Bickering over 2012 Appropriation Bill

by Gbenga Kayode

Described as belated in certain quarters, Nigeria’s 2012 Budget proposal and the continual pervasive disputation over the touchy fuel subsidy issue and sectoral budgetary allocations in the Appropriation Bill, especially on the Security sector of the nation – have been attracting assorted comments from all and sundry across the country.

In his speech at the recent formal presentation of next year’s Appropriation Bill to the joint session of the National Assembly (NASS), in Abuja, Nigeria’s Federal Capital Territory (FCT), President Goodluck Jonathan Administration has allotted N921.74billion to Security in the proposed N4.749trillion Budget of “Fiscal Consolidation, Inclusive Growth and Job Creation”.

The budget estimates are based on US$70 a barrel and production of 2.48million barrels per day crude oil; N2.472 trillion as recurrent expenditure and N1.32 trillion capital expenditure; Exchange rate of N155 to US$1; projected Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate is 7.2 per cent; and inflation rate of 9.5 per cent.

Concerning the comparatively high Security vote in the proposed budget, the President disclosed his Administration intends to invest massively in the sector, “including providing more support for the police, defence and counter-terrorism operations. We recognise that we can only achieve the developmental goals in a secure and peaceful environment.”

Yet, many have queried the principle behind the submission, wondering if it’s not massive investments in other vital sectors of the economy that can actually guarantee such a desired enabling environment and adequate security for all in the country. “What has the country been securing over the years?” Scores of the populace have retorted in response to the Security allocation.

Other critical sectors expected of the Government to allocate substantial funds and deliberately make good things happen are curious allocations to sectors as Education (N400billion), Health (N283billion), Power (161billion) and Agriculture (79billion), Science and Technology (N30.8billion) and Communication Technology (N18billion).

Leading the pack of dissenting voices against certain estimates in the next year’s Appropriation Bill when considering the general principle of the 2012 Budget proposal in the Federal Legislature is Sen. Olubunmi Adetunmbi (Ekiti North) who noted that the sectoral allocations, hypothetically, are not reflective of the country’s needs as of now.

The lawmaker reportedly, said though security vote is meant to fund Defence, Police, office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) and the Ministry of Interior, the estimate “represented two-thirds of Education budget, and four times what is budgeted for the Health Ministry.”

Adetunmbi contended that the proposed spending in 2012 Budget “is not reflective of what we need. Security challenges are mainly driven by lack of education and lack of jobs and agriculture, which has been made a dumping ground for those who could not make it elsewhere…. If we are not funding the real sector, then, it will be very difficult to come out of the present situation,” he warned the managers of the country’s economy.

Still on the pretty huge allocation to Security in projected budget, Sen. Emmanuel Bwuacha that N921.74billion earmarked for the sector is “too much”, while Sen. Ahmed Tukur also faulted security allocation, contending that “more attention should rather be paid to agriculture” and consciously stimulate the fortune of the crucial sector. But then, what’s the Government securing in an earth-shattering safety circumstance many have derisively described as “everybody for himself, God for us all”?

Rather, one actually shares this sentiment that the endemic and scary security situation in the country is only the direct fallout of successive administrations’ gross failure to effect meaningful changes to improve the fortune and quality of life of Nigerians for decades. Most of the youth who incidentally constitute the mass of the restless and frustrated people fomenting trouble and inducing insecurity are not empowered and gainfully engaged to divert their creative energies into productive ventures and add value to themselves and others in the society.

Irrefutably, had the masses of the Nigerian people, especially the young population, in reality, been supported through quality education and rewarding employment opportunities, insecurity of lives and property wouldn’t be the nation’s albatross as it is currently the case across the land.

While informed analysts as Mr. Opeyemi Agbaje, an economist and Director at the Lagos Business School (LBS) have described the budget estimates as “generally positive”, many yet believe the bane of the annual national budgets has been unacceptable implementation over the years.

Agbaje further stated: “The direction of policy appears generally positive. There is a plan for lower recurrent expenditure; higher capital expenditure, lower budget deficit; focus on jobs and inclusive growth. These, to certain extent, are good for the economy.”

With the budget deficit of about N1trillion remaining, almost unchanged in the budget proposal and the Presidency’s apparent “silence” on the explosive fuel subsidy removal uproar, the Federal Government thus, plans to finance this deficit with an undisclosed fund, or “ways and means”, as some have chosen to describe it.

No wonder then, that a broad spectrum of the concerned individuals and institutions have put two and two together that the Government must have surreptitiously balanced the equation by removing, though unofficially, the controversial subsidy.

However, if the Federal Government is consulting widely with notable leaders and stakeholders before it decides on what to do with the subsidy, and truly means well for the anxious Nigerians angling for improved quality of life, why shying away from expressly stating the alleged removal in next year’s Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly?

With the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) agitating that NASS should not pass the 2012 Appropriation Bill because of issues of missing subsidy item and other perceived suspect appropriations in it, the National Assembly, as part of its oversight responsibility, must then be alive to its constitutional task of overseeing National Economic Management Team (NEMT) in executing the new budget proposal when eventually signed into law.

The Government certainly needs to reduce the relatively huge recurrent expenditure, embark on capital formation to enhance the fortune of the real sector to guarantee the growth and development of economy, reduce the domestic debt overhang, tame inflation, rehabilitate corroded social infrastructure and improve power generation, distribution and supply in order to liven up the much distressed Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) industry.

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