Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wishing you the best of 2010

Year 2009 will be off in few hours, it’s probably 2010 already in Australia. To you all my fans who have been encouraging me through your constructive and largely positive feedback, I say a big thank you.
In 2009, I have many reasons to thank the Lord. In April, I clocked 40 and in October, it dawned on me that it’s been 19 years since my first piece was published in Daily Sketch. Today, the little acorn has grown to a large oak. In 2009, I spread my tentacles wider and added four more platforms to publishing my articles. They are The Nation, Daily Sun, Daily Independent and Next. Two Magazines/Newsletters, Women Advocate and Voters News also sought my permission to publish some of my published articles in their media. On the whole, to date, I have been published by 17 national newspapers and 11 magazines and newsletters. In July 2009, with the influence and inspiration from a friend, Sola Adetunji, I established my own blog from where those who love my writings can now read my views on national issues.
28 of my articles in 2009 were published 40 times by different newspapers and newsletters. The breakdown is as follows:
Thisday Wednesday, January 7, 2009 Political Lessons from Ghana 2008 Elections
The Punch Thursday, January 8, 2009 Still on Ghana 2008 Elections
The Guardian Tuesday, January 17, 2009 The Voting Rights of Nigerians
Nigerian Tribune Wednesday, February 25, 2009 On the review of the 1999 Constitution
The Nation Friday, February 27, 2009 Constitution Amendment Jinx
Thisday Wednesday, March 4, 2009 The Senate, Reps and Constitution Review
Nigerian Tribune Friday, March 13, 2009 The Church and Healthcare Delivery
Thisday Tuesday, March 24, 2009 Still on the Need for Constitution Review
Nigerian Tribune Monday, April 13, 2009 Need for State of Emergency in Nigeria's Education Sector
Thisday Thursday, April 23, 2009 Declare State of Emergency in Education Sector
Nigerian Tribune Friday, May 8,2009 Jail-Evasion Cartel and the Drug War
The Guardian Tuesday, May 19, 2009 Who Misinformed Yar'Adua on Electoral Reform?
Thisday Wednesday, June 3, 2009 Yar'Adua's Electoral Reform Bills
Nigerian Tribune Monday, June 8, 2009 Segun Adeniyi Goofed on Uwais Report
The Nation Wednesday, June 10, 2009 Adeniyi Goofed on Electoral Reform
The Punch Wednesday, July 15, 2009 Nigeria at the Mercy of MEND
The Nation Tuesday, July 21, 2009 Preventable Labour Crises
Nigerian Tribune Saturday, July 25, 2009 Let there be light!
The Nation Wednesday, July 29, 2009 Against Automatic Tickets
Daily Sun Wednesday, August 5, 2009 Carpet Crossing and Nigeria's Mercantile Politics
Nigerian Tribune Thursday, August 6, 2009 Shall we tell the president?
The Punch Thursday, August 20, 2009 The Political Economy of Nigeria's Financial Sector
Daily Sun Tuesday, August 25, 2009 Don't Agonise, Organise!
Daily Independent Sunday, September 6, 2009 In Support of Tenured Civil Service
Nigerian Tribune Tuesday, September 15, 2009 Salvaging Nigerian Sports
Daily Sun Wednesday, September 16, 2009 Salvaging Nigerian Sports
Daily Independent Saturday, September 26, 2009 This Amnesty Deal Must Not Fail!
Daily Sun Wednesday, September 30, 2009 Caring for the Physically Challenged Persons
Daily Independent Thursday, October 29, 2009 Deadlier than HIV/AIDS
Nigerian Tribune Monday, November 2, 2009 Deadlier than HIV/AIDS
Daily Sun Wednesday, November 4, 2009 Nigeria Varsity Crisis: Not Yet Uhuru
Nigerian Tribune Monday, November 16, 2009 Celebrating 150 Years of Media Practice in Nigeria
Daily Independent Thursday, November 19, 2009 Nigeria Fire Service and Disaster Management Challenge
234NEXT Monday, November 30, 2009 A Return to Good Sportsmanship
Daily Sun Thurs, December 17, 2009 Budgeting as Hollow Ritual in Nigeria
The Guardian Wednesday, December 30, 2009 Budgeting as Hollow Ritual in Nigeria
Nigerian Tribune Thursday, December 31, 2009 The 2010 Budget of Stimulus or Deceit?
IFES Newsletter February, 2009 Spotlight on Nigeria's Electoral Reform Process
Women's Advocate June 2009 Vol. 10 No. 44 Declare State of Emergency in the Education Sector
Voters News Vol. 2 No. 10 November 2009 This Amnesty Deal Must Not Fail!

