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Budget 2019: Failed on arrival?

Talking frankly, the last sin which the present administration will elect to be associated with now, is to be seen as lacking in capacity as well as   commitment to respond to the yearnings of the Nigerian public, and to do so as when due. That notwithstanding, the circumstances preceding the yet to be presented 2019 budget of the federal government, seem to suggest that the package is primed to follow the path of failure on arrival, all due to the issue of mistiming. The Presidency has announced that President Muhammadu Buhari may present the N8.9 trillion 2019 budget proposal to the National Assembly in the course of this week. This implies that the National Assembly will have at the most, just one week to look at the document before proceeding on vacation. Meanwhile the vacation also coincides with the peak period of the campaigns preceding the forthcoming 2019 polls.

Hence, against the backdrop of the series of election related activities, and the welter of fallouts from same which will mark the course of the 2019 election year – from its opening day to the last, questions are raging over the success prospects of the budget package. The questions are informed by the pallid fortunes of the earlier budgets under the Buhari administration, none of which – even with the relative normalcy of the polity, crossed the 30% implementation benchmark. Not surprisingly, their diminished performance imposed on the country a state of deep economic crisis. A pointer to the state of affairs in the country is the recent declaration of Nigeria as having the highest concentration of the extreme poor people in the world.

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Budgets are plans of action intended for managing financial operations. As plans of action essentially, their performance is measured by their efficacy in guiding the designated financial operations. They are hence considered to have succeeded or failed when targets incorporated in them are achieved or otherwise.

Clearly the incidence of world class poverty never featured as any of the campaign promises of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) nor the President’s in any of the budgets under his brief. In that context therefore lies the charge of failure on the three budgets under the Buhari administration namely for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. Of interest here is the paradox of the 2019 budget succeeding in a year when the country’s political class, will be actively distracted on a 24-hour seven-days basis by election related social effervescence, when its predecessors that enjoyed saner social ambience, hardly crossed the 30% implementation mark.

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To accentuate the public concern is a flashback to the previous Buhari era budgets. For instance, granted that the 2015 budget was inherited from the preceding Dr Goodluck Jonathan, the N6.06 trillion 2016 Budget which was christened tantalizingly by the administration as ‘Budget of Change’ was presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 22nd 2015, to the National Assembly which passed it on March 23rd after weeks of disagreement between the two arms of government, and assented to by him on May 6th 2016. The N7.44 trillion 2017 budget was presented on December 14th 2016 and came out in May 10th 2017 signed by the Vice President in his capacity as Acting President on 12th June 2017. This followed the hospitalization of the President in a London hospital at that material time. Just as well the N8.6 trillion 2018 budget enjoyed a relatively earlier start as it was presented on November 7th 2017 to the National Assembly. However it also lasted for six months in the mill only to see the light of day on May 7th 2018, after being enlarged to N9.1 trillion.

With the traditional rigmarole of budgets in the mill and the proposed presentation of the 2019 budget in the second week of December, it remains a wonder how the Presidency and the National Assembly will avail the country a workable package even by Nigerian standards, along with the hectic engagements which the polls will impose on the system during the year. Clearly the polls will dominate the attention of the political class, leaving the budget to its fate.

To complicate matters further is the fact that until recently the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) enjoyed majority in the two chambers of the National Assembly, even as such advantage did not provide the party the leading edge on the floors, hence it suffered significant setbacks in core legislative activities. Therefore, how the 2019 budget will fare now that the APC has allowed itself to lose significant clout and traction in the two chambers, remains a matter of concern.

It may be argued that the envisaged presentation of the 2019 budget by the President to the National Assembly this week is not necessarily late as the lifespan of the Federal government budget no more runs from January to December. This follows a concession by the National Assembly to allow any budget run from the date it is assented to, even if it is December of a designated year.

However, not a few stakeholders see such a development as unhelpful just as it is unjustifiable. In the first place it is seen largely as a concession granted by a laid back National Assembly that was reluctant to stand its ground in the face of perennial failure of the Presidency to avail the country with an early budget. In 2017 Deputy President of the Senate Ike Ekweremadu had announced the concession of the National Assembly that the National Assembly by shifting the budget’s life from the January – December run to a May – May schedule. But even that is not working. For, instance the 2018 even has no defined life span as the timing is specified as whenever the Act takes effect, or from when it was assented to by the President which was June 13th 2018.

The challenge facing Nigeria now is the situation whereby the ongoing electoral campaigns have largely dispensed with the focus on the real issues that define quality of life for the citizenry and celebration of indulgence in trumpeting the sins of individual potentates. Having been steeped in a state of deprivation for long many Nigerians have lost hope in a better life and resigned to live through life at the brink.

Yet Nigerian politics should go beyond the present state of being in the society to capture the stuff of dream which other developed countries now take for granted.

But how can that be when government budgets which should drive the country to such promised dispensation come out late and failed, on arrival?

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