various ministries.
The town hall meeting was organized by Act Now, a non-political group that works in promoting transparency and good governance as well as youth participation in governance.