YNaija Editorial: The proposed 2018 budget reiterates just how out of touch our government is

After what has seemed like a year teetering on the edge of uncertainty, President Buhari has beaten an undisclosed illness that kept him out of the country for 100 days and delivered not one but two budgets to the National Assembly.

But this new budget, like much of Buhari‘s stint as a democratic president, has been fraught with controversy. The presidency had to be harangued repeatedly by Bukola Saraki and the Nigerian senate to present the budget, and when it was finally presented, several press organisations were simply not allowed to attend the presentation.

There is also the little matter of the 2017 budget which is still only 15% implemented, one month to the end of the year. We have been assured, however, that the 2017 budget will be implemented somehow before January 2018, so the fiscal cycle can return to a January-December schedule.

In light of the year we have had, it would be bad luck to dwell on the specifics of this new budget, but it has to be done if we are going to avoid the fallacies that has marred the implementation of the 2017 budget. This year’s expenditure estimates capped last year’s estimates by a trillion naira, ambitious when you factor in that as a nation we have only exited a debilitating economic depression on paper, triggered by a restive Niger Deltan militancy, insurgencies in the North and a decade of audacious embezzlement across all arms of government. The estimated influx of revenue that has followed the rising crude oil rates and a lull in militancy is yet to be felt by the average Nigerian, and a budget that is already making grand projections based on a theoretical event seems optimistic, even for a government given to broad gestures as ours.

But scrutinising the budget and its allocations to economic sectors with reference to major events in Nigeria, two allocations immediately stand out; the budgetary allocations to health care and education. A few weeks ago, an estimated 1200 Nigerian doctors wrote the most recent Professional and Linguistics Board test (PLAB), a test that allows doctors not trained with the UK – EU work in the UK’s medical ecosystem. There are less than 20 medical colleges in Nigeria and thanks to corruption, nepotism and a punishing medical schedule between 50 – 70 medical students graduate each year. The PLAB test is written several times a year, and if each cycle about 40% of the students who write the test pass, it would mean 800 doctors, eleven classes of graduate doctors if they were all from one university became eligible to leave Nigeria and practice. In a country where the estimates suggest we have a ratio of one doctor to 10,00o patients, even one doctor leaving the country to practice elsewhere is a loss we cannot allow.

The president’s budgetary allocations do not seem to appreciate just how dire our circumstances are. The 2018 budgetary allocation for the health sector is 71 billion naira, only 6 billion more than the budgetary allocation for the payment of amnesty allowances to Boko Haram and Niger Deltan militants. A state of the art MRI machine costs about $1.2 million, which when converted to Naira is about N427 million. Ten state of the art MRI machines, which at this point would barely even adequately serve 5% of our population’s healthcare needs would consume nearly 10% of 2018’s budgetary allocations. This means we can forget intensive research of any kind, or even proper facilities, the kind of career advancement opportunities that would traditionally incentivise doctors to stay in Nigeria.

What solutions do we have then? Reforming our medical colleges to ensure the process of training doctors is less restrictive? Hiring more training consultants is out of the question, seeing as they are the ones writing the PLAB tests and relocating their families. How about building more medical colleges across the country to trigger an influx of eager students? Well, the allocation for education in the 2018 budget is N61 billion, N3 billion less than the budgetary allocation for Amnesty payments, N89 billion less than the budgetary allocation for ‘special interventions’. What could be more worthy of an intervention than an educational system that is practically non-existent?

The Kaduna state government recently had to fire 21,000 primary and secondary school teachers because they couldn’t pass a basic four test. This is in spite of a N160 billion allocation for a Universal Basic Education Scheme that has been active since the early 2000’s. If the test implemented in Kaduna state was replicated nationwide, we’d probably see several hundred multiples of the numbers recorded in Kaduna. This means, every doctor we produce in Nigeria is not simply a product of our educational system, but evidence that someone managed to beat the system rather than succumb to its mediocrity.

The biggest allocations in the 2018 budget asides N3 trillion to recurring costs, was a lump sum of N2 trillion to debt management. That was closely followed by N500 billion to infrastructure and N263 billion to Transportation. On the surface, it seems unrelated but in reality, this is all interconnected. Our debt is often accrued to finance infrastructural and transportation projects. Infrastructural and transportation projects that we often have to hire foreign nationals to plan, build and implement because we simply do not have locally trained professionals with the same level of skill and experience to keep these projects in-house. We do not have locally trained professionals because we do not have schools with adequately trained teachers, or even contemporary equipment and training materials to ensure that our trained professionals are at par with their global contemporaries. The expenses these foreign nationals accrue are serviced by borrowing, the interest of which becomes our National debt, which we spend the bulk of our budgets servicing. A simple matter of priorities has spiralled into a bog into which we sink deeper every year.

Of what value is our insistence in investing in infrastructure if we do not have the human capital to build or maintain these projects. How long will we continue to look outwards, while the professionals we do manage to train here, hop on the next available flight to anywhere but here? At what point will we prioritise human capital above the illusion of progress?

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