by Alexander O. Onukwue
President Muhammadu Buhari made history at the National Assembly today where he proposed a record N8.61 trillion as the 2018 budget.
The figure is in keeping with a trend which has emerged since his administration began in 2015, by topping every year’s budget by an average of N1 trillion.
The budget is universally recognised as one of the two fundamental instruments of policy of every country, the other being the Constitution. Being an instrument of policy makes it connected to politics. By that interpretation, Mr Buhari’s third budget, with its unprecedented figures and being the last before he may emerge as a candidate for the next general elections, will surely be rigorously scrutinised by everyone with a double lens of politics and economics.
We have crunched the numbers and analysed the language with which the proposed budget was presented; here are five general takeaways from the proposed 2018 Budget:
GAMBLING ON THE NIGER DELTA
Nigeria’s recovery from the recession in the second quarter of this year was predicated on the combined forces of improvement in the global price of crude oil and relative stability in the Niger Delta. The Avengers calmed down and the economy began its steady rise out recession. Daily crude oil production increased from 2016 values and the nation reaped. By an improved benchmark of 2.3 million bpd, the Executive is hedging that the restored peace will remain. This forecast of increased production will be the reason behind the substantially large figures of the new expenditure plan of the Government. As at the day of presenting the budget, oil price has risen to $64 per barrel, a record high since Buhari assumed power. It would have delighted the President’s drafters who pegged the benchmark at $45.
The news of the killing of a British national by ‘militants’ would not have given much confidence to the idea of restored peace in the Niger Delta but, by hook or crook, the Presidency is looking to milk more from that region. Will Niger Deltans be satisfied with having the second-lowest allocation, of all Ministries, in the proposed budget?
SIMULTANEOUS IMPLEMENTATION OF TWO BUDGETS?
One major issue before the implementation of the 2018 Budget by President Buhari was that, as at the last inquiry of the Senate answered by the Ministers of Finance and of Budget, the 2017 Budget has only been implemented to a 15% level. Now, according to Mr Femi Adesina, the president’s spokesman, “the National Assembly will work on the budget expeditiously so that it can be passed by January and revert to the January-to-December budget cycle”. This assumes that the troubles which plagued previous budgets – being missing, eaten by rats, etc – would not be encountered this time. This also assumes that the PDP reps who reportedly were begged by Speaker Dogara not to protest before Buhari would be silent and cooperative.
But the main point of inquiry would be: how will the Government operate with two budgets at the same time and duly account for its activities with transparency?
HOW DO WE SOLVE ‘UNIQUE NIGERIAN PROBLEMS’ WITHOUT EDUCATION?
In his budget presentation speech, President Buhari alluded to the need for finding solutions tailored to the Nigerian environment. This is as much a philosophical question as it is laden with economic implications. Central to this is the dilemma over whether Nigeria diversify the economy by investing in Industry or in Agriculture? Non-oil revenue target in the proposed budget is about two times the expected oil revenue, under which services, agriculture, boilers, and collections from tax, excise and levies fall. Which of these will be the Government’s core focus for bringing about development?
With the highest allocation going to the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, the impression is that the solution for Nigeria’s unique problems will, in 2018, focus on raising the infrastructural base in the country. Achieving that would be commendable, if a credible Nigerian solution to endemic corruption in the power sector can be found before the next 365 days elapses. The allocation for education is still far below comparable percentages in West Africa; is investment in quality (i.e. well funded) education, not a worthy Nigerian solution?
SARAKI’S WARNING TO MDAs
The Senate President’s speech preceded the Budget presentation by President Buhari. Though not the main focus of the day, the Chairman of the National Assembly read an address that would have struck every senior officer in Ministries and government parastatals as a clear warning. MDAs had failed to present their budgets before or together with the 2018 Budget being presented by the President, stating that they would not have funds released for them until they had done so. And as if he anticipated that the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing would get the highest share of capital projects allocations, Saraki let it be known that he values small projects as well as big ones. Minister Babatunde Fashola would have taken note.
KICKING OFF WITH HOSTILITIES
Apparently, the subject of accountability has become so hot in the Nigerian environment that it has began to elicit some hostility. For reasons yet to be explained, certain media houses were barred from having their reporters cover the live presentation of the 2018 budget at the National Assembly. Those barred include reporters of TheCable and Premium Times, whose investigative teams have broken major scandals and lit successive fires under the present government. They were however, not the only online news media in the country refused access, Pulse.ng was also shut out. The production of a so-called “accreditation list” which excluded some media outlets was not justified by the security operatives at the National Assembly, probably because the directive came from the top.
If the National Assembly will give not provide access to the press to be at an ordinary Budget presentation, what should be expected going into what should be a year of political campaigns? Surely, N8.6 trillion is too much to leave to the control of the “distinguished” and “honourables” without asking questions.
BONUS: EL-RUFAI’S NOTES IN BUHARI’S BUDGET
Governor Nasir El-Rufai is one of the thought leaders of the APC and the most eloquent Buharist in the country. Is it altogether coincidental that the title of the Budget presented by the Governor last month to the Kaduna Assembly has been used by Buhari for the Federal Budget? Not saying anything about a succession plan here but you can certainly imagine that President Buhari would want to see the consolidation of the gains of political and socio-economic Buharism after he’s gone wouldn’t he?