BusinessDay

Nigeria’s annual and dismal budget controversies

The Budgeting period in Nigeria is full of untoward scenes, and such happens unfortunately in a country whose social-economic statistics have worsened in recent years. This is because, the standard of living has fallen; the unemployment rate increasing; while purchasing power has greatly reduced consequently many Nigerians are mired in poverty. Some of the current causative factors may be exogenous, especially since the number of Nigerians fell into the poverty zone on account of the COVID 19 pandemic.

An annual budget is an important tool of transformation, which, if sincerely implemented, could reduce the number of Nigerians in poverty. Thus far, the gains to the nation have not matched the huge spending that is always associated with the annual budget.

Why this is so is because it has become an annual occurrence for Nigeria’s budgeting processes to be laden with controversies. If the matter at issue is not budget padding, an MDA may not honour National Assembly’s invitation. Worse still, when the public officials, whom everyone believes should have a better understanding of the items in the budget eventually honour the invitation to defend their proposals, it will then appear to all and sundry that the person is not in tune with his or her agency or department. Cases abound of public officials who failed to defend their budget proposals.

This does not speak well of a nation whose nationals are professional and academic giants in other climes. Is it that the right people are not in charge of the affairs of this country or they do not just care?

In the last few weeks, news broke out that an agency of government wanted to borrow $200 million or N85 billion to purchase mosquito nets in the 2022 budget under the anti-Malaria Program. Surprisingly, N450 million was equally budgeted for the treatment of malaria by the same agency.

Malaria parasite was discovered in 1897, and up till the present moment, Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy, still borrows money to buy mosquito nets. This is disheartening, to say the least.

It is so surprising that the ugly head of budget padding could rear its head again, especially when the two arms of the National Assembly are seen to be very friendly with the executive arm of government

The annual appropriation bill is a legal document that connects the leadership with the led. It is a sacred vow that those in leadership made to use the collective resources of the people for the development of their nation and to enhance their drive to prosperity.

In the 2022 budget currently before the National Assembly, various ministries, agencies and departments have been accused of budget padding to the tune of N500 billion. The problem of budget padding occurred in the previous years.

It should be recalled in 2016, that an altercation ensued between the then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and a national leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the effect that, the latter accused the former of budget padding in order to frustrate the transformational programmes of President Muhammadu Buhari. It is so surprising that the ugly head of budget padding could rear its head again, especially when the two arms of the National Assembly are seen to be very friendly with the executive arm of government.

Read also: Peep into 2022 budget reveals N227bn padding

In another development, the National Assembly chastised some MDAs that expected a hundred percent mobilisation of funds before the commencement of projects. It is very rare across the world to see a country where all its MDAs will receive a hundred percent funding before projects are initiated.

Another controversy trailing Nigeria’s annual budget defence is the unnecessary splitting of projects, all in the bid to short-change the masses. A case in point is the contractors handling projects for the Nigeria Navy who deliberately prolonged the completion periods of some projects thereby causing a spillover to the following year.

We also have a case of unreasonable reduction of allocations meant for certain MDAs to such an extent that no meaningful impact will be made in such MDAs, if the paltry sums eventually approved for them are released.

That budget padding keeps reoccurring signifies that the essence of Nigeria’s annual budgetary processes is not to address the perennial problems confronting the Nigerian people and businesses. And that contractors could unjustifiably extend the completion period of projects amounts to having many authorities in Nigeria, some of whom are untouchable to state and federal governments.

For Nigeria to move forward, the annual budget must have a semblance of accountability and should support the implementation of projects that will address the alleviation of poverty in the land.

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