This discourse will explore a few examples of that spirit of sacrifice and selflessness that will be demanded in the next coming days. Members of the “change party”, the All Progressives Congress, are now in the majority in the National Assembly and a good number of them were in the Seventh Legislature and have been re-elected. The National Assembly has been appropriating N150bn to itself in the last five years and media reports indicate that it has been “reduced” to N125bn following the nation’s dwindling resources. The first test for an APC-led federal parliament is to reduce the vote to not more than N75bn in the first year and progressively reduce it to about N60bn over the coming years. For the new President, we expect a slash in the budget of the Presidency to cut off the play on words where a particular building gets a vote for rehabilitation, maintenance and repairs at the same time; the demand for hundreds of millions to feed the State House and similar frivolities. The sacrifice in the Presidency and the National Assembly will set the tune for action to cut down waste, duplications and frivolities in the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government.
The idea that the vote of the National Assembly and other agencies on statutory transfers is stated in the budget as a bulk sum that contains no details or disaggregation is a clear case of opaque budgeting. This applies to the budgets of the National Assembly, the National Judicial Council, the National Human Rights Commission, the Niger Delta Development Commission, the Universal Basic Education Commission, the Independent National Electoral Commission, etc. An order of the Federal High Court in Suit No: FHC/ABJ/CS/301/2013; – In the Matter of Centre for Social Justice Vs Minister of Finance delivered on the February 25, 2014, granting the applicants the right of access to the details of the statutory transfers in the 2013 budget has been disobeyed and is still the subject of contempt proceedings before Hon. Justice A. A. Kafarati of the Federal High Court. Other civil society organisations have also sought at different times to get access to information about the budget of the National Assembly to no avail. An APC led-National Assembly must therefore stop this madness and let the details of all appropriations of public resources be available to all Nigerians in the spirit of change.
In this era of change, we must ensure that public servants like the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives are not entitled by law to a battery of aides and personal assistants that draw salaries and perks in tens of millions every month. We must also prune down the number of special assistants and aides in the Presidency and other levels of elected governance. All these reforms need an informed citizenry making informed demands and not blind following based on some outdated feudal theories of leadership.
For the following, refusing to intervene in an informed manner in policy and budgetary decisions will only end in further underdevelopment. For instance, the elbow room for the new administration has been very much narrowed in the matter of fuel subsidy. No amount of posturing or ideological positioning will change an obviously bad set of fiscal facts. If the government is already borrowing to pay salaries and will borrow to pay over N1tn in subsidies by year end, then we should all prepare for the great fiscal implosion. The populace must be ready and willing to make the right sacrifice so that the economic ship of state will start sailing on an even keel. On the matter of the $63bn indebtedness, it is clear that contrary to the Fiscal Responsibility Act, federal and state governments were borrowing to fund recurrent expenditure in personnel and overhead costs. It was and still is an unsustainable practice because the expenditure does not build a source or contribute to the capacity for future repayment. The implication is that we have a bloated public service which should be restructured to manageable levels. If we oppose these reforms and continue business as usual, the debt will further accrue in geometric proportions and the cost of servicing them will further increase from the current 22 per cent of retained revenue to about 30 per cent of revenue by the 2016 federal budget.
Nigerians should be prepared to protest against the nomination and appointment of corrupt persons or persons accused of corruption into high offices of government. Yes, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. But the accused should also be excused from the management of public resources so that he would have enough time to clear his good name. In the declaration of assets, the expectation is that the National Assembly will initiate and expeditiously consider a bill setting out the process and procedure for the asset declarations to be made public so that the Code of Conduct Bureau will have no excuse for its refusal to allow the public know the details of the declarations.
It will be unfortunate if four years down the line, we have not moved farther than we are on the development ladder. It is therefore important that our engagement becomes rigorous and vigorous, issue-led and proffering solutions on specific policy points. Nigerians at the state level should seriously begin to question and engage governance at the state and local government levels. The governors have mismanaged a lot of resources and contributed a lot to the stagnation of their states. They have managed both the state and local government statutory allocations in the last 16 years with little or nothing to show for the accrued trillions of naira. If no one challenges them, they will continue their deviant behaviour but they will likely retrace their steps if the price for deviancy is to steep.
Nigerians, the hour and the moment we have been waiting for has come. Let us seize it with both hands.