New Telegraph

February 26, 2024

Can 2024 Budget Renew Our Hope?

Ever since the presentation of the 2024 Federal Government’s appropriation bill to the joint session of the Red and Green Chambers of the National Assembly by President Ahmed Tinubu on Wednesday November 29, 2023 it has triggered varied responses from experts on the economy, notable groups and some concerned Nigerians. The areas that have drawn concerns and criticism include the total amount budgeted at N27.5 trillion, the sectors in focus, the areas of priority and the capacity and capability of its implementation; to rejuvenate the near comatose manufacturing sector of the fragile economy.

But before we take a critical look at the responses, it is pertinent to have an appraisal of the President’s presentation. Ranking top amongst the sectors of the budgetary allocations are N8.7 trillion for capital expenditure, non-debt recurrent expenditure of N9.92 trillion, education, infrastructure, defence and security at N6.75 trillion as well as debt servicing with N8.25 trillion. These bring to the public sphere the president’s promise to prioritize national defence, internal security, local job creation, human capital development, poverty reduction and the provision of an environment that would optimise Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).

With the President pledging to overhaul the internal security architecture, to guarantee a secure life, property and investment falling quite in sync with Section 14, Sub-Section (2)(b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) it would be encouraging to make other aspects of our national life more realistic. That would indeed, concretize human capital development as a reality. Furthermore, the President’s desire to work closely with development partners, in addition to the private sector would greatly assist to beam light into the dream of actualising value for money earmarked for each sector, with accountability and transparency as the facilitating factors.

While social critic Reno Omokri has praised Tinubu for his courage by not making allocation for fuel subsidy, the Executive Director of the Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko spared no tough words in castigating him for seeking additional loans. Worse still given the current scary economic scenario that the federal debt burden stood at N87.38 trillion (as at the end of the second quarter of 2023). Bluntly put, he stated that: “To add to this embarrassing situation by approving such a massive borrowing plan is insane and absolutely unacceptable”.

Even if other Nigerians might not agree with his choice of words we have to be concerned and seriously so, that after former President Muhammadu Buhari’s eight years of the borrowing spree, his successor has kept to his promise of continuing from where such financial profligacy stopped! That should not be. Lest we forget, the Debt Management Office (DMO) has informed Nigerians that there has been an astronomical debt profile increase of N37.53 trillion representing 75.29% compared to N49.85 trillion as at the end of March, 2023.

Yet, the Tinubu-led administration has also engaged in borrowing since assumption of office on May 29, 2023. Unfortunately, such borrowings have not pulled long-suffering citizens from the muddy pits of poverty. That perhaps, might give credence to the response of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which described the appropriation bill presented by Tinubu as, “conjured, unfounded and deceptive, lacking mechanism to create jobs, revive the comatose manufacturing industry and human capital development”.

Much as such might be considered as a sweeping, generalised appraisal of the budgetary allocations, the concern of seasoned analysts on the economic spectrum that the total figure of N27.5 trillion ($33 billion) pales when placed in comparison with some African countries with lower populations, cannot be wished away with a wave of the hand. For instance, South Africa with a population of 60.41 million has a 2024 budgetary allocation totalling $132 billion.

Similarly, Algeria of about 44 million people has a budget of $112.7 billion and Morocco with a population of 37.9 million has a $63 billion budgetary allocation. The point being made here is that the Federal Government’s proposed spending for the average Nigerian is on the low side. A budget that would not cater for the compelling needs of 60 million Nigerians who lack safe, potable water and 114million others that have no access to basic sanitation facilities, according to the World Bank report of November,2022 and the Global Water Security and Sanitation Partnership, needs to be thoroughly reassessed.

Access to sanitation facilities declined from 36% in 1990 to as low as 11% in 2021. This position is in tandem with the recent concern raised by the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) that the budgetary allocation meant for infrastructural development is inadequate and below par compared to the capital intensive challenges on ground. What is important, in all of these critical issues is for members of the 10th Assembly to exhibit independence from the executive arm of government, show unity of purpose, even against the diversity of political sentiments and persuasion to have a thorough thinking through of the budget and retool it to satisfy the people’s needs.

They would surely succeed in doing so, only if as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas promised they are strictly guided by objective probity. Indeed, they would be strengthened by Sections 80, 81 and 82 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended). Beyond that would be the sustained assessment of the implementation of the budget, as approved by the different committees for each sector of the economy. They should therefore muster the political will to walk the talk on quality service delivery. Only then shall our hopes be renewed.

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