There are few of the articles that were only published on my blog and as such not among those listed above. There are also a couple that are already with some newspapers and will likely be published in early 2010.
This is wishing you and yours a happier, more prosperous and more fruitful 2010.
Jide Ojo

The 2010 budget of stimulus or deceit?

Nigeria’s 2010 appropriation bill of N4.079 trillion was tagged ‘Budget of Fiscal Stimulus.’ What a misnomer! Since the budget was presented to National Assembly on November 24, 2009 the media has kept faith analysing and reporting the budget defence sessions of the Senate and House of Representatives committees with various Ministries, Department and Agencies (MDAs). I have followed these analyses keenly and I should say Nigeria is doomed with the current political leadership of the country.
Over the years, budget in trillions of Naira have been passed without much to show in terms of human capital or infrastructural development. In a country with more than 70 per cent of the populace living below poverty line, we have a government that has voted N7.066 billion to build an earthly paradise for her Vice President. In the news report on the Federal Executive Council meeting of December 23, 2009, Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Senator Adamu Aliero justified the need to have a permanent residence for the Vice President but left out why Yar’Adua administration is just realising the need to build a befitting residence for its Number 2 citizen as well as the rationale behind the huge contract sum. To my own mind, the amount involved in this building project is mind-boggling and tantamount to sheer waste or misapplication of the nation’s resources.
I think there is more to this building contract than meet the eyes. Where were all the previous Second-in-Commands under the former military Heads of State such as Augustus Ahiomu, Ebitu Ukiwe, Oladipo Diya and Mike Akhigbe living while they were No. 2 citizen in Abuja? If these previous deputies had official residence in Abuja, what happened to the building? Or could it be that there was no original provision for Vice President’s accommodation in Abuja’s master-plan? Why did the Yar’Adua administration wait till the third year of his administration, the eve of another general election as well as when there is global economic recession and fall in oil revenue to build house for the Vice President? Am of the opinion that even at today’s inflationary rate, if there will be any urgent need to build an official residence for the Vice-President, N1 billion will be too much let alone seven. In whatever way this project is viewed it is out of tune with current economic realities.
Other heart-rending revelations from the 2010 budget include the proposition to spend $210 million, which is about N31.5 billion to purchase 4 New Presidential Aircrafts, although only N23.4 billion is provided for it in the budget. Two of the aircrafts are to be delivered in 2010 while the remaining two are expected in 2011 and 2012. It was reported also that N250 million has been earmarked to fight termites in State House; N542.4 million budgeted to purchase and fuel power generating plants as well as the N450 million set aside for maintenance of vehicles by the presidency in 2010 despite the monetisation policy of the government.
At the National Assembly, the legislature will spend a total of N127.782 billion. The breakdown shows that the legislature will have N118.782 billion as recurrent expenditure and N9 billion for capital projects. Of the amount, N30.9 billion is voted for Senators and House of Representatives sitting allowances while furnishing and renovation of residences of the Senate President and the Deputy Senate President will need N250 million. The Senate is said to be planning to buy guest houses for its principal officers at the cost of N750 million. For fuelling and lubricants of vehicles and generators, the House budgeted N460 million, while the Senate set aside N286 million. Also in 2010, the Senate proposed to spend N600 million for budget activities; N3.7 billion for office materials, books, periodicals, printing and uniforms; N1 billion for public hearings; N9 billion for ‘programmed activities’; N957 million for maintenance of vehicles and other equipment; N355 million for office equipment; and N80 million for utilities. The House budgeted N3.7 billion for office materials, books, periodicals, printing and uniforms; N1.4 billion for maintenance of vehicles, generators and other equipment; N500 million for partitioning of offices; and N385 million for three new generators. Can we in good conscience say these are national priorities considering that a whooping N1.09 trillion of the budget is expected deficit?
If the presidency and the NASS could vote these huge figures for their personal aggrandisement in this austere time while millions of graduates of our tertiary institutions roam the street aimlessly in search of non-existing white and blue collar jobs, does this not portray our political leaders as self-serving? Any wonder there is high rate of armed robbery and kidnappings in the country? To drive home the pitiable situation of Nigerian masses, on December 22, 2009, Kapital FM, Abuja hosted widows to a Christmas fete; the estimation of the organisers was that about 1,000 widows will turn up. They were wrong, over 10,000 widows showed up putting the planners in a quandary on what to do. In the footage of the sad story showed on NTA on December 24, many of these widows were seen scrambling for grains. It is in the midst of this nationwide misery that a handful of people in corridors of power decided to enjoy on our behalf. If this status quo is maintained, neither the seven point agenda nor Vision 20:2020 will be achieved.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Budgeting as hollow ritual in Nigeria

After the November 19 impasse between the Senate and the House of Representatives over the venue for the presentation of the Nigeria’s 2010 budget, Special Adviser to the President on National Assembly Matters, Senator Mohammed Abba -Aji presented the appropriation bill to the two chambers of the National Assembly on Tuesday, 24 November 2009.

