Osinbajo said to sign 2017 budget today


June 12, 2017 | 2:34 pm
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Barring any last minute changes, Acting Nigerian President Yemi Osinbajo, will today sign the 2017 budget appropriation bill, according to some presidency sources, as the West African nation pounds pavements to exit its first recession in 25 years.

Presidency officials confirmed to BusinessDay that the signing event has been scheduled for today, as grey areas between the Executive and the Legislative arms of government are said to have been cleared.

Preparatory to the conclusion of the budget process which has lasted seven months, the Acting President met with members of the two chambers of the National Assembly led by Senate President Busola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, on Saturday morning.
The N7.441 trillion 2017 budget, tagged “Budget of Growth and Recovery” was approved by the National Assembly on 11th May, a 21 percent increase from the initial amount submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari on Dec 14 2016. The approved bill was then returned to the President for final assent on the 19th of May, 2017.

The two chambers of Parliament debate and approve spending plans separately before harmonizing their proposals into a single document sent to the president to sign into law. Buhari’s deputy, now acting President Yemi Osinbajo, will sign the bill in the absence of his boss, who flew to London on May 8 for treatment of an undisclosed ailment. The 74 year-old leader’s ill health has fueled concern about his ability to rule Africa’s most-populous nation of 180 million people. Buhari will not return home from medical leave in Britain at the weekend, presidency sources said on Saturday, having previously said the ailing leader would be returning by then. 

The ailing president is said to have backed the move by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to sign the 2017 budget, according to a statement signed by Senior Special Assistant to the President, Garba Shehu, on Monday.
The statement which came about an hour to the assent of the 2017 spending plan has been deemed by many as unnecessary. The two paragraphed statement was released in Abuja while Osinbajo was on his way from Anambra. Industry watchers say this confirms there may have alternative plans.
The statement which read in part said following the receipt of a full brief on the 2017 Appropriation Bill as passed by the National Assembly, and “to buttress the unity at the highest level of government, President Muhammadu Buhari has indicated that it is in the interest of the nation’s economy for the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, to sign the Appropriation Bill into law”.
Shehu said in a letter dated June 10, 2017, “which he personally signed and addressed to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, the President also said he was “pleased by the joint resolution that the Executive  would submit next year’s budget proposals by October 2017 and the National Assembly will conclude the Appropriation process by December 2017, so that the country can return to a normal fiscal period from next year onwards.”

The budget’s passage paves the way for the government to borrow 2.3 trillion naira, 46 percent of which will be from abroad, to help plug this year’s fiscal deficit at 2.18 percent of gross domestic product. Buhari asked lawmakers on April 27 to approve the borrowing of $7 billion from China and the World Bank to build railroads and help recovery of northeastern Nigeria. The region has been adversely affected by Jihadist group Boko Haram’s insurgency.

Nigeria’s economy, which vies with South Africa’s to be the largest on the continent, shrunk by 1.5 percent last year, the first contraction since 1991, after revenue from oil, its biggest export, fell by almost half. About 30 percent of the budget will be spent on roads, rail, ports and power to help stimulate business activity.

Unconfirmed sources had hinted of huge discrepancies noticed in the course of consultations over the budget. Presidency sources had also told BusinessDay that the budget was actually to be signed penultimate Thursday but a meeting to clear the grey areas, only ended last week.

At the meetings the Presidency was said to be displeased that the leadership of the National Assembly unilaterally introduced more than 400 ‘strange projects’ into the budget before belatedly approving it last month. Some of the projects are said to be roads, health centres, recreational centres, water and electricity schemes among others.

The Nigerian economy contracted by 0.5 percent in the first three months of 2017. The IMF forecasts a 0.8 percent growth for the full-year.

ELIZABETH ARCHIBONG (Edited by Lolade Akinmurele)

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June 12, 2017 | 2:34 pm
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