If there is a medal for the most shambolic document of the year, the 2016 budget easily qualifies for it. It remains the clearest evidence yet of the incompetence of the people this government has picked to run our affairs. The fraudulently padded Appropriation Bill is so riddled with errors that one is compelled to question the sanity of those who drafted it for President Muhammadu Buhari.
The drama of the situation started from rumours of the withdrawal of the budget, then denial and then rumours of its outright disappearance. This was followed by a dispute over two versions in the National Assembly and which version was the authentic one, then again rumours of its withdrawal and then of course the discovery that it was replete with duplications, errors, inflated figures and large sums pledged for inexcusable items.
It is a crying shame that the first and most important document put together by this government which ought to reflect its vision and mission in a practical demonstration of support for reforms, as well as commitment to change, has turned out to be the most embarrassing and scandalous document ever put before the National Assembly in the name of budgeting. Apart from being replete with errors and inconsistencies, the overall thrust seriously undermines the austere and ascetic image of Mr. President. The scale of the fraud contained in the bill is enough to “hammer someone into the ground”. Most of the expenditure proposed in the shambolic document by these change agents make former President Goodluck Jonathan look like an angel.
The proposed budget has more than anything else ruined any further pretence of this government to fidelity and frugality in the handling of taxpayers’ resources. Nearly everything they told the public about the budget, from the adoption of zero-based budgeting to most of the items proposed have been found to be less than truthful. Obviously, those saddled with the preparation of the budget made a real dog’s breakfast of it as there was a total lack of diligence and attention to detail.
The talk in town is that the budget was prepared by civil servants. Who cares about who prepared it? In any case, if true, then there is no one else to blame but the president who had once declared that ministers were “noisemakers” and that the “real work” of government was done by civil servants. He said that then to justify the delay (taking his time in setting up his cabinet) and to fend off pressure to constitute a cabinet, which eventually took him six months to put in place. That delay, the avoidable breakneck rush to put a budget together before the end of the year, and his clear lack of policy direction are partly responsible for the economic problems we are facing today. A lot of portfolio investors took out their money while Buhari was taking his time to form a cabinet.
For the first time ever, ministers and heads of parastatals publicly disowned figures in the budget. Most noteworthy was what the Minister of Health, Professor Isaac Adewole, had to say before the Senate Committee on Health. He was unequivocal that the ministry’s budget forwarded to the committee was in sharp contrast with the priorities of the health sector as contained in the original budget it prepared: “In the revised budget as re-submitted, N15.7bn for capital allocation has been moved to other areas. Some allocations made are not in keeping with our priorities. There is nothing allocated to public health and family health. Over the last two years, nothing has been done on HIV. We have to look into the details of the budget and re-submit it to the committee. This was not what we submitted. We’ll submit another one. We don’t want anything foreign to creep into that budget. What we submitted is not there. We have not reached that stage and we find the money there.”
How does one explain the N31 million that was set aside as payment for rent for the presidential residence built, owned and maintained by the government in the budget? Or does the president now live in a rented apartment unknown to the public?
How does one explain that the same purchase of vehicles, computers and furniture were replicated 24 times, totalling N46.5 billion ($234 million), while N795 million was set aside to update the website of one ministry. What kind of update do they want to carry out that will cost more than three-quarters of a billion naira? Something is certainly wrong here. Now, what was the unassigned N10 billion provision in the education ministry’s spending plan meant for?
Oluseun Onigbinde, partner and co-founder of BudgIT, a group which monitors transparency, described some of the spending proposals as “suspicious and wasteful” amounting to N111.32 billion, which included N53.7 million repeated 52 times, N37.8 million which appeared over 369 times, and a N3.9 billion allocation for the presidential clinic that exceeded funds designated for all 17 of the country’s teaching hospitals combined.
Interestingly, these hospitals with obsolete equipment which have become mere “consulting clinics” at best are more often than not, patronised by the poor mob of hypnotised supporters of Buhari when they need medical attention. In Buhari’s first budget, the hospitals got just a pittance. A visit to any of these hospitals will reveal a shocking state of dilapidation and broken-down infrastructure making it unfit for the health needs of the poor adherents of change.
According to Onigbinde, “There was a lot of expectation that there’s a clear departure from the past where previous budgets have been padded. All we have seen with this budget is that they have done even worse than the past. The key line items you find in the budget are a disservice to the idea that this government has come to represent change.”
On its part, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) also stated that the fiscal document contained N668.8 billion expenditures that are “frivolous, inappropriate, unclear and wasteful.” The building of a federal secretariat in Ekiti State is listed to cost N4 billion. Now, why is this project so important in the face of a cash crunch? Besides, could someone explain why a federal secretariat is being built in Ekiti or any other state of the federation other than the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Internet cable within the villa was listed to cost N100 million just as kitchen utensils were listed to cost over N80 million. There are so many mundane and needless items in the budget that leaves you speechless and you begin to wonder whether the economic downturn resulting from the drastic fall in government revenues means anything to our political leaders at all.
The country’s currency, the naira, is being crushed under unprecedented pressure, forcing it to fall to historic lows against the dollar. The economy is reeling, businesses are closing shop, jobs are being lost, inflation is spiraling well beyond the contrived “official figures” provided by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), and all Buhari could give us was such a dodgy budget that is in complete denial of our current financial realities?
Is our dear Professor Charles Soludo still in this country? In January 2015, he graded former President Jonathan “F” for the way he managed the economy. “My advice to President Jonathan and his handlers is to stop wasting their time trying to campaign on his job record. Those who have decided to vote for him will not do so because he has taken Nigeria to the moon. His record on the economy is a clear ‘F’ grade,” Soludo said.
Only recently, the NBS released figures on foreign direct investments (FDIs) inflows into the country showing that both equity investments and portfolio investments decreased by 82.4 per cent and 64 per cent respectively. This was part of the Nigerian Capital Importation Report for the third and fourth quarters of 2015. Would Soludo have the modesty and honesty to grade Buhari’s nine months of managing the economy? Does he know how much the naira now exchanges for the dollar?
In August 2015, about two and a half months after Buhari assumed power, our beloved Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, praised the president to high heavens. He said: “He (Buhari) has not brought himself round to apologise; if he had done that, I might have been less ambiguous about him. But I think from my findings about him, he is a born-again phenomenon. If I am wrong, well, too bad.
Though I don’t believe in ‘born-againism’ but I think this may be an exception.” Although he left a caveat, it was clear he was elated by the president’s scorecard then even when it was obvious that the president didn’t have the slightest clue, let alone a blueprint on the economy. It is intriguing that Soyinka is now calling for an emergency economic summit to discuss the state of the economy a mere few months after.
In the same August last year, former President Olusegun Obasanjo while receiving officials of the National Association of Nigerians’ Students (NANS) declared triumphantly that under Buhari, Nigerians had started to witness the country of their dreams. Well, the question to ask him now is: is this really the Nigeria of our dreams where companies are scaling down operations or shutting down altogether and workers are losing their jobs in the thousands, with the naira exchanging for N400 to the dollar? Presently, many states do not pay salaries and are on the verge of collapse. The Katsina State Governor Aminu Masari has just raised the alarm about the critical financial situation in the states saying: “The reality is that the problem is deeper than this ad hoc measure in the form of a bailout.” Is this the Nigeria of our dream?