Nigeria’s Budgets, Transparency and Million-denominated ATMs

Like many concerned Nigerians, I have been looking through the 2016 Appropriation Bill as made available by the Budget Office of the Federation. My concern mainly stems from the fact that I do not want Nigeria to borrow money to stuff the bank accounts of people that deliver little or nothing to the public.

You will find that several items in the proposed budget reek of shoddy preparation and in some cases, outright dishonesty. While some line items can be easily identified as being ridiculously overpriced, other items prepared by more seasoned veterans in the dark art of Nigerian budget preparation have been described vaguely and as such cannot be compared with anything.

The debate continues in the National Assembly but unless we the people (as professionals in different fields) help them understand the facts behind the figures that have been presented before them, Nigeria as a country may be headed for even more troubled times as she is taken to the cleaners once again by a small group of people. With the increase in budget, they will be operating on a larger scale than they did in the oil boom days; only this time, their largesse will be financed by borrowing.

I don’t know what the Constitution and other laws of Nigeria say but I strongly believe that to cut excesses for the good of the people, there should be a period set aside for public input on a proposed budget before it goes to the National Assembly officially. Our Senators and Representatives should take our feedback (not just their personal and political party sentiments) into consideration before deciding on the submitted budget.

At the moment, many legislators may not speak up because
1. No individual wants to be seen as antagonizing the Presidency. (Think Code of Conduct Bureau)
2. Historically, it is the lawmakers’ associates and companies that execute many of the juicy overinflated contracts that they have allowed to pass through.
3. Some of them are too lazy or incompetent to do the work that analyzing a 2000-page document involves.
4. Some would rather just go with the majority and not rock the boat

If we are somehow able to make room for a public discussion period before submission to the National Assembly, more people will feel that they “own” the projects and we will reduce the number of projects that fail because the intended beneficiaries/users did not take part in the process that gave birth to the projects.

I’m still a learner in these matters but I have noticed that several revenue-generating organs of the Nigerian Government are not captured in Appropriation bills. This means that you are very incorrect if you think the Appropriation Bill (FGN Budget) reflects the total amount of money that will be spent by the Federal Government in any given year.

The excluded organs mainly receive their funding from taxes and levies and I am concerned that absence of transparency in their income and expenditure probably encourages Heads of Government to fund personal projects through them. Some that I have been able to immediately identify include:
Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) and by extension the Universal Service Provision Fund (USPF)
Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFUND)
Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF)
National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA)
Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC)

By making the income and expenditure of these and other excluded agencies more transparent, we can save the country the energy we are presently spending on investigating and prosecuting corruption cases from previous administrations. If we do not make all financial details transparent, we will keep hearing of certain agencies being used as million dollar ATMs by Presidents.

As many people have correctly noted, what we need to build in Nigeria is a system that is transparent. Transparency and accountability are responsible for many Nigerians traveling overseas and performing excellently. Conversely, lack of transparency and accountability can also be said to be responsible for encouraging the same Nigerians and foreigners to behave shamefully when entrusted with power in Nigeria.

Please do Nigeria a favour and lend your voice to the call for transparency every time you have an opportunity.

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