Essays / The Pontifical Papers

ON BUDGETS, SYSTEMS, AND OTHER BOTHERS | by Ayo Sogunro

AYO SOGUNRO PRESEN

  • President Buhari gave a nice budget presentation speech earlier this month—and the National Assembly closed it off with an equally nice prayer. The least we can say is, we now know that the Nigerian economy is safe in the hands of divine guardians—if they are not still busy trying to resolve the more pressing situations in Burundi, Syria and Iraq.
    .
  • Nevertheless, since the 1950s (when mass elections became a thing) Nigeria’s federal budget has been, really, the whole point of contesting elections and financing a political candidate–or shortcutting office through guns. The budget is, figuratively, the National Cake on an annual platter. Take a good look at our annual budgets and—if you know those type of people—you can just tell whose house addresses you have to start sending your holiday hampers.
    .
  • Some people refer to the 2016 Budget as “The Budget of Hope”. I don’t know what this phrase means in practical terms. From indications, it seems that  the government is intent on leaning even more on Nigerians through taxes and tolls. And this is despite owning all mineral resources and indirectly owning all land in Nigeria; charging fees for social utilities (like electricity  and public transport); charging fees for customs and excise; and charging fees through regulatory bodies (like NAFDAC, CAC, or SEC). Yet, it’s not as if all that revenue will be redistributed, through some compensatory welfare scheme, to the needy populace who have been victims of past (and present!) governments.
    .
  • This is not just pessimism. Unlike the US, for example, which spends almost half of its budget on social security and healthcare for citizens, our budget revenue is practically spent on making our government comfortable. A sizeable lot (about 70% for 2016) is—to put it very simply—just for the smooth running of all the offices controlled from Abuja. In short, our economic plan is largely to ensure enough coffee for everybody in Aso Rock, and first class air-conditioning for the good people of the National Assembly.
    .
  • The remainder 30% of the budget will be used (Budget of Hopefully) to fund research, execute projects and generally do stuff that, often, tends to benefit only a minority percentage of the country (that is, the educationally and financially privileged) which could explain why these privileged folks—who don’t quite understand the meaning of “110 million Nigerians are living below the poverty line”—rarely notice anything wrong in a budget that leans on taxes without corresponding per capita welfare.
    .
  • Meanwhile, somewhere between the budget helping the government and helping the upwardly mobile citizenry, a small portion of the revenue will definitely disappear, quietly and mysteriously, into much more private hands.
    .
  • And so, we can see that Nigeria’s federal budget (or, to use it’s formal name, the “Appropriation Bill”) is—in general—simply the process of legitimising federal loot and distributing it legally. It doesn’t matter whether the money is used to pay pensions to ex-Heads of State, buy unnecessary software, or maintain the presidential zoo, it is all legal so long as it is set out in the Appropriation Bill and the National Assembly okays it.
    .
  • And so the real problem with corruption and government inefficiency is not just the question of spending funds illegally, but of spending funds in the type of System we operate. The politicians in Abuja have consistently proven that their own needs come before the needs of the population. And it is difficult to manage these politicians because, not only are they too remote, but their processes are too complicated for even the ordinarily literate Nigerian to grasp intuitively.
    .
  • Nigeria is simply too large and diverse a country for major aspects of its economic and social policy to be run competently from the centre. And, no matter how clever the financial people in Abuja are, the budget is just not guaranteed to positively affect the person selling midnight suya in Abeokuta on his own capital, paying rates to the local government, taxes to the state, and yet without any assurance of public security, adequate lighting or efficient mass transit–because “Federal Government”.
    .
  • But, of course, politicians don’t want us to dismantle this colonially-designed and militarily-perfected System. Individually, they may agree that, indeed, it is a rotten system but, collectively, they are satisfied with its rewarding machinery. So, they convince us to keep giving them another chance with another party vehicle. “Vote Jonathan”, they will say in one year. Then another year: “Sorry, our apologies. Jonathan is pretty awful. Here, try Buhari too. This Buhari is the real deal”. Meanwhile, budget after budget goes down the drain and another year passes in government wastage.
    .
  • And so, we keep looking for the good leader instead of working on reforming the System and reducing the money that passes through the federal government. Well, our current good leader has also allocated some N4billion Naira to maintain official cars. I am sure there are some pretty good reasons why Nigerian politicians cannot quite walk from place to place or take a bus like most of us in the country, but I don’t think those reasons are worth N4billion Naira in these times. I had been looking forward to an “austerity” budget across board by President Buhari. But, I guess even the Presidency isn’t ready to sacrifice the simple pleasures of office just yet.
    .
  • Look, I still don’t believe in the ability of any individual to change Nigeria by “sheer personality”—in the absence of any serious constitutional reform. But, still, for small changes like the use of fancy cars, buying funky software, upgrading private zoos, and purchasing fine brands of coffee, I would have liked to see the President’s austere personality in action. This typical budgetary template doesn’t inspire my confidence in the government.
    .
  • Well, in any case, we can always fall back on our prayers.

Follow @ayosogunro on twitter for more engagement, buy my books, and—if you really like stimulating, if sometimes annoying, thoughts on socio-legal philosophy—enter your email in the right sidebar to get notifications of fresh talk on this fine blog.

Oh, and my most recent book “Everything in Nigeria is Going to Kill You” was listed by Pulse, Channels TV Book Club, and Guardian Newspaper as a top book of 2015. Say cheers!

Advertisements

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s