Questions on Nigeria’s 2017 Budget

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Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, was so overjoyed on Sunday that she took to her twitter account to say the Nigerian Federal Government will be closing the 2017 budget with an excess of N1.5 trillion on capital expenditure.

The 2017 budget was the second budget to be presented by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, tagged budget of recovery and growth. It was based on  crude oil benchmark price of US$42.5 per barrel; an oil production estimate of 2.2 million barrels per day and an average exchange rate of N305 to the US dollar; a target Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of over 2 per cent and a target inflation rate of single digit. Additionally, there was a deficit of N2.36 trillion (about 2.18 percent of GDP. A total of N2.24 trillion was budgeted for capital expenditure.

Having said that, I would like to state that Nigeria’s problem is not the budgets; the problem is in the implementation. It is one thing to roll out a budget, it is another thing to implement it and achieve positive results. National development is predicated on effective implementation of national budgets.

It might be necessary, at this juncture, to ask how far the 2017 budget went in alleviating some of the endemic problems in Nigeria. When I say the 2017 budget, I don’t just mean the federal budget but all the state budgets put together. As a matter of fact, every year, 38 budgets are rolled out including the Federal Government’s, the 36 states’ and the Federal Capital Territory’ (FCT).

To what extent did the budgets alleviate the problem of poor electricity, water supply, healthcare, education, dilapidated roads, unemployment, insecurity, etc? Are Nigerians faring better now compared with last year before the 2017 budget was passed? What systematic changes have occurred? What systematic solutions have been provided or are ongoing? What difference has occurred in the life of the Nigerian in the street?

The chronic failures of budgets across the country is heart-breaking. That is why pessimists call budgeting in the country an ‘annual ritual’. That has been the case since 1999, when the present democratic dispensation began and it was thought that the era of military impunity was over. Indeed, our rogue budgets are merely rituals; they seem not to be made to change anything, but to simply recycle a government to-do.

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And really, how can there be any improved change when on an annual average, 70% of these budgets go for recurrent expenditure while only 30% is for capital expenditure? How can a developing country like Nigeria develop when only a fraction of the annual budgets is put for capital projects? Faced with corruption, neither the recurrent budget nor the capital spending achieves its target. The inability of many state governments to pay salaries, pension benefits and other entitlements to workers underscores the failure of recurrent expenditure.

Every year, budgets are rolled out by the federal and 36 states governments, including the FCT. Each level prepares budgets based on what suites its purpose. There is no common ground for integrated national development. Nigerians hear about the trillions of naira earmarked for expenditure but hear nothing again about how the money was spent. The same governments that announced the budgets with fanfare at the beginning won’t utter a word at the end about what happened to the money. So where is the accountability on the part of the president with the highest level of integrity?

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