Although some federal officials are still in denial of the fact, it is obvious that the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has realised that the 2016 Budget proposal he recently presented to the National Assembly is full of gaping holes that need to be plugged if the country is to get the change the All Progressives Congress (APC) promised to bring to the body-politic.
We find it heart-warming and take it as a good sign that the Presidency, presumably having aggregated all criticisms of the gross inadequacies in the 2016 Appropriation from several quarters, including this newspaper, wants to amend the budget proposal in line with these well intentioned criticisms in line with current realities.
We commend President Buhari and his officials for listening to the outcries against the budget proposal and for having the courage to effect changes on the document. We condemn, however, both the back-door approach adopted by the Executive to amend the budget and the clear objective of playing politics with the development by the National Assembly, especially the Senate, which raised the false and misleading alarm that the budget was missing from its custody.
Except for some egos that may be bruised, there is nothing to be ashamed about in the Executive’s attempt to amend the 2016 budget to correct its shortcomings before its consideration and passage by the National Assembly. If anything, President Buhari and his cabinet have only demonstrated that they value feedbacks from Nigerians and would readily make amends based on citizens’ superior arguments, for the progress of the country.
We urge President Buhari to take the official steps to withdraw the 2016 Budget from the National Assembly in order to amend it legally as he and his aides obviously desire to do, or send in an addendum to the document.
In effecting the much-needed amendments to the budget, however, the President and his aides must think creatively and big enough to address the urgent challenges Nigeria faces today, especially infrastructure deficits and the youth unemployment time-bomb, which in our view the 2016 Budget as laid down before the National Assembly had not addressed adequately.
We suggest that the President include in the new amendments plans to spend on self-liquidating public works projects at least N3 trillion in each of the six geo-political zones of the country in fiscal year 2016. These projects must, all at once, address our nation’s infrastructure deficits in critical sectors and capable of creating direct and ancillary jobs for millions of Nigerians, especially the youth.
By way of practical examples, we suggest that the added N3 trillion per zone could be used in part as follows:
North-East: Build a hydro dam in the Adamawa axis to generate more megawatts of electricity and end the perennial embarrassment, loss of lives and property that several states in Nigeria suffer each time the Republic of Cameroun opens up Lagdo dam;
North West: Revamp all moribund textile companies in this zone, which would employ hundreds of thousands of youth, clothe the country and save foreign exchange currently being used to import textile. Ownership of the textile firms should be vested in their employees who must work, according to a pay-back plan drawn up by consultants-experts, to offset the costs of bringing these textile companies back on stream to be incurred by the Federal Government;
North-Central: Build industries to exploit solid minerals in the zone for export. These industries should be set up with fresh graduates and low-skill workers living in the region from all parts of the country, who would be supervised by consultants-expert. They would operate the industries with a view to making returns on investment to the Federal Government and become full owners of the mining firms after they must have fully pay back into federal coffers the public funds invested in their companies.
South-South: Build specific industries to accommodate the new skill sets acquired by youths of this region under the presidential amnesty programme;
South-East: Massive public works to stop the problem of flooding and road infrastructure deficits in the area; build export-focused industries/markets to tap into the manufacturing/trading preferences of these energetic and highly resourceful region of the country, which would also be fully owned by their employees after refunding invested funds to the Federal Government;
South-West: Build export-oriented industries that would be manned by freshly recruited graduates living in the region from all parts of the country, who would be supervised by consultants-expert. These new industry would be run with a view to making returns on investment to the Federal Government and handed over to the fresh graduates operating them after they must have fully pay up the public funds invested in the firms.
The N3 trillion per zone could also be used to build rail infrastructure to link the six zones to the Federal Capital Territory, which would effectively become the convergence cum transit point to accessing any part of the country by rail, and ease pressure off inter-state roads nationwide.
Although opposition politicians and so-called economists have slated the borrowing plans in the 2016 Budget, they largely missed the point. This newspaper only takes exception to the external borrowing components of the budget. We are of the well-considered view that Nigeria must stop borrowing in foreign currencies, as this could only spell doom for the country.
The way to go is to look inwards, block all revenue leakage to make more funds available for budget execution, creatively tinker with policies to generate more funds for the Federal Government and support indigenous entrepreneurship, especially to increase their capacity to export.
If we do these and patriotically stand up for our country in unison, Nigeria could consistently fund a federal budget of at least N25 trillion per year, without external borrowing, and leapfrog our country into modernisation and the 21st Century.
If at all there is any need to borrow to fund the budget, this must be done domestically only. Currently, more than N5 trillion sits idly in the coffers of the pension commission, which neither has any immediate needs for this huge fund nor, perhaps, know how to creatively use it for national development. President Buhari and his team could borrow this domestic pension fund to execute an expanded 2016 Budget as this newspaper suggests here.
In any case, we are of the strident view that among the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS), the Nigerian Customs Services, Nigerian Ports Authority, NIMASA and a couple of other revenue-generating federal agencies, the government can raise more than N30 trillion to fund massive public works to kick the Nigerian economy back to life without any borrowing whatsoever and consistently execute a N25 trillion budget over the next four years for Nigeria’s transformation.
This, we submit, is a veritable way to effect the radical change President Buhari and the APC pledged Nigerians.