BUDGET 2016: Good outing, But…
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari’s presentation of Budget 2016 was a good outing, for PMB and other stakeholders. It was a timely opportunity for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to re-present itself to citizens and redeem its dwindling popularity. The party that came into office based on the trust Nigerians have in it to turn things around magically had for six months struggled poorly to sustain the basic fabrics of good governance.
Against its mouthwatering promises in the campaigns that brought it into office, the APC administration could not transit beyond the initial euphoria and zest; and the false steps that created some motion called ‘body language’. After that, government dithered nearly over everything, including appointments of good hands to move the statecraft forward, from where the previous government was prevailed on by voters and other forces to abandon it.
That impacted majorly on the economy, as in the absence of a full team to provide economic direction for the government, the Central Bank was left alone to apply belt-tightening measures that produced the opposite of what APC promised Nigerians. While government was bent on militaristic measures designed to trap unspent monies warehoused by members of the previous administration for the 2015 elections, the measures produced adverse effect on private sector operators who used domiciliary accounts to transact legitimate business. Others who import raw materials were barred from official forex windows, because the items they import were deemed to be frolicsome. Were that measure to be correct, it produced the adverse effect, perhaps, unintended job losses, as the association of manufacturers continued to lament the twin malady of losing out at the domiciliary account, as well as, at the official forex windows.
And the economy was locked up, more or less, as government refused to spend. Contractors were owed hundreds of billions, and thousands of their workers had to be sent home temporarily. Many state governments compounded matters for the Federal Government, as they had missed the direction out of their wasteful quagmire. They needed bailout and got billions of their loans turned into bonds in order to restore solvency to their dry accounts. As we speak, many states are threatening retrenchment or wage cut, all making the APC government a frightening alternative to the one it branded to be clueless.
In the social sector, security continued to be a major issue, despite the well-advertised soldierly capacity of PMB. By the way they touted their prowess in the campaigns, it was as if the insurgents in the Northeast would immediately surrender and embrace peace the moment Buhari is crowned. I did not envisage another round of battle and a resurgence of IED explosions once PMB had mounted the saddle. We were told he had the combined energy and wisdom of Charles De Gaulle, Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson. But it did not turn out like that, because PMB is just another human being, who needs citizens’ support to conquer the insurgency, just like former President Jonathan.
In the last six months, we saw the military battle Boko Haram fiercely, and we are beginning to see results. But conventional crimes have heightened across the major cities. This is one area the Police at the grassroots should be charged to do more. When ritual murderers and cult groups go on the rampage and unchecked in communities of Lagos, Ogun, Rivers and all over the place, it is a pointer to the absence of quality community policing and a gross lack of intelligence in the Police at that level. APC promised to ensure security of persons and their properties and the high command should help the party to achieve that, by being neutral and professional.
Of the afflictions that citizens have to contend with in the last six months, the return of fuel queues and the drop in electricity supply to homes are the most worrisome. Fuel queues returned more ferociously, like it was in the transition days of the previous government and the response by government simply did not add up. Same old stories of fuel subsidy, after the APC manifesto had clearly mapped out a plan to address issues in the oil industry, upstream and downstream, no longer make any sense. More ridiculous is the over-flogged path of blaming the last administration for fuel queues. Nigerians new things were badly run in the last administration, which was why they switched camps. But to stay on one storyline — Jonathan administration— even after approval was sought for a supplementary budget is tactless and annoying.
Nigerians were beginning to lose hope. If you are the type who wakes up each morning with a transistor radio by your side, you will be shocked at how fast citizens are losing their faith and touch with government. Phone-in programmes provide a good opportunity for governments to gauge citizens’ response to policies and pronouncements. The level of participation is such that nobody wants to be left out of the democratic train. It is worse in the social media with its huge and unregulated venom and bile. Citizens’ rating of this government has plummeted if accounts in the social media are to be taken seriously. On a personal note, I have serious reservation for the content and manner of social media deployment. But since social media played a major role in the enthronement of this government, and since the APC actually funded some social media platforms as campaign outfits for the 2015 general elections, I think it is too soon to abandon them. It will do this government a lot of good to listen to whatever they have to say, insults inclusive.
That background is to remind us what the situation was before last week’s gathering at the Lower House of the National Assembly, where PMB presented the budget. It was the first for him and his party and it offered some hope. PMB was in his elements and he was calm about it. He showed empathy and understanding of what citizens are going through despite the promise of change. He was right on point, to admit that the confidence of many had been shaken. Indeed, it many have lost confidence in Nigeria, but since he has promised to secure the country and rebuild the economy, some of us have renewed our faith. We did that before, when he came in 1984, but that didn’t happen. Some of is colleagues sabotaged his efforts. Now, he is making another promise to lift Nigeria out of the doldrums. Some of us believe him, but I still don’t trust his party. I do not trust the entire political class and I pray they do not sabotage Buhari’s second coming.
The budget is significantly one of a rescue mission, and despite being shoestring, there is something in it for the masses. A lot of us feared president Buhari would bow to pressure and remove the so-called fuel subsidy. Petrol pump price is to remain at N87 for now, especially, at a time when citizens are traveling for end of year festivities. Whatever happens to the subsidy debate in 2016, the point should be strongly made that poor people did not contribute to ruining the refineries and the entire economy. They are only at the receiving end. If sacrifices are to be made, the political class must first be stripped of its offensive privileges.
The promise of free education for science, technology and education students in our tertiary institutions is simply unbelievable. This was where we were in the good old days. But in today’s economy, it seems like a tall order because the figures have ballooned from the manageable size of the 1980s. But if government is able to pull that through, surely it would be a historic milestone for Nigeria.
The huge capital outlay of N1.8 trillion is impressive. But Buhari has to insist that releases are prompt and well managed. We have seen and heard all of these before, like he remarked, but between politicians and the ministries a lot could happen to frustrate good governance.
The legislators did well too to provide a grand reception for Budget 2016. Speaker Yakubu Dogara was simply eclectic in speech and behaviour. He betrays style and uncommon understanding of the reason why previous budgets did not work. I am hoping and praying that this NASS will exercise less greed and allow ministries and departments to perform optimally. I still don’t trust them because they look too well fed to feel the frustration out here. But if they continue like those who were there before, the social media will smoke them out.
Finally and fundamentally, let Buhari think of restructuring of the polity. This ‘feeding bottle’ economy cannot take us too far.