by Oluseun Onigbinde
We are all witnesses to the rising interests and commentary that Nigerians are putting into the national budget. The Special Adviser to the President on Media, Reuben Abati wrongly validated that when he said “even okada riders are now making commentary and analysis on the budget.” Maybe, Abati does not understand that the single policy instrument that turns campaign promises in to actual implementation is the budget. If citizens now have more than a passing interest in the fiscal document on whose basis public funds are being appropriated, isn’t that a good thing? Should that be assumed as a crime?
2014 budget has taken the pattern of its forbears. We are still blighted by the recurrent budget now at 76% and maybe it’s time for the Finance Minister to agree that to tame monster of statecraft is beyond her redemptive abilities. A quick analysis of the budget as shown below puts the personnel costs at N1.7tn at the highest expense of government. It is obvious that to prune the Federal Government budget will require cut in the personnel cost which is mainly dominated by five ministries (Defence, Police, Education, Health and Interior) Ministry. The vehicle to do that is the Steve Oronsaye report that seems politically impossible to implement as agencies and jobs will be cut. The Finance Minister has put bulk on the heels of the National Assembly which is supposed to repeal laws that enacted such institutions. Our debt servicing costs, which seems like a subsidy to the bank and its investors, is also on the rise and has hit a record level of N712bn.
However, what riles me is that every agency yearly budgets for research and development, purchase of computers and printers and – ridiculously – software acquisition. Over N9bn is expected to be spent on software acquisition in the 2014 budget and one wonders how that impacted the local market if they are actually procured. Working with other civil society organisations and also a citizen group, we are determined to show these kinds of waste to the legislature and hope that they make drastic reductions.
Recently, the All Progressive Congress passed a directive to its party members to block executive bills due to the security situation in Rivers State where the State House of Assembly cannot sit because another 6-man team backed by powerful interests parade themselves as leaders. Now I think of which side of the fence to sit but we must understand the approach of filibuster in enforcing certain decisions. Every political party will use its strengths to achieve its means and we must be ready for the consequences of the shutdown that a binary party system offers. Now that the Nigerian Police has moved the former Police Commissioner of Rivers, we hope the debate can begin and the budget can be scrutinized and soon passed.
We have started the budget process too late again as the legislature and executive bickered for too long on what the benchmark price of oil for the budget should be. We have just prepared groundwork for a failed budget especially in a pre-election year that favors real politicking and less issues about governance. However, this year presents an opportunity for us to tie actual project implementation with the votes. A means to encourage voters to ask vital questions on why projects serially placed in the budget for them never gets implemented. An opportunity to enliven that debate on why N150bn is budgeted for the National Assembly which is higher than the individual budgets of 20 states in Nigeria. Hopefully this builds a virile and active citizen network that understands the roles of elected leaders. Now, the work must begin.
– The opinion expressed in this article is strictly that of the writer and has nothing to do with the views of the organization he leads.