During a brief budget signing ceremony at the presidential villa on Wednesday, June 20, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari did something he normally wouldn’t do publicly—
It was like a naming and shaming ceremony for the Executive.
“An example of this increase is the budget of the national assembly itself which has increased by 14.5 billion Naira, from 125 billion Naira to 139.5 billion Naira without any discussion with the Executive”, Buhari flared during his speech.
The president also complained about how the national assembly inserted 70 road projects into the budget of the ministry of works and how that insertion makes no sense whatsoever.
“Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the national assembly", the president explained.
The president also told the nation that the national assembly slashed the budget estimates of critical infrastructure projects like the Mambilla Power Plant, Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads, the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project, schools and hospitals for selfish, pecuniary reasons.
Buhari lamented that “the national assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira.
“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible to implement with the reduced allocation. Some of the new projects inserted by the national assembly have not been properly conceptualized, designed and costed and will therefore be difficult to execute”.
Knocking out lawmakers
The president’s budget signing speech was a blow delivered with utter ruthlessness to the jugular of the fat cats at the national assembly.
With his speech, Buhari immediately cast lawmakers as a bunch of egocentric, self-serving and selfish politicians who are only in Abuja to look after themselves and nothing more. In one speech, the president showed us how lawmakers who cart home jumbo allowances monthly are a huge drain on the nation's meagre resource.
The Senate says it will respond to the president on Friday, June 22 However, the House of Representatives issued a response through its spokespersonAbdulrazak Namdas, which only served to prove President Buhari right.
The House based the increase of the national assembly budget from N125billion to N139billion on the premise that “the budget of the national assembly is still far below the N150bn in the years before 2015”. In other words, lawmakers just said they are doing the nation a huge favour by adding N14.5billion to their budget at a time the education and health sectors are receiving far less and at a time of endemic poverty across the rest of the country.
For the national assembly, this is winning an ego war
The House also said lawmakers tinkered with the budget proposal put forward by the Executive in order “to remind Mr. President that we are representatives of our people and wish to state that even the common man deserves a mention in the budget by including projects that will directly affect his life positively. Some of the projects designed by the executive, as high-sounding as their names suggest, do not meet the needs of the common man."
For the lawmakers, this is some kind of ego war or muscle flexing exercise between the Executive and the Legislature, which makes it even more depressing.
But the budget of a country shouldn't be reduced to a clash of egos between over-pampered politicians. How does the 2nd Niger Bridge for instance, not meet the needs of the common man? How do the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project or the East West road, not meet the needs of the ordinary man?
How do you justify slashing the budgets for schools and healthcare only to increase recurrent expenditure and your take home pay? How do you slash budget for the construction of the terminal building of the Enugu Airport from N2billion Naira to 500 million Naira just because you want to insert your own projects in the budget?
Nigeria has a huge infrastructure deficit and major projects like Lagos-Ibadan expressway, 2nd Niger Bridge and Mambilla Power are critical to jump-starting a dire economy. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the East-West road have taken forever and if completed, could turn around the nation’s economy in remarkable ways. How lawmakers do not understand this is beyond me. Why slash the budgets of these critical infrastructure because of some backwater roads in Bauchi or Abagana? On the scale of preference, which roads should come first?
Buhari's budget signing speechhas effectively put lawmakers on the defensive and the rest of the nation can't wait for what they have to say.