1 March 2016

Nigeria's 2016 Budget and the Need for a National Development Plan


Now, what matters is not the manner of passage, but the content and implementation plan of the budget. Now we have a budget with padded content being corrected for over three months, effectively giving the government only nine months to implement it.

The focus of some Nigerian youths' has always amazed me. They have MScT (Masters of Science in Trivialities). Their recent focus was on President Muhammadu Buhari's travels, while the real attention should have been on the 2016 Budget.

Why should it take the National Assembly three months to pass a budget, more than two months after the last state budget was passed? A state in the South-West holds the record of the most bizarre budget presentation and passage within a day!

Now, what matters is not the manner of passage, but the content and implementation plan of the budget. Now we have a budget with padded content being corrected for over three months, effectively giving the government only nine months to implement it. What has been happening to Nigeria and Nigerians in the past three months? - Unlimited suffering and challenges! Could it be President Muhammadu Buhari's fault? Not exactly, but his administration is not 100% free of blame. The buck stops at Mr. President's table.

On the other hand, Nigerians are just not doing their bit enough. They ought to be saying loudly and clearly: PASS THE CORRECTED 2016 BUDGET NOW!!!

I believe in the 2016 budget, provided it is FAITHFULLY and PAINSTAKINGLY implemented, like The Guardian stated in its editorial a few days ago: "... the 2016 budget suggests an attempt to balance equity, efficiency, and effectiveness. On equity, the budget tries to provide some bailouts with special intervention programmes, conditional cash transfers, and school feeding programmes. The budget tries to balance the short-term equity programmes with infrastructure spending that should boost long-term productive capacity, while delivering on effective security and institutional governance... "

This should not be the budget that some people would use as a bargaining tool to avoid prosecution for deeds done years ago! It should not be a budget that people would trade blame games with. The National Assembly, if truly pro-people, should have considered the budget, at a time of unprecedented downturn in Nigeria's economy, as a crucial tool to be passed efficiently and speedily. Corrections should not take the eternity of three months in the current situation we have found ourselves in Nigeria. The economy needs all the stimulus it can get and at the earliest possible time. Every single day that passes without that budget being passed can never be regained, nor livelihood and lives affected restored by magic. Time matters in the affairs of men, for time is life!

Now we must think ahead - how do we avoid a repeat drama in 2017? Again, I will be quoting The Guardian's February 2016 editorial that, "... .the budgetary process should develop a cycle of not less than one year. Using this time framework, the President should be submitting the 2017 budget to the National Assembly by now. Nigeria's 2016 budget has been prepared under three months from the time ministers were confirmed and the budget submitted by the President to the National Assembly.

President Barack Obama of the United States of America submitted the 2017 fiscal year budget, which begins in October 2016 to the U.S. Congress on February 10, 2016. So, the preparation of the final budget would have taken at least another six months... ."

That is what we should imitate from America - adequate and timely preparation in all things. Theirs is a system based on proper development planning, focus and strategy.

Development is never accidental. It is a product of deliberate planning. Nigeria has undertaken four national development plans in her post-independence history, namely: the First National Development Plan (1962-68), the Second National Development Plan (1970-74), the Third National Development Plan (1975-80) and the Fourth National Development Plan (1981-85). Those were the real periods of national growth and progress during which most of our enduring national monuments, roads, hospitals, educational institutions and other infrastructure were built. Of course we had Vision 2020 which was never practicalised.

Development planning involves processes which ensure that national policies and strategies are realised and development concerns at all levels are fully integrated into the overall national development. It is designed to effect some permanent structural changes in the social, economic and infrastructural architecture of the nation in a planned manner, with an eye on the dynamic global challenges. The government sets out objectives about the way it wants the economy to develop in the future and periodically intervenes to try to achieve those objectives. One foundation for national development planning in Nigeria is shaky, as it is reposed in our civil service. The civil service is the bedrock and institutional memory of a society willing to become developed.

How can we achieve an efficient civil service? The priority for the government now should include how to build a core base of a professional, creative and sound civil service. That to me can be done as a hybrid programme. The government should create an enabling environment to employ first class university graduates who are citizens of Nigeria from home and abroad. These new employees should further be engaged in training in the best business and government policy schools. They should then be injected into the civil service, while their development is continuously monitored.

In the meantime, the government should commission the best of our academia, if possible including best expatriate brains to draw up short term (five years), mid-term (20 years) and long term (say 40 years) plans which should be detailed enough to include resources and the exact funds necessary and how this will be sourced. These plans will form appropriate templates for our National budgets, leading to a better organised development process.

The process to get the Nigerian education system to a stage where it can produce a sufficient mass for the intellectual foundation-building of the country will be long. However, that should not discourage us, as the journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step. Let us start now. A nation that plans development with a long view approach is set up for success.

Fellow Nigerians, RESPONSIVE and RESPONSIBLE governance does not drop from heaven, citizens vote for such, citizens ensure it by continually making their voice heard, and citizens demand it by insisting on it. Good governance, like power and freedom, is never granted pro bono, you claim it and nurture it. Possess your mandate, now.

Mudasiru Adebayo Salami is a Consultant Cardiothoracic Surgeon at the University College Hospital, Ibadan.


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