2018 Budget: The enemy within by Amaechi Agbo

The 2018 appropriation bill

On Wednesday, 20 June 2018 President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law, the 2018 appropriation bill after the National Assembly had passed it on the 16 May 2018.

As is the custom previously, the leaders of the legislative arm of the government always witnessed the President’s assent into the Bill thereby making it an Act. Unfortunately, for the first time since the inception of this administration on 29 May 2015, neither of the leaders of the two chambers of the National Assembly – the Senate President and the Speaker, House of Representatives – were in attendance when the Executive arm, led by the president, assented to the 2018 Appropriation Bill.

For the first time in the signing of the Appropriation Bill in to law for the past three budgetary years, Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker, Hon. Yakubu Dogara were conspicuously absent and the indication, going by the President’s revelation at the signing of the 2018 appropriation act, was obvious. Like the adage says: when a fowl pollutes the air, the land pursues it.

Since the coming into government this administration, the 8th National Assembly has acted as an enemy within in Nigeria’s drive to a greater, prosperous and corrupt-free nation.

One wonders, how the National Assembly which are the eyes, ears and mouth of Nigerians could deliberately and callously pad the 2018 budget, removing key items and supplanting ones they feel are favourable to them even when such projects included in the 2018 budget have not been properly defined?

Even if one was to concede that the inclusion or removal of some projects in or from the appropriation was justified, what is the justification for the over six months delay in the passage of the Appropriation Bill after it was transmitted to the legislature in November last year?

The executive, through Mr President, on November 7, 2017 submitted the 2018 Budget proposals to the National Assembly – with a view to aligning our national budget with the January-December Fiscal year standard – hoping that the usual legislative review process would be quick, so as to move Nigeria towards a predictable economic continued growth.

Unfortunately, just like past two years delay in the passage of budget estimates by the lawmakers, this year’s appropriation suffered greater delay, having lasted from November 7, to May, 2018.

There is nothing inherently wrong in the National Assembly making permitted adjustments in the Appropriation Bill but when such deductions are targeted against key critical items that have direct impact on the common Nigerians, then there is need for worry.

Senate President Bukola Saraki, deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Speaker House of Reps Yakubu Dogara and members of 8th assembly padded the 2018 appropriation budget

Senate President Bukola Saraki, deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Speaker House of Reps Yakubu Dogara and members of 8th assembly padded the 2018 appropriation budget

Just as it happened in 2016 budget, the President described the 2018 budget, in view of the distortions made by the lawmakers, as unimplementable as some of the new projects were either not fully conceptualised or are within the jurisdiction of local or state governments.

The N9.12 trillion budget passed by the National Assembly contained an increase of N508 billion over and above the N8.612 trillion originally presented by President Buhari. The oil benchmark price was also increased from the US$45 submitted to US$51.

During the process of the passage of the Bill, the National Assembly worryingly altered it significantly, making cuts amounting to 347 billion naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration, and introducing 6,403 projects of their own, amounting to 578 billion naira.

Some of the alterations carried out by the legislators include:

Slashing allocation to Maritime University, Delta State, from N5b to N3.4 billion.

Slashing allocation to Enugu Airport Terminal Building from N2 billion to a paltry N500m. Enugu Airport is the only international airport in the South East region of the country and with the meagre amount approved, completion of work in the airport in relative time, remains a mirage.

READ: PEBEC report shows Buhari’s commitment to economy – Osinbajo

Budgetary allocation for the completion of FCT, Abuja major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project, were cut by a total of 7.5 billion naira. This is a project for the Nigerian people. How many of the lawmakers use rail?

The provisions for health and upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables were cut by an aggregate amount of 7.45 billion Naira by the lawmakers. How many of the lawmakers use our hospitals when the have ordinary headache?

The allocation for security in the 104 Unity Schools across the country were cut by three billion naira. Apart from the fact that such allocation will beef up security in the schools, it would add significant impact to the standard of learning and teaching in the schools but because these lawmakers have their children and wards all schooling abroad, they expose our children to danger and backwardness with their selfishness.

The lawmakers further deducted the sum of N8.7 billion from the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme.

Even if the above deductions and distortions were justifiable, how would the inglorious National Assembly members defend their ungodly act to reduce the Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment by a total of five billion naira, thereby sentencing our labour heroes and heroines to lives of misery after glorious years of dedicated service to our beloved fatherland.

Apart from the above, over seventy (70) new road projects were padded into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, whose implementation a near impossibility.

Another distortion in the budget which belies the greed that has become the current lawmakers trademark, is the increment of National Assembly’s budgetary allocation by 14.5 billion Naira, from 125 billion Naira to 139.5 billion Naira without any discussion with the Executive.

A former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega, last month described the lawmakers as bribe takers.

Jega, who headed one the most prominent agencies in the country and being a professor in the university, could not have spoken out of sentiments against the lawmakers.

He fingered chairmen of the various committees of the National Assembly, (of course, almost all members of the legislature is a chairman of one committee or the other) as being notorious for bribe taking antics.

With this damning revelation coming from a man known for his uncompromising integrity, the National Assembly could not be described less.

When a group who are duly elected to be the eyes, ears and mouth of the commoners and on whose common pot of wealth they grow large each day decided to callously, unpatriotically and lugubriously work against the people whose interest they represent, protect and promote, then they are nothing but the enemies within. And an enemy within, is a dangerous individual that must be avoided and done away with.

The National Assembly is Nigerian masses enemy within.

Amaechi Agbo is a public affairs analyst based in Abuja. avamech@gmail.com

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