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Buhari’s budget blues

By Emmanuel Aziken

The presentation of the 2020 budget proposals to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday was another opportunity for Nigerians to appreciate the workings of a democracy.

The pomp and pageantry that go with the budget presentation in Nigeria almost rival the similar scenario in Britain when Her Majesty delivers the Queen’s speech to outline the priorities of her government for the year ahead.

Buhari, APC
President Buhari

The sight of Her Royal Majesty moving in a carriage has almost been copied in Nigeria, with the president being escorted by troops on horseback to the National Assembly complex.

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Budget day in Nigeria is extraordinary in the life of staff and stakeholders of the National Assembly.

The first thing to be observed is that security of the National Assembly complex is normally taken away from the sergeant-at-arms on budget day.

The sergeant-at-arms who is the chief security officer of the National Assembly, is traditionally, a retired senior military or police officer. On budget day, the security apparatus of the presidential villa takes over in the hours before the president arrives until he leaves.

Given that the villa security details are not accustomed to the National Assembly staff, it is often a hectic time for National Assembly staff and stakeholders. For journalists, even those who have passed through the rigorous National Assembly accreditation process, another accreditation is done for the one day that the president is going to deliver the budget.

Those who do not give heed to the guidelines as stipulated for that day often find themselves to blame whether lawmaker, staff or journalist.

It is thus not surprising that those who can avoid the brusque and often stifling ambience that is brought about by the villa security opt to stay away if they can.

Irrespective of the stiffness that envelopes the National Assembly complex on budget day, it is, however, a different scenario inside the chamber of the House of Representatives where the presentation is made. The boisterousness inside the chamber is often a contrast to the stiffness outside.

Before the president arrives, legislators take time to banter with ministers and administration officials.

Once the president arrives the tempo inside is defined by the relationship between the two arms of government.

Often, legislators on the wrong side of the politics of the president use the immunity of the floor to deride the president.

On account of his opposition to the emergence of Alhaji Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as Speaker in 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan had a difficult time managing the tempers of the legislators of that time. His problem was solved after he engaged Senator Joy Emodi as his special adviser on National Assembly Matters.

The Anambra legislator, in turn, used her goodwill to temper the rage of the legislators often calling the “troublesome ones” on the eve of Jonathan’s presentation of the budget. However, after Dr. Emodi was removed from her position in one of the most puzzling acts undertaken in President Jonathan’s name, he established the undignified record of being the only incumbent and physically fit president to avoid the physical presentation of the budget.

Indeed, after Mrs. Emodi’s removal, Dr. Jonathan did not step foot inside the National Assembly complex till he left office.

As President Buhari’s relationship with the legislative branch deteriorated in his first four years, it became uncertain as to whether the president would skip the yearly ritual in 2018.

In the end, the president braved it, and the legislators who had suffered the worst indignity under his hands gave it back to him with catcalls.

For the first time on live television, Nigerians saw Buhari being booed and jeered by the legislators, some calling him a liar for saying that the economy and the security improved under his watch.

However, a year on, and under a brand new National Assembly, the ambience was different last Tuesday as the president presented his 2020 spending plans.

With a National Assembly leadership almost wholly dictated by the president, the tendency to insubordination was absent as the president delivered a very tight spending plan.

For the first time in the nation’s history, debt service has overtaken plans for capital expenditure. Even more, the miserly proposals for education and health have drawn chastisement from development economists with questions as to the administration’s commitment to the future of the Nigerian youth.

The proposal of N82 billion for education, mostly secondary and tertiary, is indeed, undeserving for a sector that really needs more attention for its capacity to lift the potentials of the younger population.

Given that the spate of insecurity and banditry is fuelled by the lack of education, it is surprising that the administration is blind-sided on the issue. Indeed, the children whose education are neglected today would compound the poverty situation that the country has now infamously been reputed for.

Remarkably, the power of the purse is in the legislature. However, given the tepid approach of this and past National Assemblies to enforcing their power, it is doubtful to what extent the legislature will do in addressing the gapping fiscal inconsistencies that are in the budget that has been laid before it.

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