Thanks to the dizzying circumstances of the recent regime change in Nigeria, prime attention may have shifted from some of the traditionally topical issues which provided cadence, character and substance for the uniqueness of the Nigerian political space. It would appear that a paradox is playing out in which not a few Nigerians are still besotted by the antecedents as well as persona of President Muhamadu Buhari, and nursing great expectations of him, yet deny commensurate attention to some of the very issues that they voted him into power for. One of these is the sojourn of the 2015 budget and the package for 2016.
Usually by the month of August in any year since the country’s return democracy in 1999, the tempo of public discourse on the performance of the year’s budget and the prospects for the succeeding year would have hit fever pitch. Typically trending by now would have been questions bordering on what percentage of the year’s budget has been implemented, what has been the capital- recurrent ratio in implementation of the 2015 budget, what benchmark for oil price and what to expect for the incoming year, etc.
Incidentally, the same issues are still as topical for 2016, even if they seem to be superseded by other seemingly more ‘pressing and therefore trending’ ones. Yet the situation does not offer Nigerians better cheer over 2016, as next year’s budget is already squarely positioned on the threshold of lateness. And a late budget for 2016 is hardly the best gift any friend would wish the reform-minded administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
In a country where the regular protocols of conception, processing and passage of the national budget takes up at least eight months of the twelve in a year, the 2016 budget is already a late one; that is counting from the time of this article. The various protocols surrounding the emergence of a typical year’s budget since 1999 can be congealed as follows. Budget draft articulation in the Federal Ministry of Finance – six months; presentation to, scrutiny and passage by the National Assembly – four months; assent by the President – one month; and implementation – between six and eight months; thus giving a total cycle of 19 months. By virtue of the foregoing therefore, the 2016 budget is already late on arrival. Since it may not be passed into law and become lawfully implementable by January 1 2016, the question now is by how much valuable time it will come out late, that is, whenever it comes.
The case of this year’s budget is particularly significant not just because of the transition dispensation it needed to address; given that even if it was a situation in which the hitherto ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was succeeding itself, such would still have been the situation. With the turn of events in which the All Progressives Congress (APC) is now holding sway, the lot of the 2015 budget has become a tale of two political agendas; one for the PDP and the other for the APC. It was formulated by the PDP, and is now awaiting the APC to define its eventual course and end game.
Beyond the fore going, the build up to the preparation of the 2015 budget featured some disturbing developments – the chief of which was the drastic fall in global oil prices. This in turn posed significant challenges for the oil dependent Nigerian economy, and elicited a bizarre alchemy from the then Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister for the Economy (CME), Dr Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, which did not go down well with a wide cross-section of observers of the fortunes of the nation’s economy. Although it was crystal clear that with the fall in oil prices Nigeria was in for a hard time, and needed to brace up for such, the CME’s approach featured a series of flip flop maneuvers, which betrayed a preference for guaranteeing the electoral fortunes of the PDP, rather than saving Nigeria from the evil wind. Hence beyond providing a tepid response to the nation’s dilemma, was the resort by the CME and her team to minimal disclosure, if not outright concealment of the policy specifics, for the situation on hand. The fear of public resentment over adopting painful austerity measures in an election year, prodded the administration to play double-speak with its policy measures. Yet a situation of austere circumstances by any other name would still dictate a process of belt tightening, and significant adjustment. For not heeding the lessons of this reality as required, the 2015 budget was launched on a shaky platform of political expediency. Hence with the loss of power by the PDP the fortunes of that budget are now floating in limbo.
Due to the deleterious implications it has on the Nigerian economy, the issue of late budget has remained a historical sore point for the National Assembly. Hardly has the institution remained impressed with the regularity with which the Federal Ministry of Finance has been providing the national budget always out of time; that is beyond the end of August in any particular year.
Needless to mention that late budgets breed attendant problems associated with late implementation and missed targets of policy intervention in the daily challenges facing Nigerians. Late budgets affect the economy by distorting the essential mechanism of government intervention with policies to promote good governance.
There is a consensus among mainstream economists that the standard structure of a national budget comprises four major elements. The first is the complement of strategic objectives of government which comprises the aims of any particular MDA as a functional part of the administration. The second is the basket of outcomes which should have measurable impact on the society through the basket of services deliverable by the MDAs.
Yet the next is the cluster of outputs which are the services or deliverables by the MDAs. And the last but not least is the network of activities or specific steps to be taken by MDAs in order to deliver services, and drive the aforementioned outcomes within the context of the overall aims of the administration. Usually the financial component of the budget is to reflect the cost implications of these activities that would drive the processes of governance.
With the change mantra of the administration, the 2016 budget remains the platform on which the Buhari reforms will ride on their maiden journey, since the 2015 edition is far compromised to be useful. The government therefore faces the onus of addressing two key challenges namely: articulating the reforms loaded Budget 2016 and delivering it on time, to be useful to Nigerians. It is in this respect that the September 2015 date for setting up a Federal cabinet by the President will prove challenging, as whoever emerges a minister in the administration will hit the ground literally running, in order to catch up with public expectations as may be incorporated in the 2016 Budget.
Inspite of the fore going however, the administration needs to classify early in the day, the syndrome of late budget passage as anathemic to its circumstances and therefore needs to be discouraged, as such attracts undeservedly for it, the status of a lame duck dispensation. The mood of the nation is moving from subdued reservation to open expression of impatience with the new administration, even with the understanding that the task of returning the country to the path of sustainable progress will not be achieved by the wave of a magic wand. Nobody including incumbent Buhari can achieve that as everybody knows. Yet who will blame the hard pressed Nigerians for expecting change in the present state of affairs?
For now whatever lateness Budget 2016 may suffer can be tolerated in the light of the ever growing string of reforms that need to be initiated and executed, to enable the government position its tenure for the intended scope of service delivery. Yet the situation should not be allowed for chance to determine when Budget 2016 will arrive the portals of the National Assembly to commence its journey of taking Nigerians to higher ground.