By Clement Azubuike (Abuja),
Olakunle Abayomi (Ilorin),
Muhammed Bello (Dutse)
President Muhammadu Buhari on 19th December, 2018 presented the nation’s 2019 national budgets to the tune of N8.83 trillion tagged, budget of continuity to the joint session of the 8th National Assembly.
Buhari, however, walked into a stormy session of lawmakers, and was heckled for perceived discontent over implementation of 2018 budget. He hardly mentioned point by point of the content of his elaborate speech without shouts of, ‘freedom comes by struggles’, from the opposition lawmakers.
In his speech, President Buhari itemized priorities of his administration in meeting the needs of Nigerians, stating that the prioritized areas intended to further place the economy on the path of inclusive, diversified and sustainable growth in order to continue to lift significant numbers of the citizens out of poverty.
The speech underlies drivers of the 2019 revenue projects which he said, have been adjusted to reflect the current realities. He said allocations to ministries, departments and agencies of government were guided by the 3 objectives of the Economic Reconstruction, Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which would restore and sustain growth, invest in the Nigerian people and build a global competitive Nigerian economy.
However, in line with an established tradition, the joint session of upper and lower legislative chambers chaired by the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara which was firstly addressed by the Senate President, Saraki allayed fears of revenue generation in meeting the targets of the budget. While commending Mr. President and the economic team for putting the fiscal policy document together, Saraki pointed that 2018 fiscal year was marred with, “dips in oil prices to major shifts in the economic landscape, crude oil production shut-ins and security challenges. Stressing on revenue component of the budget, the Senate President calls for revenue generation for financing of recurrent expenditure rather than relying on loans. According to him, loans could be used to service capital budgets so as not to over stretch the economy. His words: “I have always stressed the importance of setting a realistic revenue targets, because we cannot afford to rely on borrowing to finance recurrent expenditure. It is critical we shift focus to generating as much money as required for spending, at least for recurrent needs, so loans can be used solely to fund capital projects”, he maintained.
Raising the challenge of monolithic revenue line economy, he pointed that the huge cost in revenue deductions by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) currently was unsustainable, saying that the un-appropriated deductions for fuel subsidy by NNPC was damaging to the economy. The Senate President noted that the fuel subsidy regime would continue to pose threat and pave way for corruption if nothing was done to stop it. “We cannot shy away from this issue. The current system is opaque at best, fraught with inefficiencies and is a sure pathway to corruption. Estimated deductions for petroleum subsidy claims by NNPC year-to-date can neither be explained by the higher PMS landing cost nor the increased supply of petroleum to the domestic market”, he maintained.
Reacting, Senator Suleiman Hunkuyi representing Kaduna North Senatorial district in an interview posited that the oil benchmark adopted for the 2019 budget was higher and unrealistic considering the fluctuation of the oil prices in the international market.
“The estimated revenue is higher evidently from indices and benchmark that has been adopted for 2019 budget compared to that of 2018. It would interest you to see even though more amount of revenue is under the same volume and value; the expenditure in the year 2019 has been clipped down to size and to me, is reality of the day; that to me is the reality of what the executive need to carry.”
Hunkuyi further explained that the capital provision in the budget was abysmal compared to what the nation need at this time. Commending government on anticipatory increased revenue through production of barrels of oil per day, he however, disagreed with some economic analysts who postulated that the reality of the budget could be dictated by forex in the international market. The lawmaker said, the N350 per dollar has been stable at the parallel market in the last three and half years, hence, there was nothing to fear.
Dr. Bioudun Adedipe
Lagos based economist, Dr. Biodun Adedipe chided the federal lawmakers for not seeing the budget presentation as a serious matter. He said lawmakers ought to set in motion analysis and dimensions by immediately inviting heads of agencies, ministries and parastatals for their defense, adding that the late presentation of the budget was inconsequential.
His words: “I will say the event failed to position the budget as not a serious matter and that is my view. For example, the pattern over the pattern is that when the budget is presented, the National Assembly will set the motion for its analysis and dimensions and thereafter invites ministers, heads of ministries, departments and agencies and defend their presentations.”
“Really to me, it should not be a matter of budget coming late. This is not the first time budget was being presented late or about this time, it has happened in the 80s, 90s and so on. To me, the real seriousness they would bring to this is the fact that the budget came a month or two months before you expect its presentation and for that reason, they should expedite action to its review and dimension.”
“Nigeria did well in the parameters of 2018 and I will say that with all sense of responsibility. When you do economic analysis, you look at threads. When you look at macro-economic threads and when you stay on what the data is saying say unemployment rate. In fact, if you look at the thread of unemployment rate, you see that the threat is flowing.”
The major index we use to major impact of the economic policy on people on the street have four major elements; the risk, unemployment, inflation rate and of course, the GDP rate. when the index is going up unabatedly, it makes people more miserable”, he posited.
We have agreement to pass the 2019 National budget on time – Senator Ali Ndume
Nigerians had been supportive of the National Assembly and expected so much from it, but regretted that leadership crisis made the 8th Senate to perform below the expectations of Nigerians.
“The Legislative arm which is supposed to be interdependent was more or less independent and extensively antagonistic; and to some extent, you can say the leadership has been sabotaging the activities of the executive instead of cooperating with the executive to deliver the services Nigerians are expecting from us.”
“I am accusing specifically the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, not the leadership so to say, as I have said several times, we elected the Senate leader who turned out to be Senators’ President.”
“We have a leftover time of six months and we have agreed on cease fire including the Senate President himself; that we put the interest of Nigerians first.”
That was why when we resumed, we have been able to pass certain outstanding bills and we have agreed to work together; the interest of the nation first before party’s interest or any other individual’s interest.”
“Any breach in that agreement that we have, will also send us back to our trenches.”
On the 2019 budget of N8.83 trillion proposals, the lawmaker said that timely passage of the budget was important as it was one of the agreements the Senators had.
He said the budget belongs to Nigerians and Nigerians are expecting that the budget be passed as quickly as possible so that the content of the budget will be delivered to Nigerians.
He said that anybody that tried to stand on the way of the budget would be seen as a saboteur to Nigerians. APC Senators were fully in support of the budget because they had input in it. “It is a budget of continuity; it is a reaslistic budget.”
“So we are not expecting any hiccup but as usual, the normal dragging will continue but we will resist it and make sure that we are sent to the National Assembly, that is to work for Nigerians comes first before any other interest”, the lawmaker said