The National Assembly pledges to deliver a budget that meets the expectations of the people, writes Nanji Ukwata

The appropriation bill is the second most important national document after the nation’s constitution. Everything from health, wellbeing of the citizenry is predicated on the document. Policymakers, investors, entrepreneurs, media, civil society organizations and discerning members of the populace wait eagerly for the presentation of the budget.

So, Thursday 7th October 2021, was another historic day for Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari was at the joint session of the National Assembly for the annual budget presentation ritual. Expectations are high for apparent reasons. The crushing hardship, growing poverty, the weakened naira and unprecedented security challenges that is threatening the corporate existence of Nigeria are key areas many Nigerians were anticipating the budget will address.

The Buhari government in a bid to revamp the ailing economy, grow revenues and create opportunities for beleaguered citizens to triumph over the turbulent socio-economic headwinds laid an ambitious 2022 budget estimate of N16.39 trillion before the nation.

It is christened, ‘Budget of Economic Growth and Sustainability’’. The government benchmarked the mainstay of the economy and the biggest revenue earner, Crude oil, at $57 per barrel, whilst the galloping dollar exchange rate is pegged at N410.5. The appropriation bill also seeks to stimulate the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth by 4.2 per cent while the inflation is projected at 13 percent.

During the budget presentation last Thursday, President Buhari stated, “Distinguished Members of the National Assembly, the 2022 to 2024 Medium Term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper sets out the parameters for the 2022 Budget as follows:

“Conservative oil price benchmark of 57 US Dollars per barrel;

“Daily oil production estimate of 1.88 million barrels (inclusive of Condensates of 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day); Exchange rate of four 410.15 per US Dollar; and projected GDP growth rate of 4.2 percent and 13 percent inflation rate.

“Based on these fiscal assumptions and parameters, total federally-collectible revenue is estimated at 17.70 trillion Naira in 2022.

“Total federally distributable revenue is estimated at 12.72 trillion Naira in 2022 while total revenue available to fund the 2022 Federal Budget is estimated at 10.13 trillion Naira. This includes Grants and Aid of 63.38 billion Naira, as well as the revenues of 63 Government-Owned Enterprises. Oil revenue is projected at 3.16 trillion, Non-oil taxes are estimated at 2.13 trillion Naira and FGN Independent revenues are projected to be 1.82 trillion Naira.”

These economic variables and assumptions are the formworks that are expected to stimulate economic growth.

So, the ninth House of Representatives under the leadership of Rt Hon Femi Gbajabiamila that has been breaking new frontiers in legislative duties and thorough oversight on the Executive arm of government are ready to interrogate the assumptions on which the appropriation bill is formulated to ensure it delivers on the set objectives.

Having restored the nation’s budget circle from January to December, the Green Chamber will work assiduously on the budget before the close of the year 2021. In the words of the Speaker, “”through the day and night, forgoing all other considerations in a joint effort to deliver a national budget that meets the highest expectations of the Nigerian people.

“Therefore, I am confident that the National Assembly will give this Appropriation Bill the prompt consideration it demands.

“However, let me use this opportunity to say to the heads of ministries, departments and agencies of the Federal Government of Nigeria that the determination of the National Assembly to deliver a timely budget will not derogate from our responsibility to ensure exhaustive consideration of the bill.

“We will demand a thorough accounting for the funds previously appropriated, disbursed and expended. And we will take steps to hold to account those who fail to provide the records we need to make informed decisions on the Appropriation Bill. This is the responsibility of the National Assembly, and we will live up to it.”

Disturbing events in the nation calls for a bipartisan and patriotic collaboration from all men and women of good conscience. This ostensibly informed the seriousness Gbajabiamila placed on the budget review. A man whose legislative agenda is people-centric will not accept anything less than a budget that will guarantee prosperity for the mass of the people.

The budget deficit of N6.23 trillion amidst rising national debt is another major concern for many Nigerians including the legislators. The House has been very vocal on the need to moderate debt exposure of the country. Gbajabiamila and his colleagues on many occasions have called for sustainable borrowings for infrastructure.

Infrastructure is the driver of economic development. The infrastructure of rail, roads and other amenities are essential for commercial activities to thrive. So as this government continues to invest in critical infrastructure, the House of Representatives is duty bound to protect the interests of the masses.

In a series of reforms that the present ninth House has set in motion is an unusual harmonious working relationship without jeopardizing legislative independence. In other words, a collaborative agenda that is geared towards ensuring that the government delivers good to the greater number of people.

“Over the last two budget cycles, by the joint effort of the executive and legislature, we have made significant progress in this regard and achieved reforms that will stand the test of time and count in our favour,” the Speaker said.

So, the (MDAs) especially the revenue generating agencies have been tasked on how to widen their revenue base, plug wastages, divest from unprofitable ventures and ensure probity in their accounting systems. Investigative panels of the House have been unrelenting to ensure that the monies appropriated for public good are judiciously utilized. If the revenue base is widened, the budget deficit will also be impacted.

The reforms introduced by the ninth Assembly in the appropriations process, “including establishing a January to December budget cycle, improving oversight procedures, and ensuring greater fidelity to the letter and spirit of our appropriation laws, have led to measurable improvements in public infrastructure, access to education and housing, healthcare and transportation, amongst others.

“These improvements, which have had a positive impact on the lives of millions of Nigerians across the country, inspire us to do more”, he said, adding: “We have a continued obligation to ensure that in considering this Appropriation Bill, we make all deliberate efforts to ensure that we continue to make critical investments in education and healthcare, public infrastructure and national security. Through these investments, we can hope to build an economy that provides enough well-paying jobs for our young population so that we can, in our lifetime, end endemic poverty in our country and eradicate the social ills that derive therefrom”.

Ukwata wrote from Abuja