You can bet that both the Executive and the Legislature expect,‘We the people’, to be grateful that, at last, the 2018 Appropriation Bill has been passed. That we can all now get on with our lives; and that it does not matter that just a handful of elected officials had put on hold, for seven months, the lives of about 180 million citizens.
This is what has played out year after year, since the return to democracy.
Every year since the military made its incursion into the Nigerian democratic space, Nigerians have refused to save themselves from the stranglehold of what has become an authoritarian pattern of behaviour that has now become a way of life for most Nigerians, especially members of the political class. Even the current experiment with democracy that has now lasted for 19 years, has failed to free the Nigerian politician from this authoritarian mentality, where self-pride, self-preservation, an acute hunger for power, leading to power-drunkenness, take over the entire being of our politicians, such that the meaning of democracy becomes lost in the labyrinth of a political chessboard.
Democracy and genuine democrats are supposed to respect and hold in awe the very first pronouncement of the country’s constitution: “We the people…”
Not so in Nigeria. The entire political class believes that it exists in spite of the people. This is why in a matter that ought to be straight forward as in passing a budget, so as to render and deliver service to the people, it becomes a task
requiring Hercules to step in.
The Federal Government is BIG business. This is to say, its budget is a key determinant of a lot of things in the country. Many economic activities and business plans come to a standstill until the yearly budget ritual is settled.
But it would seem that the import of this is easily lost on our politicians who always put their interests first before the rest of Nigerians. We find it an irony that the central government which is supposed to control the legislature by
way of its majority in the National Assembly has been unable in three budget
cycles to get its appropriation bill passed in good time.
When the government came into office in 2015, it organised a supplementary budget, which it did not have any problem getting approved for, perhaps because the euphoria of winning an election was still in the air. It submitted its 2016 budget on December 22, 2015, which we consider late for January–December budgetary period. That budget did not get passed until March, and was signed into law in May. The 2017 budget was also submitted late on December 14, 2016. It was passed monumentally late in May and signed into law in June.
This year’s budget was historically submitted early in October 2017, ostensibly to avoid the delays that affected the previous two full budgets by this government. Unfortunately, however, this is the lead up budget to election year and we think that it opened up all manners of intrigues, opportunism and pound-of-flesh mentality on the part of the principal actors.
We observe with much regret that while the 2016 and 2017 budgets, took about 6 months from when they were submitted to the time of passage and assent, the 2018 budget, in an approaching election year took all of seven months to be passed. This is the sort of thing that in saner, environments, a special prosecutor would be appointed to probe the hugely damaging delay.
The unfortunate truth in all this is that on both the executive and the legislative divide, there would be claim to blamelessness.
Nobody is ever at fault. They know it all, but in truth know nothing. We are of the view that if they know anything at all, this country would not be the way it is today. It is such a shame that a government that came with a
view to spending its way out of economic difficulties has allowed this delay.
Individual egos, bruised and damaged, or needing massaging, are often on display. The pursuit of self-interest remains at the commanding height of the type of governance that Nigerians are served. This too will pass and nobody will come up to tell us the truth about what really happened that kept the 2018 budget for seven months.
Here is what we believe happened. The Executive and National Assembly had reached a number of agreements that would have allowed a substantial part of the 2017 capital budget to be rolled over into 2018. This was because the 2017 budget was passed late and the procedure is that capital budget implementation only starts on the passage of the budget. The Vice President, Yemi
Osinbajo, had refused to sign the 2017 budget because it had been doctored at the National Assembly such that it no longer aligned with the original plan of the executive, especially as contained in its 3-year rolling plan. For instance, the Lagos – Ibadan road project had it budget cut from N28 billion to N10 billion.
The face-off led to two agreements being reached between the executive and the legislature: that the former would be allowed to bring a virement to accommodate the items that were taken out or cut, such as the Lagos-Ibadan road project, the second Niger bridge project, the Mambilla hydro power project and the Kano-Kaduna road project and that the 2017 budget would be rolled over into the 2018 budget. It was on the basis of these agreements that the vice president signed the 2017 budget. As soon as he signed, the Legislature chose to look after themselves and not Nigerians. The virement was presented but never honoured. The 2017 budget was not rolled over into 2018, instead it is
We think that our political office holders are too self serving. The handling of the 2018 budget proves this. It is shameful, as it is embarrassing to our collective character as a people. On the matter of the 2018 budget the 8th As-
sembly failed us all.