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2018 Budget: Can Reps avoid controversies, delays?

Precisely a week ago, President Muhammadu Buhari, laid before a joint session of the National Assembly, the 2018 budget estimates with an aggregate expenditure put at N8.612 trillion. Eloquent speeches were delivered by the President, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Speaker Yakubu Dogara. Many are however asking if the House of Representatives will do everything possible to avoid the 2017 controversial experiences, and the usual delays in passing budgets. JOSHUA EGBODO writes:
It is no news now that former chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Abdulmumin Jibrin, is under suspension, following a resolution passed by the lower legislative chamber of the National Assembly that he be given 180 legislative sitting days off, in addition to a caveat that he must present a written apology to the House, before he can be readmitted, for “bringing the integrity of the House to disrepute” over his public comments, accusing the Speaker and three other principal officers of illegally padding the 2017 budget.
Jibrin, who many believed took up a personal fight against the leadership of the House, with wild allegations to get the sympathy of undiscerning Nigerians, was initially accused by his colleagues of taking the 2017 budget processing like a private and personal venture, as well as illegally inserting projects running into some billions of naira for his federal constituency of Kiru/Bebeji of Kano State.
Members became so disenchanted that pressure was mounted on the leadership of the House to remove Jibrin as chairman of the committee on appropriations. The Speaker, who was apparently helpless to keep protecting his erstwhile ally, bowed to the pressure to remove him. Jibrin who got wind of the plan quickly approached Dogara to privately brief him of his decision to quit the position, citing too much pressure among others as reason for his decision. He was later to be angered when Dogara announced his decision, but added that prior to the briefing, his (Jibrin’s) fate had already been decided by the leadership of the House.
The action gave rise to the beginning of war, which, to many, was more of attrition by Jibrin, specifically to weaken the integrity of the House’s leadership under Dogara. He also accused members of the House, including himself of illegally pocketing hundreds of millions of naira each as running costs.
He later appeared to be consumed by his own antics, as the few colleagues who dared to buy into the fight later chickened out. Not even his brother from Kano, Aliyu Madaki, who opposed the motion calling for his suspension on the grounds that Jibrin was not given fair hearing, could muster the courage to vote against it, when question was finally put for votes.
Many felt that the suspended lawmaker may have been given too much unrestricted latitude by the Speaker in the processing of the 2017 budget. The drama is not over yet, as Jibrin went to court to question his suspension, a case that is yet undecided. But now that the 2018 budget is before the House, Nigerians are expressing concerns whether the House would not delve itself into another round of controversy.
President Buhari while presenting the budget estimates, which he explained was designed to “consolidate” on the gains his government has achieved so far through previous budgets, before a joint session of the National Assembly last Tuesday, said it hoped to deliver on Nigeria’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) 2018 – 2020.
According to the President, “By all accounts, 2018 is expected to be a year of better outcomes. The tepid economic recovery is expected to pick up pace and the global political terrain is expected to stabilize. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is anticipating global GDP growth of 3.7 percent in 2018. Emerging markets and developing economies are expected to lead with GDP growth of 4.9 percent, while advanced economies are projected to grow at a slower rate of two percent.
“Nigeria’s journey out of the recent recession was a revealing one. We heard many opinions from within and outside Nigeria on how best to address our economic woes. We listened carefully and studied these proposals diligently. Our belief has always been that the quickest and easiest solution may not necessarily be the best solution for a nation as diverse as ours. We took our time to create a balanced and equitable response, keeping in mind that only tailored Nigerian solutions can fix Nigeria’s unique problems”.
But beyond the normal budget filibustering expected from the opposition, the lawmakers and Nigerians in general were not satisfied with the performance of the 2017 budget, and so providing some initial huddles for the 2018 budget passage. Buhari personally admitted the abysmal performance of the 2017 budget stating last Tuesday that “On revenue performance, collections were 14 percent below target as of September 2017, mainly due to the shortfall in non-oil revenues. A key revenue shortfall was from Independent Revenues; only 155.14 billion Naira was remitted by September 2017 as against the projected pro-rated sum of 605.87 billion naira. This represents a 74 percent shortfall, which is very disappointing”, though he blamed its late passage as partly responsible.
For 2018, the President said the N8.612 trillion proposed represented “a nominal increase of 16 percent above the 2017 Budget estimate”, and that “in keeping with our policy, 30.8 percent (or 2.652 trillion Naira) of aggregate expenditure (inclusive of capital in Statutory Transfers) has been allocated to the capital budget”,
And in seeking the support of the parliament for early passage of the budget, the President reminded the lawmakers that “Nigeria is currently emerging from a very difficult economic period. If we all cooperate, and support one another, we can consolidate on our exit from the recession and firmly position Nigeria for economic prosperity. All the projects presented within this budget have been carefully selected and subjected to extensive consultations and stakeholder engagements”.
To many, Buhari was far from understanding the needed political horse-trading in budgeting. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dogara, also in his speech argued against the supposed wide consultations as stated by the President. Prior to the budget presentation session, the newly appointed Secretary to the Government of the Federation, (SGF), Mustapha Boss, went on a tension-dousing visit to the parliament, as members were not happy that their zonal intervention projects were not effectively implemented. There were reported plans to boo the President during the presentation session, which Mr. Boss’ visit was able to prevent.
Dogara said the constitution has clearly made it clear that the three arms of government must work hand in hand on any major national issue, adding that failure to do so would mean that progress suffers. “This is the way we must go as our Constitutional Order is organsed in a way that deliberately denies any of the three arms the strength to go at it alone on any major national issue. Where that has happened, it’s progress that suffers. That reminds us of the adage that says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.
“Examples abound on how fast but not far, the executive have gone on some national issues where they have decided to go alone. There is no national challenge we cannot overcome if we work together. To our colleagues, members of the Senate and House of Representatives, I salute your patriotism and sense of national purpose in providing the peaceful enabling environment for Mr. President to deliver his budget address.
“The success of this event separates us as true leaders who in the midst of a hazy executive – legislative relationship elected not to turn on ourselves but to turn to each other in the very interest of our constituents and national progress”.
With the 2018 budget estimates ready and outside the expected usual rift between the executive and the parliament over powers of appropriation, the House may this week suspend its regular plenary to allow committee’s commence work on the budget.
It is, however, of greater expectations that the House ensure safety-guards in place against any internal controversy before, or after the passage of the 2018 budget. The cooperation of government MDAs, would also do much good, but to many, unless the President exerts his influence on them, the usual old path may still be the lot.

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