In Nigeria, the normal financial year starts in January and ends in December in line with the provisions of the 1999 Constitution. In the last nineteen years of democracy, budgets have always been delayed. It is now a culture to delay budget submissions and approvals. This year’s budget baptized “Budget of Consolidation” has gone the way of those in previous years. Reasons given for the delay by lawmakers are most times flimsy. You will hear expressions like “failure of ministries, departments and agencies to present their budget proposals to the legislature.” This writer is concerned about annual delays in preparing national budgets for necessary constitutional processes that leads to untimely appropriation and assent into law. Are we saying these government institutions are not under command? Someone is responsible for the efficient running of these institutions. So Nigerians should not be made to wait infinitely for the budget to be appropriated by the National Assembly (NASS) because some people in the government are irresponsible.
The 2018 budget was submitted to a joint session of the NASS by Mr President on 7 November 2017. Since then, members of the NASS have always expressed their willingness in spirit to pass the 2018 budget but their flesh is weak. The attitude of our federal lawmakers with respect to late passing of the budget is below acceptable standard. The delay of the 2018 budget, according to reports, is the longest in nineteen years of the nation’s democracy. This has negative consequences for Africa’s largest economy. Contrary to the expectations of the federal government, there is no “consolidation” of the country’s economy.
The unemployed and underemployed have adopted the “watch and pray” strategy for their survival. The private sector gurus are studying carefully the tide of events in the political and economic arenas. Our lawmakers have lost their priorities by not passing the budget on time. This deliberate and unjustifiable delay of the 2018 budget is not good for democracy. This writer wonders whether both the executive and the legislature are in tune with events in other parts of the world. The State of Israel has passed its 2019 budget while that of the United States of America is already awaiting the approval of Congress.
It beats this writer’s imagination why there is a delay in passing the budget. Whatever reasons advanced by the NASS is not acceptable to most Nigerians. The delay in appropriating the budget is a violation of the relevant provisions of the Constitution. Our lawmakers must not forget that the nation’s economy is still fragile. We are in a season where serious issues affecting production and trade should be at the front burner of national discourse. But what has taken the centre stage of public debate is how to curb banditry, killings and looting. Yes, the debate is imperative as national security is severely compromised. But those in government have not proffered workable solutions. The government has not devoted ample time to discuss how to create wealth for citizens. And how best national income is to be distributed with a view to ensuring that Nigeria is a prosperous nation of almost 200 million people.
The Senate President and other lawmakers have tried to justify why the 2018 budget has not been passed in the fifth month of the year. They say, budget appropriation is demanding and they need to take their time to do a “good job.” But Nigerians know the budget is delayed due to unhealthy executive-legislative relationship. The Presidency and the NASS know that a house divided against itself cannot stand. Nigerians are frustrated and are eager to know why they have not benefitted much from democracy in the last nineteen years. Those in power, “are reluctant to help the poor,” some analysts say. What is the portion of the poor in Nigeria? Less privileged Nigerians have been forced to look for other means of survival as jobs are not readily available.
It is not a hyperbole that the relationship between the executive and legislature at the federal level is not smooth since 2015 when the APC-led government came to power. Recently, the Senate delayed the confirmation of government nominees presented by the executive. Often, the Senate drags its feet on matters of national importance. This was reflected in the sluggish manner the appointments of 27 INEC Resident Commissioners, and nominations of CBN deputy governors and members of the Monetary Policy Committee were confirmed. When the NASS presents bills to the executive for presidential assent, expression of approval by Mr President has not been forthcoming on a few instances. Due to the rift between the executive and the legislative arms of the government, the country cannot face squarely its security, economic and political challenges. Mr President has been accused by the NASS of violating the constitution for disbursing funds from the federation account to procure twelve Turcano jets for the Nigerian Air Force without due process. Nigeria is in a dire situation where both the executive and the legislature constitute themselves into laws. This is dangerous for democracy. Contravening the provisions of the constitution by both the executive and the legislature gives Nigerians and other international observers the feeling that democracy in Nigeria is in troubled times. Those in the government must learn to respect the rule of law and protect democracy. Anything to the contrary is setting a corrupt example to the rest of the society that they need not obey the constitution.
When will the 2018 budget be passed? The Economic Recovery Growth Plan (EGRP) of the federal government, we were told, is private sector driven. But how will the economy grow when there is very tense relationship between the NASS and the Presidency? It is time to get the budget cycle right. The country must give consideration to having one budget for the first term of four years of any elected government to forestall delay in the passage of annual budgets.