The N4.079 trillion budget is the highest in the history of Nigeria; the first that was not read and laid personally by the president and also the first to be presented without fanfare but in accordance with constitutional procedure. The financial statement was also presented same day as the Senate approved additional supplementary budget of N353.6 billion as part of total expenditure for the 2009 fiscal year. This is apart from the initial N3. 049 trillion that was approved by the National Assembly last April for the 2009 fiscal year.

In spite of these huge budget proposals, there has been perennial challenge of implementation.In analysing the 2009 budget, President Yar’Adua admitted that there were problems with the budget performance. He put the blame on four things: Global economic crisis, fall in oil price, the Niger Delta crisis and the low capacity utilisation of budget releases by the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). According to him, “implementation of the 2009 Budget has been challenging with revenue from both oil and non-oil sources falling well below projections.

On a positive note, oil prices recovered during the course of the year from a low of US$37/barrel recorded in December 2008 to the present level of about US$79/barrel. However, oil production in our country suffered numerous disruptions during the first half of 2009. Non-oil revenue receipts were affected by the global economic downturn which impacted on the domestic business environment. Consequently, both oil and non-oil revenues were about 17% and 21%, respectively, below budgeted levels as at the end of the third quarter. On the expenditure side, while budgetary allocations have been promptly released to the MDAs, actual utilisation has been below expectation.”

While the president was very diplomatic in his assessment of the 2009 budget, members of the National Assembly were not impressed with successive national budget performance in Nigeria. As published in The Guardian of Thursday, November 26, 2009, Senator Smart Adeyemi (PDP, Kogi State) declared that the Senate should not be debating the 2010 budget when the 2009 budget it passed a year ago had not been implemented up to 30 per cent. Hon. John Halims Agoda representing Ethiope Federal Constituency in Delta State regretted that since 1999, no budget had been implemented faithfully. He was quoted as saying: "While the budget is working in other countries, why is ours not working? Do we need to go abroad for budget course? We have over the years sat and done good budget but at the end, we target 30, 40 per cent performance. Do we need performance index? We need to do something. I have gone through this ritual since 1999 and it is sad."

In my own opinion the problem with the budget implementation in Nigeria can be traced to the following factors: Nigeria’s monoculture economy; deficit budgeting; delayed passage of the budget by the legislature; ineffective oversight by the National Assembly; late budget releases by the relevant authorities such as the Federal Ministry of Finance, Office of Accountant General of the Federation as well as the Central Bank of Nigeria and corruption. Nigeria mostly depends on crude oil for its budget. Other non-oil sectors such as solid minerals, agriculture and manufacturing are underdeveloped. This is unhealthy for the economy. Concomitant to this is the perennial budget deficit the country runs in which the projected revenue is lower than the proposed expenditure. Nigeria ought to strive at having balanced or surplus budget.

On late passage of budget, while the Senate passed the 2009 appropriation bill in December 2008, the House of Representatives did not pass same until April 2009 or thereabout. This hampers economic planning and budget implementation. Oversight is among the constitutional roles of the legislature. In the performance of this function, the parliament can visit any MDAs and project sites and conduct probes on any issues affecting the country. In the course of time, it seems Nigerian legislature pays more attention to this oversight than their primary role of law making. However, in spite of plethora of inquiries into different MDAs, the report of the probes have neither been debated at plenary nor made available to the public. This fuels speculations that the motive behind such flurry of probes is self serving and not in the national interest. Is it not shocking that the report of the power sector inquiry where startling revelations were made never got debated at the plenary? In a recent television interview, I was amazed when the House of Reps Speaker claimed that the recommendations in the report have been communicated to the relevant agencies.

The bureaucratic process of securing budget releases is also stifling. Not fewer than three hurdles are crossed before approvals can be cash-backed. This has led to situations where contractors abandon sites after waiting endlessly for the next tranche of payments for contracts. Undoubtedly, the greatest challenge to budget implementation is corruption. It is baffling that even with the introduction of electronic payment; a lot of monies cannot still be accounted for.

A newstory in NEXT newspaper of 27 November, alleged that 70% of money advanced to MDAs has not been retired. It would be recalled that many civil servants and some lawmakers are currently in courts for frauds while Nigeria currently occupies 130th position on Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. All the aforesaid goes to show that low budget performance lies with both the operators and the regulators. Expectedly, all the malaise afflicting budget implementation at the national level also manifest at state and local government levels without much attention being paid. This unsatisfactory trend must be halted.