By Yakubu Mohammed
AFTER what looked undoubtedly like the years of the locust, President Muhammadu Buhari’s maiden budget, aptly christened the budget of reconstruction, rehabilitation and recovery, would be a welcome balm on the jaded nerves of the generality of the citizenry. Nigerians, who watched helplessly over the years as the nation’s wealth was being remorselessly plundered and squandered by the men and women of power whose appetite for conspicuous consumption was unbelievably inordinate and insatiable, must indeed heave a sigh of relief. And pray that the budget is scrupulously implemented.
No matter how much the spin doctors want to put a shine on it, the Jonathan years have proved, beyond any doubt, to be the years of the locust, when officials of government behaved irresponsibly with public funds and did all manner of damage to our collective values for probity and accountability in public office. They did it, most egregiously, because they could, not for any altruistic motive, not for the good of the country. They did what they did just hopefully to satisfy their own inordinate appetite for corruptly acquired wealth. In doing this they were egged on by the deadly combination of greed and avarice and the certain knowledge that nobody could stop them; nothing could hold them back. Didn’t they say this revelry would last, if not forever, at least for another 50 years?
Mercifully, the coming of Buhari in May last year halted the mad rush to the brink. But between then and now almost all his efforts to pull the country back from the brink had been, in my considered opinion, restrictive, predicated largely on the change mantra alone and the fight against corruption, not to forget the battle against the Boko Haram insurgency. Though restricted, they were by no means insignificant given what we now know.
From his maiden budget Nigerians can now have a clearer picture of the thrust of his administration and how he intends to tackle the economy which seems to have been laid on its death bed. Buhari has announced a total budget of N6.08 trillion with a capital expenditure taking up to 30 per cent of the total budget. Education which has a princely allocation of N396 billion is followed by health and defence. Experts have gone to work analysing the budget and the jury is still out. Though we don’t expect unanimity of views and opinions because no two economists agree on any particular option, we still think that all hope is not lost in our efforts at recovery.
However, of all the expert opinions that I have read so far, the one I find most salutary because it underlines the real issues at stake is the one expressed by the President of Chartered Institute of Bankers, Mrs Adeola Osibogun as quoted in The Guardian on Sunday this week. Her opinion goes directly to the crux of the matter. Nigeria, she admonishes, needs a bold step to take the economy out of the woods. Such bold steps must be anchored on honesty of purpose.
“The budget” she agrees with other analysts “is very ambitious but at the same time, we need a lot of capital investment in infrastructure. But if there is honesty of purpose, then I don’t see any reason to worry. For a long time funds earmarked for certain projects were not expended for such purposes and that is why there has been decay in our infrastructure. So we need a bold step to get ourselves out of the woods.”
Bold step. Yes, and strong political will to enforce budget discipline. Truth be told, it is lack of discipline and the proclivity towards wrong doing, another short hand for corruption and financial malfeasance, that have remained the bane of non-performing budgets. Failed budgets lead to so many unwholesome developments and consequences; they result in abandoned projects and the massive decay in infrastructures. All these give rise to deaths in otherwise avoidable accidents on the highways or in the aviation industry or through collapsed buildings with faulty foundations.
If you read carefully between the lines and take the time to interpret the political nuances of most of the agitations or the cries of marginalisation in many geopolitical zones, it will not take you time to discover that the issue is failed budget leading to abandoned projects or lack of infrastructural developments. I wish to recall once upon a time there was so much noise from the Niger Delta region of the country about marginalisation of that region by the people at the helms of affairs in Abuja. The noise was loudest usually when the men at the control centre were from the northern part of the country, the region of the so-called parasites feeding fat on oil, the wealth of the nation. The agitators almost always developed cold feet and their voices became muffled when they were told to hold their own people, the sons of the soil, accountable for their woes.
Don’t forget that in the Niger Delta, then and now, three governments have responsibility for developing that region. The Federal Government has responsibility for the whole of Niger Delta region as it has for other parts of the country. There is a whole ministry dedicated to that region – the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, with a minister and the full complements of development apparatus, a national budget and a generous federal allocation. There are five autonomous state governments responsible for the same region with unfettered powers to deploy human and material resources for the benefits of their citizens. Local governments, the nearest governments to the people, have also been thrown into this development matrix at the grassroots level. That is the only geopolitical zone in the country with another complementing, if not conflicting development agency, NNDC, specifically set up by the Federal Government to do virtually what the other agencies of government are doing – develop Niger Delta region. And to do this, it enjoys the luxury of an annual budget bigger than the budgets of three state governments in the north put together. If all these do not lead to the rapid and even development of the region, then we must look no further to discover the reason. And the reason is not far from poor budgeting and lack of the political will and the discipline required by the region’s own sons and daughters to stick to scrupulous implementation of budgets to meet the yearnings and the aspirations of their people.
Poor state of roads in the south east region of Nigeria is one of the reasons, though a pathetically stupid reason, that those agitating for the rebirth of the dead state of Biafra have raked to give teeth to their agitation. The roads there, like nearly all other bad roads in other parts of the country, have made regular appearances in the budgets over the years but they remain bad because there is no strong political will to shun corruption and get the roads repaired. Abuja-Lokoja-Okene road is always a work in progress and has remained perennially so in the budget. Like other roads, this particular road, arguably one of the busiest links between the North and the South, has continued to claim lives of road users because of delay in completion aided and abetted by corruption and mismanagement of funds voted for it.
I agree with Mrs Osibogun that government requires the will power to do the right thing with budget implementation. With Buhari in the saddle, the hope is that Nigerians’ great expectations do not result in great frustration. Certainly, Nigeria cannot afford to get back to the brink.
By Yakubu Mohammed
Source : http://www.ngrguardiannews.com
The Guardian (Nigeria)