Opinion: What next… after signing the 2016 budget?

Year in, year out, the Federal government of Nigeria and indeed the state governments prepare budgets in line with their fiscal responsibilities and philosophies. There was never a time at least, in recent memories where Nigerians showed even the remotest concern of what their annual budget document contains.

This show of indifference to budget in particular and other government policies is borne out of the obvious Nigerian factor- lack of commitment to follow through promises Nigerian politicians make to the electorate during electioneering campaign. Who would have wasted his/her precious time analysing or debating a piece of document that he/she knows fully well that is not going to be implemented.

Trillions of petronaira had been budgeted since Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999 and before. To refresh our minds, take the past five years for example – the budget figures stood as follows: 2010, N4.4 trillion; 2011, N4.2 trillion; 2012, N4.749 trillion; 2013, N4.92 trillion; 2014, N4.962 trillion and 2015, N4.4 trillion.

This begs the question in the minds of even casual observers of the Nigeria Project- where is the work for which all these monies had been earmarked. I am not in denial that certain progress have been made in some sectors of the economy, Nigeria’s GDP grew steadily over the years or I dare mention, we are the biggest economy in Africa after Rebasing GDP in 2014.

However, set aside the obscure GDP growth that does not really make any sense to poor Nigerians, what is even more clear is that most of these budget funds end of being looted by politicians and civil servants at different levels.

Evidence to this is that Nigerians still get intermittent power supply, there is gross inadequacy in infrastructure- roads, schools, healthcare services, poverty and inequality are increasing at geometric progression, youth unemployment is at ridiculous level and constant national security threats if not from Boko Haram, its vicious marauding-Fulani herdsmen unleashing mayhem against defenceless citizens across the land for yet to be ascertained motivation, to Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) who are not as violent yet, nonetheless poses a serious national security threat if not managed appropriately.

President Buhari presented what I deem slightly ambitious N6.06trillion budget with series of controversies – padding by suspected civil servants with the attendant delay in deliberation and passage by the National Assembly; exclusion of Lagos – Calabar railway project and others. These issues generated a robust debate, accusations and counter accusations between the executive and the legislature which is good for strengthening of democracy.

In the past, most people wouldn’t give a damn if an item is expunged from a budget proposal by the National Assembly, because, to most ordinary Nigerians, with or without a budget, nothing will change. Our leaders prepare budget only because the constitution mandated them to do it, not necessary because they believe in the content of their own proposals.

The Executive, the Legislature and the Nigerian people have come to believe that annual budget is a joke! Its not meant to be implemented.

Now, all of a sudden, Nigerians care about the content of the 2016 budget. What has changed? Is it because there is a new regime headed by a different political party? Is it because of the incorruptibility persona of the new president, Muhammadu Buhari? Is the new public interest in particular details or lack of it in the 2016 budget signs of positive things to come? No doubt, the coming of President Buhari brings a high spectre of hope and a renewed public interest in the budget with a lot of discussions about its positive and negative details. It remains to be seen whether this new-found interest in the budget will be justified by the Buhari administration.

Given the falling oil prices to the lowest ebb, $40 per barrel now as against $140 per barrel a little while ago, no thanks to uncontrollable international outpouring of the output and the emergence of new suppliers, its safe to cast some doubt as to whether this year’s budget is fully implementable.

Where is the trillions coming from, some economists ask? Well, the response from the government circle seems to suggest that corruption will be stopped, that all leakages in revenue generating agencies ( Customs Services, Federal Inland Revenue Services, Port Authority, Nigerian Communications Commission, Nigeria Immigration Services etc.) would be blocked and that taxes would be made to be paid by persons and companies who hitherto avoided to pay.

Now, this sounds to me rather presumptuous or at best, a medium term plan as we are not sure how effective these measures would be, given the kind of corrupt public sector that we have. Its pertinent to note though, corruption has definitely reduced since President Buhari came on board, but it will never disappear completely in 2016 or in few years to come. Corruption is entrenched in every fabric of our society.

In sum, I believe this administration should focus on implementation of the 2016 budget as a matter of urgency. The year is running out fast and the budget has not been signed yet. Nigerians voted for change, the change for me, fundamentally means implementation of annual budget by leaders at different levels.

This will make all the difference. Equilibrium employment, poverty eradication, more secure society, better education, modern transport system, decent health services all depends on implementation of budget.

I am cautiously optimistic better days are coming. President Buhari is not perfect but has a sincere heart, if he could be a bit more pragmatic, he would have achieved more. The anti-corruption crusade is yielding result and there are a number of talented men and women in the cabinet today that can help the president achieve the prosperous Nigeria that we all deserve.

Op–ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

Amir Bagwanje writes from London, U. K.

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