BY CHIDI OBINECHE
THE stage is now set for the implementation of the 2016 budget which has finally been signed into law. For a budget that was presented with much gusto and heightened expectations last December by President Muhammadu Buhari to be the harbinger of change, the unending twists and turns created immense anxiety and strains enough to diminish its fine potentials and set the tone for palpable anxiety. The siege began with claims and counter claims of the document varnishing and reappearing at the National Assembly, to the irreconcilable multiple versions that were disputed by ministers, which made it difficult to ascertain the original and fake versions, to small issues of non presentation of details to the president and his attendant refusal to sign, smuggling of items into it post- passage, and threats of veto, and of course the “constitutional process”. Although the tango may be passed off peremptorily as the normal antics of two arms of government intent on safeguarding its independence, the face-off goes down much more than that.
The slide gradually took the shape of a seething undercurrent of supremacy tussle, complete with bitterness. But in a deft move, the senate spokesman Senator Sabi Abdullahi attempted to douse the tension emanating from the tiff by declaring that “contrary to reports in the media, there were no controversies on the budget, and the senate was not threatening any arm of government or individual”. He clarified the grey areas that needed fine tuning, and even expressed the desire of the senate in an executive session to see to the resolution of the impasse by all means possible and in good time. And it came to pass. He further explained: “The constitution has taken note of this kind of scenario where you may have omissions or shortfalls of allocations, and the constitution is very clear on what you need to do, which is to sign the budget and then submit a supplementary appropriation”. The burgeoning struggle within the ruling party by the three major power blocs that constitute it to seize control of the party is largely seen as responsible for the problems that delayed the passage of the budget. The dwindling economic fortunes, the energy crises, the lingering fuel shortages, PMS(Premium Motor Spirit) price hike and protest strike by a faction of the NLC( Nigeria Lab our Congress) have all combined to vitiate its vision on the budget. Beyond this, the parlous security situation occasioning waves of kidnappings, murders, and clashes between Fulani herdsmen and farmers have cast a pall on the high expectations of the people on the budget. Added to this is the frosty relationship between the senate president and the president. Eventually reason prevailed and the budget was harmonized and signed. With the presidential assent, the real battle to protect the integrity of the budget, and get it to work for the people by actualizing its vision may have begun in earnest.
Industrialists, businessmen, professionals and other Nigerians from different walks of life have expressed apprehension over the delay in the implementation of the budget, Chief Reagan Okoh who runs a feed mill factory in the Ikorodu area of lagos expressed regrets that the delay has actually impacted on the performance of his firm in this first quarter of the year . “ We have been producing at half our capacity, and our hope of rejuvenating the business has been on the full implementation of the budget. Our customers have not been coming as before and their excuse is that the business climate is harsh,” he told Sunday Sun. The assent by the president served as a huge relief, paving the way for the full implementation. While the president says that the budget must be able to work for the people, the senate president Bukola Saraki, who witnessed the assent, insists that with the signing of the budget, “what is important now is its implementation. The figure signed is slightly lower than what the executive submitted. What was eventually signed was 6.66 trillion naira on the revenue assumption of $38crude oil price. The budget proposals submitted in December 2015 was 6.7 trillion Naira, of which, 351.3 billion Naira was for statutory transfers. One trillion, four hundred and seventy –five billion, three hundred and twenty million Naira was for debt service, while two trillion, six hundred and forty eight billion, six hundred million Naira was set aside for recurrent (non debt) expenditure.
Strategic Priority Programmes
The government has announced that it has mapped out 34 strategic priority programmes and projects it intends to achieve with the 2016 budget. These include a capital spend minimum of 30% annually, an appropriate and predictable exchange regime by the end of 2016, increased low interest lending rate of 9%, self sufficiency in tomato paste in 2016 and rice production by 2018. It also plans to increase local production of maize, soya beans, poultry and livestock, and to stop import.
Budget implementation challenge in Nigeria is perennial. The Northern Elders Forum, NEF is already calling for more allocations to the region for capital projects. In a letter to the president recently signed by Alhaji Maitama Sule, the body based their demand on the fact that the “south enjoys more than 70% of the recurrent expenditure”. They are not alone. The Niger Delta is also asking for a lion share of the budget. The south- south caucus in the National Assembly who were miffed over the exclusion of the Lagos – Calabar rail project met and expressed misgivings over their own share of the budget especially as the zone is perceived as the hen that lays the golden egg. It is the same song of neglect in the South east and south west. The founder of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, APGA and former presidential candidate of the United Nigeria Peoples Party, UNPP Chief Chekwas Okorie expressed pessimism that this year’s budget will not be dogged by the usual problems associated with budget implementation in Nigeria. “There may not be much improvement. Look at the time lag between when it was submitted to the National Assembly and when it was signed. If it took that long, then don’t expect much in the implementation. Former Deputy National chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP Chief Bode George expressed similar views, but however added that this issue of budget implementation “is responsible for our poor socio-economic and infrastructural development”. Under incremental budgeting which the nation has embraced over the years, a certain percentage is added or subtracted from previous period’s figures to arrive at new period’s budget. Okorie, who is also an economist, averred a preference for zero budgeting where “every programme is re evaluated on its merit, as if previous budgets never existed. The starting points are the results hoped to achieve, and every debate about budget implementation is done prior to passage. Nigeria’s budgeting has been incremental, overly politicized and not executed by experts, but merely based on benchmark price and quota of daily oil production. There is also the challenge of distortion in fiscal transparency.
In all, the nature and style of implementation of this year’s budget will determine the shape of the economy by the end of the year.