When they go low, they go high
There are very many things wrong with Nigeria’s federal budget in any given year. Generally, it is a work of fiction. But more specifically, it is usually built on alternative facts (optimistic assumptions about oil prices and production) which inevitably means it always contains fake news (if you believe 30% of the budget will be spent on ‘capital’, I have a fairly used Russian bridge to sell to you).
But arguably, those are structural problems with the budget that will take some time and effort to fix. What cannot be explained is a more basic type of dysfunction in the budget that we just seem incapable of fixing.
Let’s start with ‘VIP toilets’ (Ventilated Improved Pit). These are a modern type of pit latrine that is cheaper to build and generally more hygienic. There are 26 mentions of ‘VIP toilet’ in the 2017 budget. The Federal Science and Technical College in Doma, Nassarawa state has budgeted to build one such toilet at a cost of N9.3m. But when you go to FGGC in Efon, Imnringi, you see that they are building a block of 12 VIP toilets for N4.9m. Meanwhile, FGC in Port Harcourt is going to build 3 VIP toilets at a cost of N4.3m. We must not leave out FGC in Ikole which is going to build 10 VIP toilets at a cost of N6.3m. After going through all the entries for VIP toilets in the budget, you are still left with a question – how much exactly does it cost to build a VIP toilet in Nigeria? The answer is blowing in the wind.
How about Toyota Hilux? Civil servants love this vehicle and seem to buy plenty of them every year. In this year’s budget, Hilux is mentioned 36 times. The Nigerian Police Academy in Wudil, Kano plans to buy 6 of them at a total cost of N36m. If you think this means a Toyota Hilux costs N6m each, then you’ll be surprised to find out that the Science and Development Institute in Enugu is going to buy 1 Hilux for N9m. Don’t be confused yet because the Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing is going to buy 20 Hilux vehicles at N12.5m each while the French Language Village in Badagry will buy the same Hilux for N9.9m. Vous me comprenez? Nevertheless, let us commend the good people of FGGC in Akure who will buy their own Hilux for N5.4m.
The story is not different for Toyota Prados – the beloved vehicle of ‘Ogas’ in Nigeria when government is the one paying. The Federal Fire Service says it will buy one for N12.8m while the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission will buy one Prado for its Executive Secretary at a cost of N20m only. The National Productivity Centre will also buy one Prado but for N25m. This is not a productive use of public money to say the least. To reduce (or increase) the confusion, the ministry of works will buy 10 Prado jeeps at N21m each while the National Institute of Sports will buy just one for N18m. If you think FGGC in Bida spending N11.3m on a 250Kva Mikano generator is strange, what will you say about the NYSC spending N69m on a 100Kva Mikano generator? Well, it’s ‘soundproof’.
These are just a few examples. When you go through the budget, it is as if the document is quarrelling with itself. When one part of government goes high, another part goes low. Anyone can budget any amount they like for anything and get it into the budget. One is tempted to ask – what do they do in the Ministry of Budget and Planning? In theory, they should be setting the guidelines and then collating what the numerous government ministries and agencies want to spend public money on and making a final decision. The final document that the public sees is thus the responsibility of the budget ministry and they must take all the blame for any problems in it. After all, we cannot blame FGGC Akure for the sins of FGC Efon.
Maybe there are good reasons for the variation in prices. Maybe they started building some toilets in previous years and what is budgeted this year is for completing ongoing toilets. Maybe some Hilux vehicles were bought last year and the air-conditioning and tyres are only going to be supplied this year. Who can fathom the deep mysteries of the Nigerian budget or indeed the cost of a Prado contained therein? This is beyond the understanding of mere men.
And therefore, the budget, as previously stated, is an elaborate work of fiction. It is impossible to look at these inconsistencies and take the whole document seriously. If even Unity schools cannot agree on the cost of a VIP toilet, there is no chance of that of the Ministry of power being consistent with the Sports Institute on the cost of vehicles. Nigeria is thus stuck with bad habits that entrench themselves deeper every day.
This cavalier attitude to public money ought to offend the sensibilities of Nigerians. But there are so many battles to fight in Nigeria daily that this inability of the budget to agree with itself does not feel like the hill anyone should die on. Yet it is not hard to fix this problem. It cannot be beyond the capability of a nation of 180 million people to get its budgeting right so that citizens can begin to have some confidence in the document. Is it too much to ask the government to improve its procurement processes? I don’t think so.