Last week, President Muhammadu Buhari submitted the last budget of his administration, a historic figure of N20.51 trillion for the 2023 fiscal year.
The budget has raised concerns among Nigerians over the plan to borrow over N10 trillion. More importantly, the budget highlights the failure of the Buhari administration to keep its promise of reducing the cost of governance.
During the campaign in 2015, candidate Buhari had insisted he will cut down the cost of governance starting with reducing the presidential fleets.
At the emergence of Buhari in 2015, the presidential fleet had one Boeing Business Jet 737, one Gulfstream G550, one Gulfstream G500, one Hawker 4000, two Falcon 7X, two AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters, and two AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters.
Aside from that, the 2015 APC manifesto specifically proposed a reduction of the cost of governance.
“We will reduce the overall number of bloated and unnecessary parastatals, through ‘amalgamation and abolition. However, we recognize that in some instances, we will need to create new agencies to push forward our economic agenda,” the manifesto read in part.
Despite the promises by President Buhari that these assets would be sold, Saga Gist reports that the several attempts have not produced results.
Meanwhile, that is not the main issue, the cost of maintaining these entities has skyrocketed in the past couple of years.
In 2020, the federal budget was only N10.59 trillion naira, in the last two years, the budget of the federal government has increased by 100% to N20.51 trillion.
To put the proposed budget in proper context, the N20.51 trillion budget for 2023 is 500% more than the last budget of Goodluck Jonathan in 2015 which was N4.5trillion for the 2015 fiscal year.
Not only has the budget continued to increase under Buhari, but the cost of governance has increased tremendously. For instance, N1.8 trillion was voted for personnel costs in 2015 for the entire government, however, in 2023 N1 trillion is proposed for the Ministry of Defence alone for personnel costs.
Sada Soli, a lawmaker from Katsina, had also raised concerns about the increase in personnel cost during the debate on the budget on Wednesday.
“There are a lot of things that are going wrong because we overlook the issue of Personnel Cost in our budget scrutiny. This is the time to scrutinize this personnel cost. A lot of shenanigans are going on with the issue of Personnel Costs. So, we must not shy away from scrutinizing it, cut if we need to because a lot is going wrong,” he said.
Also, in terms of debt servicing, the federal government is proposing to spend N6.31 trillion to service existing debt, compared to President Jonathan that allocated N935 billion for servicing of debt in 2015.
In the last 7years of President Buhari, cost of governance and debt servicing continue to grow exponentially despite the promises he made to curtail the cost of governance. The spike is so alarming the members of the House of Representatives in different committees have raised alarm on several occasions.
It would be recalled that the House Committee on Finance queried the Pension Commission for spending N14.6 billion on the salaries of 500 staff. This figure put the average salary in the commission at N2.4 million monthly.
Aside from salaries, several revenue-generating agencies were accused by the lawmakers of spending a large chunk of their revenue and remitting very little to the government as operating surplus. This dominated the public hearing on the Medium Term Expenditure Framework as several agencies were indicted for spending a large chunk of the revenue.
All these happened despite the promise by President Buhari to reduce the cost of governance. In addition, the president has been paying lip service to the implementation of the Oronsaye Report on cutting down the size of government by merging or even scrapping some agencies.
Amiemenoghena Ami-Okhani, an expert on fiscal policy, said Mr Buhari made some little efforts in reducing the cost of governance in 2015 by reducing his number of Ministers, downplaying the office of the First Lady and other measures.
“Cutting down on the cost of governance was not captured in the next level document. He tried to cut down costs in his first tenure. In the first term, we were made to believe that there is no office of the first lady. He talked about selling aircraft and also reduced his ministers. In his second term, he changed all that,” he said.
He stated that there are legal considerations when it comes to cutting down cost of governance because the existing large government is due to trying to balance the ethno-religious factor.
“Cutting down governance is beyond what the president wants. Perception is more than reality. What does an average Nigerian see when it comes to the cost of governance? Our fiscal policy is wasteful. Nigeria’s fiscal policy does not aim to create wealth.
“It aims at solving political issues. If you want to build an airport as a president, you must be required to build in the six geopolitical zones for equity- that is wasteful. If Lagos is the best, why not focus on them? The polarizing nature of the regional-ethno-religious ranks higher than fiscal discipline. Nigerians want a sense of being there- their tribal or ethnic persons being there.”
Despite the uproar over growing debt, NASS budget moves from N134 billion to N169 billion
While the National Assembly has been vocal about the growing debt due to the huge spending, the lawmakers will also be getting a huge largesse from the 2023 budget.
The government has increased the budget of the National Assembly from N134 billion in 2022 to N169 billion. This means the National Assembly will be getting N35 billion extra in 2023.
It remains unclear if the lawmakers will cut their budget in the face of mounting debt.
Dr Adesanya Moses, a lecturer at the Nigerian Army University, said that there is a need to factor in inflation when discussing the increase in the cost of governance.
According to him, “items under overhead and capital cost are affected by the rising inflation in the economy.
“Prices of things rarely come down. When you look at it. It is easy for things to go up but not go down. This money that is budgeted for, will be used for the procurement of goods and services. Then the factor of inflation has to come in. Prices of things have increased, therefore, the budget must increase.”