Budgets are blueprints for the future, the aspirational targets for the renewal of our infrastructure, the plan for the revitalization of our health, education and agriculture sectors, etc. But as Jacob Lew reminds us, "the budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations." So what values and aspirations can we isolate from the 2018 budget proposals that Governor Ibrahim Gaidam presented to the State Assembly two weeks ago?
First, Yobe's 2018 budget reflects the facts of the gradual economic recovery in the nation and the optimism that this has engendered in the governor's prognosis of the future. The last two quarters of the year have recorded modest economic growth nationally, and there is strong reason to believe this will continue, all thanks to President Muhammadu Buhari's aggressive economic revitalization efforts. Let me elaborate.
Amid the economic recession last year, which experts said was one of the worst in our nation's economic history, Governor Gaidam significantly scaled back state expenditures. The state's outgoing year's budget of N69,389,317,000 was 22 percent lower than the previous year's figure of N86, 658,299,000. Many economic policy analysts commended the governor's acute sense of financial responsibility for choosing to operate within the limits of, and in sensitivity to, the recessionary economy of the time.
Even so, as the governor pointed out in his budget speech, the modesty of the outgoing year's budget didn't stall its implementation and impact. The budget enjoyed an 82 percent implementation rate, which ranks among the highest in the nation. "The total recurrent and capital expenditure during the period under review was N36,449,258,011.29 and N24,692,763,480.78 respectively giving us 82.2% and 65% success, respectively," the governor said.
This might sound like hollow, disembodied figures, but they did have real-life impact on the lives of everyday Yobeans. It was during the outgoing budget year, for instance, that the irrigation schemes at Mugura, Boloram, Nguru Lake and Jumbam were commenced, that 1,590 metric tonnes of NPK fertilizer were distributed to farmers across the state at subsidized rates, and that hundreds of kilometers of roads were constructed or rehabilitated across the length and breadth of the state. It was also within the same budget year that approval was given for the construction of the International Cargo Airport in Damaturu at the sum of N11,327,120,487.24. Work on the airport is expected to be completed late next year.
Of course, as most people know, Yobe State has always stood out among only a few states in the country where workers and pensioners are never owed backlogs of salaries and allowances. While paying salaries as and when due is a basic right of workers that shouldn't be celebrated, it is difficult to ignore it in a period when workers in other states go for months on end without being paid.
The 2018 budget promises to build on the successes of the previous year's budget. That's why the budget is appropriately called the "budget of consolidation and socioeconomic rejuvenation." As I pointed out earlier, the budget represents the confidence that our renewed economic growth inspires. Governor Gaidam has proposed to spend the sum of N92,182,336,000 in 2018. "This figure represents an increase of N9,616,019,000 or 10.4% above that of the out-going fiscal year," he said. One might add that the sum also exceeds the N86, 658, 299, 000-figure from two years ago.
This means that Yobeans can expect to experience a buoyant, more vibrant economic impact in the coming year. As is usual with Governor Gaidam's budgets, the social sector took the lion's share of the budget with an allocation of N39,227,496,000. The economic sector came a close second with an allocation of N36,842,985,000. Since the social and economic sectors are at the heart of every community's life, this promises to be a deeply impactful budget, if the high rate of budget implementation in previous years is any guide.
Significantly, the Gaidam administration has proposed to spend N47,447,905,000 on recurrent expenditure, which represents 51.5 percent of the budget. Capital expenditure will take up N44,734,431,000, representing 48.5 percent of the budget. For comparison, in last year's budget, recurrent expenditure took over 60 percent of the budget while capital expenditure took 39.5 percent of the budget. As a finance expert, Governor Gaidam has intimate awareness of the fact that in times of economic difficulty, such as recessions, government needs to place premium on recurrent expenditure, in the everyday struggles of everyday people, and that was what he did last year.
With the economy rebounding, he realizes that more focus should now be given to the construction and renewal of infrastructure, and that is why the percentage increase in the expenditures on capital projects in the 2018 budget is noteworthy. The governor echoed these thoughts when he said, "from a holistic perspective, the 2018 Budget will enable us to complete all the on-going legacy projects that our administration is bequeathing to our good people and take on new ones, in line with our overall developmental agenda."
In sectoral terms, the budget is admirably evenhanded: every sector has received a fair share of attention. While it's impossible to capture all of the allocations to various sectors, a bird's eye view will suffice. As someone who believes that education is the best key to secure the future, I am impressed by the attention education received in the budget. Nearly 8 billion naira has been allocated to improve teaching and learning in public schools and for the constructions and reconstruction of classrooms, including scholarships and examination fees for students.
The health sector, which has historically been Governor Gaidam's strong suit since the beginning of his administration, which has earned him awards, received nearly 6 billion naira in this year's budget. "In order to consolidate on our efforts towards promotion of healthcare delivery and eradication of vaccine preventable diseases, the lofty policies being implemented since our assumption of office shall be continued," he said. The details of his plans for the health sector bear testimony to this commitment.
Agriculture, which we all recognize as the backbone of our economy, will receive a boost as well. The governor said he would give priority to irrigation farming, and has undertaken to complete and commission irrigation development sites at Mugura, Boloram, Jumbam and Lake Nguru, "and embark on construction of new one at Damagum bridge/Ngabuturu off-stream dam. We will also continue to pay our counterpart obligation for the sustenance of IFAD, National Food Security and FADAMA III Programmes."
Anyone who has followed Yobe State's budgets for a while would agree that this is a robust and confident budget that builds and improves on the successes of previous budgets. It also speaks to the values that Governor Gaidam cherishes, values that every well-meaning Yobean can relate to.
Usman, a public affairs commentator, wrote this piece from Sabon Pegi Ward, Damaturu Yobe State