By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu
Like has become one of his positive trademarks, President Muhammadu Buhari, the Head of State and Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces has again tabled the draft of the nation’s budget for the year 2022 before a joint session of the National Assembly. More than anything else, it further strengthened what his doubters would point to as another proof that he really doesn’t want to leave office as a failure.
The president had initially made the assertion as he changed the service chiefs. Back then he had evidently heeded to the clamour of the nation as to alarming security lacuna beclouding his numerous other achievements. This time around, the due presentation of the budget means that he wants to carry the economy along in this march to a successful end of his presidency in 2023. A year in which, all things being equal, the presentation of the budget will be done by his successor.
In a remarkable departure from the shenanigans of his immediate predecessors, he has since assumption of office, tried his best to see to it that the budget is never presented out of time. That way, unlike before him, the budget is given time to flow in tandem with its calendar year. Making it possible for any accruing inconsistencies to be redressed before too late.
This is doubly laudable as it affords all the opportunity to look at its proposals before the dawn of the year. More than anything else, it’s indeed arguably the most cogent reason in support of this auspicious timing of its delivery. Unlike when the whole exercise ends up playing catch-up, thereby giving room for umpteen malpractices and what have you.
But still, though the budgeting process is an inevitability in the democratic setting, it’s often disparaged in these shores. Like most other obligations of our government functionaries, they are mostly seen as routine exercises. To some, it’s often seen as undertaken by them to justify their incumbency and fat remunerations. Thus, other than studying them for scrutiny’s sake, they are mostly disparaged – even without proof.
Take this just-delivered one. Already many are the voices being raised for and against it. Even before its expected easy passage in the assembly, mouths are already wagging. To most in this encore, nothing would sway them from the belief that our National Assembly is a rubber stamp of the executive arm. Citing many instances afore, they’ll argue that the only difference they can add to the proposals will be to pad it in their favour.
A conclusion is decipherable as coming to the fore on account of their disparity from their immediate predecessors. Back then, most bills from the executive arm were subjected to thorough scrutiny. Much so that it often saw the president refusing to grant assent to them. A development, those in this clique argue that has since vanished from the lexicon of the current assemblage.
So where does this leave the ordinary men and women counting down their steps on the cobble-less roads of the nation’s streets and highways? Probably they’d taken time off their vicarious duties to hear out every phoneme of the president’s speech. And this with a view to see how they’d contribute to the budget’s success.
And do you blame these doubting Thomases in their number? When, more often than not, their hopes end up being dashed to smithereens on the altar of legislative timidity. A truism provable by the way and manner the legislators have often passed the president’s earlier bills without as much even the doubt of a vet. Sometimes even to their own very detriment.
Take the just-passed Petroleum Industry Act, for instance. Under Goodluck Jonathan, the immediate-past president under whom the bill was indeed initiated, its passage had been stalled and infinitum. Then under the new man, it was just resurrected and passed, even with outstanding issues. So much so that it was only after its – also expeditious – signing into law that the executive had to re-send it back to them for the necessary amendments.
Anyway, concerning the current budget, it’s hoped that our people in the green and red chambers will – at least – live up to the enormous responsibilities thrust upon them by the constitution. For it sure shivers timbres, that people should shirk off their god-given responsibilities for pottage messes. The more so, in a time like this when the onus lies squarely on all and sundry to contribute their quotas – however little – to save us from imminent crumble.
Sans pontification, the handwriting on the wall should by now be legible to one and all. The time is nigh to re-target our arrows at the easily decipherable causes of our present malaise. Yes, for all our previous aims had been at its effects. And, all said and done, a continuation will only serve to worsen the matter.
And with the budget at stake, it sure behoves all to hearken to the first line of our national anthem. O yes, including the rest of us massed outside the red and green chambers of the National Assembly. At least for once, all must arise to our beleaguered nation’s call. Big or little, we should all play our parts to see that the proposals are well-vetted and implemented for the betterment of the country and its long-suffering citizens.
This is because, heading to the delivered estimates proper, from Mr President’s bombast – ‘budget of growth and sustainability – to the finance ‘minister-esses’ breakdown, one finds that it does not in any way deviate from its predecessors. Though it’s avowedly presented in good time, as always, there still lies the problem of funding. Though the non-oil sources of revenue appear to be rising up to the occasion, its petroleum components are still slacking. Yet, they used to be almost the sole source in the good, old times!
Therefore, that it has once more left the onus for the balancing of the budget in the laps of external loans should be a cause of concern to all patriots. That we are taking loans at all should ordinarily raise eyebrows. Not to talk of when they are taken with an abandonment that amounts to reckless. So much that as at now more than 70% of the present budget is spent on their service.
Finally, unless budgets have morphed to mortgages as some have posited, this has to come to a stop. We have played this macabre game of thrones enough. As our elders say, the blacksmith that doesn’t know how to fashion a gong has a wayfaring kite’s tail as a ready aid. After all, a goat is only left to suffer parturition in tethers on account of no elder being at home. And as long as we have not checked out, a la Andrew – remember him? – we can’t let this come to pass without throwing a stone.
*Uzoatu wrote in from Onitsha Anambra State. His latest novel Hometown Ho! (Igbo Landing Foretold) is awaiting publication