From Sola Ojo, Kaduna
Some civil society groups working around governance in Kaduna State have raised concern over the presentation of the 2022 budget to the Kaduna State House of Assembly by the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai, without the input of the citizens.
To these civil society groups, the governor who presented the draft document on Tuesday, October 12, did that against the co-creation principle of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) which the state subscribed to in 2018 upon which it has received commendations within and outside the country in terms of transparency in government.
In an open letter to Mr Governor, Kingsley Agu of Concerned Active Citizen, Kaduna, thanked the governor for always being at the forefront of governance reforms in Nigeria but expressed shock over the news of the presentation of the 2022 draft budget to the state assembly without the usual ritual of town hall meeting which permits the citizens to engage the content of the income and expenditure of the year(s) ahead.
The letter read in part:
‘It is important to note that one of the focus of OGP Kaduna is participatory budgeting which ensures more effective citizens’ participation across the entire budget cycle (budget formulation inclusive) which you have consistently kept since 2018 when Kaduna state signed up to the OGP as the very first state to join the OGP in Nigeria by organising budget town hall meetings in Kaduna state to gather citizens’ input into the budget before presentation to the State House of Assembly.
‘This is not just important as an academic exercise but it is important in ensuring citizens’ ownership of the budget and as such Rebuilding Trust in government which you will agree with me is deficit across the country
‘It is rather surprising that the 2022 budget was presented to the State House of Assembly without the usual rituals of getting citizens’ input via Budget Town Hall meetings.
‘I wish to humbly ask why the rush? Why was one of the critical processes of getting citizens input into the budget bye-passed? And what percentage of needs of citizens collated via the Community Development Charter (CDC) made up the 2022 budget proposal submitted at the KSHoA?,’ he queried.
Also, Yusuf Ishaku Goje of CALPED, described the development as rude shock wrapped with unbelief, especially among the civil society actors, that the budget was being presented to the state assembly without the usual ritual of citizens’ engagement via a town-hall meeting.
According to him, ‘many had wondered what was happening, as it was the exception rather than the norm that if the state government could hold a virtual budget town-hall meeting during the COVID-19 restrictions in 2020 with participants drawn from the 23 local government areas, which attracted the commendation of stakeholders, what has changed in 2021 – considering that the restrictions have been lifted?
‘Riding on government’s consistency of holding annual budget town-hall meetings over the past six years, many civil society actors had already commenced engaging and preparing communities/groups to meaningfully participate.
‘This was also hinged on the fact that aside from the budget calendar in the 2022-2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) which had indicated that zonal budget town-hall meetings will be held, the Planning & Budget Commission had repeatedly confirmed (one of which was during the MTEF stakeholders consultation) that the budget town-hall meeting would hold. One wonders, that if the 23 local government areas can hold their 2022 budget town-hall meetings under state-driven reforms – possibly has made the state government jetties own reforms?,’ he asked.
He further noted that ‘this singular action has made many stakeholders question the commitment of the state government towards the OGP. More so, as the state government did not find the civil society members on the OGP State Steering Committee as worthy co-creation partners to be consulted on why such an action was necessary.
‘No doubt actions like this is what widens the trust gap, and deflates confidence, between government and citizens.
‘Granted that the state government is fully aware the civil society in this part of the world can only bark but not bite, and rightly so, would have strategically anticipated the weak reaction and public nonchalance.
‘However, as an internationally recognised reform champion, this remains a dent that questions the government’s commitment to its own reforms. For a government that has consistently blown its own trumpet for holding six consecutive budget town-hall meetings to go back on their words calls for concern.
‘Now that the budget has been presented to the State House of Assembly nothing can be done except to look up to the legislative arm to see if they will be on the side of the people. With the understanding of the power-play between the executive and legislative arm, in favour of the former, we hope and pray that the latter will be able to assert its independence and hold a public hearing, as it has done over the past two years, to allow for more robust citizens engagement and feedback,’ he added.