- “Procrastination is the grave in which opportunity is buried,” – Brewer Stock, Vanguard Book of Quotations, VBQ, p 202.
- I’ll require a formidable cabinet for the task ahead,” – President Buhari, July 2, 2019, in Abuja.
By Dele Sobowale
Buhari made that statement during a visit by his self-centred fan club – Buhari Media Organisation, BMO. For those in that bandwagon, the President can do no wrong because they seldom can think of the consequences of his mistakes. The Nigerian 2019 Presidential elections ended in February. Buhari had four months to select his cabinet. Instead of doing that, he is giving the same excuse he gave in 2015 when he waited until October to appoint Ministers. Two sad repercussions of that delay were experienced predictably.
First, the 2016 Budget was delivered very late to the National Assembly, NASS, and it was so hastily put together by the Ministers that economists and financial experts knew it was bound to fail. Second, as we all know, the country ended 2016 with its first economic recession since 1984. That was also under Buhari as Military Head of State.
Those who argued for speedy appointment of Ministers were countered by the economic Know-Nothings, like BMO, and his Senior Special Advisers who believed that he was taking his time to ensure he recruited the best people.
Today, there is no evidence that his Ministers had left Nigeria better in 2019 than they found it in 2015. So, what was the benefit of waiting five months just to appoint failures as Ministers? Nobody can point to any Ministry and honestly proclaim that it was better managed under Buhari. The question now is: has Buhari developed the ability to select a better team in 2019 than he did in 2015?
“Hain’t we got all the fools on our side? And, hain’t that a big enough majority in any town [or country]? Mark Twain, 1835-1910. (VBQ p 63).
There is no reassurance on that. Instead, the current delays only reinforce the belief that Nigeria lacks a learning government. The same mistakes are repeated and the same excuses are rendered for them and the same gullible supporters accept them. The supporters and Senior Advisers accept the excuses because they are totally ignorant of the importance and role of TIME in the budget cycle, in national economic planning, growth and development. Forget the almajiris who constitute the majority of voters. Anything done by the FG is right — even if it results in Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world and most of their children don’t attend schools, and are destined to become illiterates like them.
The budget cycle starts with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, which covers the next three years – in this case 2020, 2021 and 2022. That must be submitted to the National Assembly first – with copies sent to global financial institutions including World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, IMF and African Development Bank, AfDB etc.
Nations which grow fast and lift millions out of poverty have long realised that planning to succeed is the first step; so they take the MTEF seriously. They also ensure that it is handed to their lawmakers in time for them to work on it before the following year’s budget is received. To get the MTEF prepared and on time generally requires that a cabinet is in place with a particular Minister – usually Minister of Budget and Planning or Finance — charged with submitting the proposal to the NASS.
For the last four years the MTEF had been submitted late by the FG; so was the budget each year. The combination of late MTEF and late budget had led to poor implementation of the appropriation bill each year. Low growth of Gross Domestic Product, GDP, owes a lot to procrastination which the President takes as a virtue. That also explains the difference between Nigeria and India.
Like the Nigerian President, the Prime Minister of India was re-elected in late April. Mr Mordi announced his cabinet three days after results were announced and India has completed all the economic plans within a month after their appointments. India is expected to grow by at least seven per cent this year and lift close to five million out of poverty. Where does Nigeria stand?
“FG should submit MTEF by July and 2020 Budget by September”.
Federal House Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila. VANGUARD, July 3, 2019.
Gbajabiamila has been in the NASS since the legislative branch opened shop in 1999 and he is perhaps the longest serving member of the chamber. Whether or not he has any major contributions to his credit is very much in doubt. But, he must have learnt from long and bitter experience how the Federal and State Governments in Nigeria collectively and individually create poverty in Nigeria through the levity with which they manage budgets. Every elected government, since self-opinionated Obasanjo, had treated annual budgets as a joke. None had felt any remorse for failing to deliver on the promises made in the budget. In fact the leaders we elected had been far more irresponsible than the military in this respect. The situation has reached its worst depth in the last four years.
In the last four years, budget supposed to start on January 1, was not signed until May or June – virtually making a mockery of the budget process. In 2015, Buhari added another feature to that implied disaster-in-making. He took five months to appoint Ministers. Obviously, he could not see the direct link between that measure and the recession which followed in 2016. Late budget became the pattern and we ended four years with GDP growth averaging less than one per cent – while the population grew at 3 per cent and Nigeria became Poverty Capital of the world.
From what is happening now, the FG still has not learnt anything. Gbajabiamila was wasting his time when he made that request. Today is July 8 and the Ministers to work on the MTEF have not been appointed. So, how can it be ready for presentation to the NASS? Even a cabinet full of geniuses cannot produce a credible budget by September – even if appointed this morning.
Clearly, in July 2019, we are back with the same mistakes made in 2015. Now, as then, economic Know-Nothings, went to Buhari to hail him for “taking his time to appoint Ministers”. He received them with open arms!!!
One characteristic of black people we refuse to admit is apparent here. We are the only human race whose leaders will repeat the same mistakes twenty times over and still find people hailing them. Example – Mugabe in Zimbabwe until the end. We must enjoy being poor. As Saul Bellow once said, “There is a pleasure in being mad which none but mad men know.” (VBQ p 147).