Every year, since 2009, I always look forward to reading or listening to Nigerian Presidents present their budget proposals to the national assembly, because they generally appear hopeful, fruitful, economically and socially progressive, and geared towards moving the nation in the right industrial direction. However, when one begins to analyze the allocations to specific ministries and priority departments, one is quickly demoralized and left wondering if there exist a genuine commitment to truly moving the country forward, or was it just as Shakespeare will say: ‘a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing’.
Since mid-2011, I have been in possession of a copy of the administration’s final report of the Transformation Agenda (2011 – 2015), and have been reading it piece-meal and comparing its recommendations to the budget proposals of 2012 and 2013 since then, and some things don’t seem to add up. One reads and hears the concerns and promises of the administration on power, security, and infrastructure; yet, year after year, the allocations to these and many other national priorities are mostly used up on recurrent expenditures. Subsequent Nigerian governments speak promisingly of dragging the nation, kicking and screaming, into a modern, corrupt-free era; yet, in practice, very little serious efforts are exerted towards keeping that promise.
Again, I have read and reviewed the fund allocated to critical government ministries and departments instrumental in transforming a nation from a Third world status to an industrialized nation, given the government’s Millennium Development Goals and Vision 20-20-20 program, and genuinely wonder at the seriousness of the government’s commitment to laying the necessary foundations future administrations can build upon towards transforming the country into a modern economic power – something long expected of an entity richly blessed with both human and natural resources.
Agriculture & Rural Development – N81.4b
The first step towards industrialization for any nation is to be able to feed its population from its domestic food production; that leaves room and resources to invest on other priority projects. Now, granted that agricultural production is best left to the private sector, but since most of the fertile lands are under the control of the federal government, the ability to farm these lands by the private sector is severely hampered by bureaucratic bottlenecks and corruption. In order to experience serious growth in this sector, governments at every level must hand-off most of these fertile lands and, like Kwara state under Bukola Saraki, lease them on a long-term basis to both local and international food-producing companies to farm them within regulatory guidelines designed to ensure food and consumer safety and the meeting of international production standards.
Beyond land lease and necessary safety regulations, government should also invest on facilities to increase food storage and preservation, while leaving the research and development of high crop yields to the farmers, in partnership with universities and other private research institutions. This eliminates any reason for the continuous existence of federal universities of agriculture.
In the 2013 budget proposal, the amount allocated to Agriculture and rural development seems adequate; what government needs to do is eliminate departments with duplicate responsibilities, so as to shift funds from recurrent to capital expenditures.
Police – N319.65b
This is a problem sector for me to comment on without being partial, because I am in support of state and local police. The national police have been more of a tool of repression and oppression than resolution of internal national security problems; they are more of enablers of problems that providers of solutions. The Nigerian police have never successfully solved any major crime, prosecuted any high-profile criminal, or provided internal security when it is needed most. This leaves one wondering the reason for its continuous existence, except to do the bidding of politicians and private citizens who can afford their services.
Yes, reasons of inadequate working equipments have been advanced for the continuous failure of the police to carry out their responsibilities to the nation. Unfortunately, when and where they have the necessary tools of trade, they have still fallen short. Another readily advanced reason for police failures in Nigeria is low pay and insufficient training. With all the implemented recommendations by the National Police Commission, there has been no comparative improvement in police services to the nation, except in petty bribery.
It is very obvious that the 2013 budget allocation to the national police will not make any difference in the level of performance of their duties, because about 80% of the allocation will be spent on recurrent expenditures; thereby, leaving little for capital expenditures. This will ensure a continuation of the legacy of inadequacy of equipment and training.
Defense – N348.91b
Nigeria, the largest country in black Africa with abundance of natural and human resources, needs a strong modern military and intelligence unit. In order to achieve that, it needs to invest in modernized training and military strategy. What it does not need is a continuation of the culture of investing in out-dated and outmoded refurbished equipments it has no maintenance facilities for. For example, the Nigerian military has a squadron of old MiG jets it cannot maintain rotting away in airfields and hangers; tanks and ships dating back to the Second World War era litter naval bases and garrisons. What the country need is to invest in the weapons of the war strategies of tomorrow, which is away from conventional warfare strategies; on developing short and medium-range missiles and air defense radar systems; on drones and preventive and proactive air strike tactics, and form military alliances with nations committed to helping in providing the necessary training to improve the performances of the uniformed staff.
Again, with the bulk of the 2013 defense allocation expected to go towards recurrent expenditures –salaries, housing, pensions, and uniforms – the Nigerian military will continue to be inadequately prepared to defend her in times war and internal crises.
