by Alexander O. Onukwue
The Presidency, on Thursday, announced that President Muhammadu Buhari will present the first draft of the 2018 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly on Tuesday, 7th November, 2018.
This comes after a couple of meetings between the President and the leadership of the National Assembly last week at the presidential villa.
The 2017 budget was presented to the National Assembly last year December but did not have a smooth passage process. The absence of President Buhari for much of the first six months of the year supposedly proved to be a stumbling block as several grey areas needed to be finished. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, as acting president, eventually signed it into law on the 12th of June 2017.
By wishing to present the fiscal plan for next year earlier than it did for that of the current year, the Presidency is banking on a speedier passage process by the National Assembly. The ideal would be that the budget is passed by the National Assembly on December 31 so that the new year’s budget will be ready right from the beginning of the New Year.
What then would stand in the way of the process running smoothly?
The past two budget passage cycles of the Buhari administration have not been without its issues. Still fresh in the memory of Nigerians is the padding scandal which engulfed the House of Representatives, in which the Speaker Yakubu Dogara was accused of improper conduct by Honourable Abdulmumin Jibrin. This year, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola (SAN) engaged in a war of opinions with members of the Senate whom he accused of not being interested in big worthwhile projects because they substituted the proposed projects of his Ministry with boreholes.
It would be expected that, in the first place, the Presidency and the leadership of the Senate and the House would have, in their meetings, agreed on the principles that would guide the content of the budget to be presented. With the same political party in charge of both arms of Government, the assumption is that a common ideological ground should produce a united project.
Hence, only minimal hiccups should arise in passing a budget. That has not proved to be the case in the past budget seasons but with the party preparing for new general elections in about eighteen months time, it should be expected that the wars of personality that dogged the achievement of ease until now will be shelved in the interest of the party.
For a party which wishes to retain its place as the nation’s ruling political group, it would be imperative on them to produce a budget that would be convincing and actually produce real change in the lives of Nigerians. With the economy expected to grow after overcoming the recession, the Government will have no excuse not to use the 2018 fiscal season to truly improve the lives of Nigerians in the best way possible. This, it can be assumed, will be the intention of the Executive.
Combining that with the intention of the APC to show the markings of a party with its house in order, we can expect the National Assembly to offer its cooperation to Buhari’s estimates.
The onus would now lie on civil society groups and the opposition party to provide the alarms and checks necessary to ensure that the 2018 Budget is actually good for Nigerians, and not just a good shopping list for politicians.