Healthcare – N279.23b
This is one of the four most critical problem sectors a nation must solve before it could advance into the 21st century; along with power, security, and infrastructure.
Understandably, healthcare, like, agriculture, is best left in the hands of the private sector, with necessary rules and regulations designed to protect the consumer. However, where governments elect, at any level, to provide healthcare to its people, it must ensure sufficiency of facilities, drugs, and equipments; along with necessary safety and security measures. This has not been the case in Nigeria since 1985. Several administrations have largely ignored the saying that “a healthy nation is a wealthy nation”, and have approached the problem of adequate and effective healthcare provision half-heartedly and as a political tool. It has become fashionable for government officials at the highest level, and wealthy Nigerians, to invest estacodes and business profits on healthcare facilities in foreign countries of Europe and the Americas than towards developing a good system here in Nigeria. The frequency with which these officials and business men travel overseas for minor health problems is a testimony to the level of neglect to this critical sector of Nigeria’s advance into an industrialized nation.
Government has the option of doing one of two things here; either it completely deregulates the health sector and leave it in the hands of private experts, or refocus attention on healthcare with a sincere and serious commitment to ensure its success in not just provision but efficiency of such services at all levels. To achieve this will require an upward review of the 2013 budget allocation. If, on the other hand, it decides that the private sector is better able to handle healthcare, government must provide the same guidelines that exist in those countries its senior officials and business friends find attractive. In this case, the N279.3b allocation is adequate.
Education – N426.26b
In a real democracy, national governments do not establish and run universities, appoint presidents or chancellors of those universities, or involve itself with the salaries of the university staff; Unfortunately, Nigeria is not a real democracy. Acceptably, as part of protective measures and to ensure expanded access, government may involve themselves in provision of education (or healthcare), these involvements are usually temporary. For a national government to continue running secondary and tertiary institutions, after fifty years of independence, is absolutely crazy. The time has long gone for the federal government to hands-off these schools, universities, and colleges and give them to the states in which they are situated. This move will free up funds to invest in primary education, loans and grants to needy university students in the science and engineering fields and research facilities.
Government should focus on promoting and encouraging private universities, technical colleges, and those that offer online first degree programs in non-science courses which follow strict accreditation guidelines set by the National Universities Commission, failing which such accreditation will be withdrawn. So far, for as much money as the government has spent on education in Nigeria, the return on such huge investment has been largely minimal, except in some committed private institutions.
Power – N74.26b
If the 2013 budget allocation of N74.26b for the power sector is for the connection of generated powers to the national grid, running the PHCN, and finalizing the privatization process of the sector, then the amount is adequate. Power generation, like healthcare and agricultural production, is best left in the hands of the private experts, with governments retaining the exclusive right to grant licenses and outline operating guidelines designed to protect the interest of the consumer. It should also reserve the right to revoke the operating licenses of low- or non-performing companies. States, who wish to set up their own power-generating entities, or enter into joint ventures with the private sector, should be encouraged to do so without federal funding, or federally-guaranteed loans.
The central government should not be doing any more than facility inspections and regulatory supervision in this sector by 2016.
Works – N183.5b
“We know that Nigerian are disturbed about that state of our major highways” – President Jonathan.
Disturbed is putting it mildly. The presidency of anyone who takes up residence in Aso Villa is judged by his/her achievements on roads, electricity, and security; for the president to say that Nigerians are “disturbed’ shows that he has not traveled by road in a very long time, and clueless of the state of our federal and state roads.
I must admit that, lately, I am no longer familiar with the responsibilities of the Ministry/Department of works; however, back when the desire to achieve success reigned supreme in our ministries, agencies like the Public works Department (PWD), under the Ministry of Works, was responsible for ensuring that our roads and rail lines were in good state. Now, even with an infrastructure trust fund, public-private partnership agreements, and federal and state road rehabilitation agencies, I am at loss as to what the current duties and responsibilities of the Ministry of Works are. If it is housing construction, the government has no further business beyond granting subsidized loans and ensuring housing technical construction requirements are met.
Currently, our federal, state, and local roads are not fit for horses and buggies to ride on, not to talk of vehicles. A nation that has dreams of greatness without motorable road and railways, steady power, efficient communication and healthcare systems, and security is wallowing in a utopian pipe dream. With the current state of Nigerian roads, this ministry does not deserve to exist, let alone get a budget allocation.
Like previous budget speeches before it, the plans laid out by the President in the 2013 budget waxes nostalgically hopeful; however, going by the history of the many before it, by the end of 2013, Nigerians will be left scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong. When that happens, government, as it always does, will produce a slew of reasons why the 2013 budget plans and proposal was a colossal failure. We will all be witnesses to that day.