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Editorial

2020 Budget: Matters Arising

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Not satisfied, some economic experts and the political class have since expressed concern over the N10.33 trillion budget recently presented by President Muhammadu Buhari to the joint session of the National Assembly for the 2020 fiscal year, describing the oil benchmark at $57 per barrel and crude oil production of 2.18 million bpd as unrealistic.
President Buhari had presented a budget indicating recurrent expenditure of N4.88 trillion and N2.14 trillion of capital expenditure in the figures based on $57/barrel oil price and 7.5 percent VAT.
Allocations to some MDAs are as follows: Works and Housing – N262 billion, Transportation – N123 billion, UBE – N112 billion, Defence – N100 billion, Agriculture – N83 billion, Water – N82 billion, Niger Delta – N81 billion, Education – N48 billion, Health – N46 billion, NEDC – N38 billion, SIP – N30 billion, FCT – N28 billion, Power – N127 billion, NDDC -N80.88 billion and Zonal Intervention Projects – N100 billion.
Buhari also put the Federal Government’s estimated revenue in 2020 at N8.155 trillion, comprising oil revenue of N2.64 trillion, non-oil tax revenues of N1.81 trillion and other revenue of N3.7 trillion.Other estimates are N556.7 billion for statutory transfers; N2.45 trillion for debt servicing and provision of N296 billion as sinking fund.
The 2020 budget is based on an oil production estimate of 2.18 million barrels per day, oil price benchmark of 57 dollars per barrel and an exchange rate of N305 to a dollar. Other benchmarks are real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), growth rate of 2.93 percent while inflation rate “is expected to remain slightly above single digits in 2020.”
While condemning the Federal Government’s decision to base the estimated revenue from Value Added Tax (VAT) in 2020 on 7.5 percent instead of five percent, economic analysts also decried the abysmal allocations to agriculture, health, education and the Social Investment Programme.
The Tide aligns itself with the fears expressed by pundits that the paltry sums allocated to vital sectors portray continued downward trends in the allocations to these key sectors that have direct bearing on the living standard of the citizenry and should be reviewed.
It is pertinent to make provisions for the adequate funding of Agriculture, Health and Education sectors given their strategic importance. Agriculture employs up to 80 percent of the population, especially in the informal sector, where the majority of the small-scale food producers are women farmers.
Similarly, the health sector requires improved funding, as our health centres, maternities and hospitals lack basic essential facilities and drugs and evidence has shown that increased investment in these pro-poor sectors has a strong impact on poverty and inequality reduction, while simultaneously creating employment opportunities.
Furthermore, the set parameters for the 2020 proposal remain unrealistic given the volatility in the global oil market and the increasing insecurity across the country. Oil benchmark at $57 and the crude oil production of 2.18 million bpd are unrealistic.
While we welcome the estimated revenue of N8.155 trillion for 2020, and expect that it will be vigorously pursued, we hope that with the new Finance Bill to be submitted by the President, the review of the domestic tax policy will likely lead to improved revenue over the period.
However, The Tide is worried that the 2020 budget proposal continues to deepen the huge gap between the capital and recurrent expenditures. Given the teeming population, we opine that the capital expenditure proposal for 2020 of N2.46 trillion, about 24 percent of aggregate projected expenditure compared to the recurrent proposal of N4.88 trillion is not good enough for a country with a high demand for infrastructural development.
We are equally worried about the paltry allocations to the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Niger Delta Ministry responsible for the welfare of the Niger Delta people. We expect more attention to be paid to the completion of road infrastructures such as the East-West Road, Bonny-Bodo Road and adequate funding of the Amnesty Progromme.
While we commend the tireless effort of the government in the early presentation of the 2020 budget proposal to the joint sitting of the National Assembly, we are worried about the slow implementation of the 2019 budget owing to low-level revenue generation, aggregating N2.04 trillion as at June 2019 and amounting to only 58 percent of the 2019 budget target.
Even more worrisome is that N3.39 trillion has been spent out of the N4.46 trillion budgeted for recurrent expenditure as at June 30, 2019, while only N294.63 billion was released for capital expenditure as at September 30, 2019. This has a major implication to the infrastructural development of the country, meaning that we continue to consume far more than we invest.
We, therefore call on the National Assembly to take a bold step in correcting the inherent inequality in the pattern of allocations in the 2020 budget proposal, with specific reference to the allocations for the agencies for the development of the Niger Delta, agriculture, health, education and the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP). These allocations need to be improved upon.
Also, as much as it is important for the government to increase its tax revenue, increasing VAT is not the right way to go. VAT is a multi-level tax on consumption and the burden rests on the final consumer and not the business; so the people are the ones who will bear the brunt of the increase. It is on this premise that we demand a review of proposal of any form of increase on VAT.

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Editorial

Reps’ Alarm On Ebola

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Obviously agitated by the havoc perpetrated by the 2014 Ebola virus crisis, the Federal House of Representatives last week issued a fresh alarm and directive to relevant authorities and stakeholders to enforce checks at the nation’s entry points – airports, seaports and land borders so as to avert another round of disaster by the deadly virus.
Arising from its plenary, the lawmakers unanimously passed two separate resolutions on Ebola, the first being a motion by Paschal Obi entitled: “Looming Reoccurrence of Ebola Crisis In Nigeria” in which the Green Chamber directed the Federal Ministry of Health to deploy all necessary materials and personnel to immediately embark on screening of all passengers at the airports, seaports and land borders as well as for the Federal Government to set aside funds for the management of Ebola virus in the event of its re-occurrence in Nigeria.
Rep Obi, in his motion, explained that considering the proximity of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to Nigeria and other West African countries, the need to put in place adequate mechanism to prevent the resurgence of the pandemic in a densely populated country like Nigeria has become imperative.
Similarly, the House called for the immortalisation of Late Dr. Stella Ameyo Adadevoh for sacrificing her life towards preventing the spread of Ebola virus from Lagos State to other parts of Nigeria in 2014 by naming a public health institution after the medic for her heroic act of patriotism and nationalism.
Well said, The Tide agrees no less with the position of the lawmakers. It is, indeed, apt, timely and commendable that the House could speak out in what is clearly a matter of public interest and urgency which constitutes a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of the citizenry.
Since the Liberian-American diplomat, Patrick Sawyer, brought the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) into Nigeria in 2014, there have been conscious efforts by all stakeholders at governmental and non-governmental levels on preventive and protective measures. Perhaps, that informed the reason why the lawmakers resolved to alert the nation on EVD before we could find ourselves in a messy situation.
Thankfully, Nigerian borders, particularly land entry points remain closed for now and we expect the nation’s security community, especially the Immigration and Customs personnel to be more vigilant and thorough in their screening following reports of Ebola scare in the DRC.
The death of Adadevoh and a nurse that treated Sawyer, still looms large in our psyche and, therefore, no effort should be spared in preventing and containing any outbreak in Nigeria again.
We recall that on October 9, 2014, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) specially acknowledged Nigeria’s positive role in controlling and containing the Ebola epidemic, “Nigeria’s quick responses, including intense rapid contact tracing, tracking, surveillance of potential contacts and isolation of all contacts were of particular importance in controlling and limiting the outbreak,” the ECDC declared, describing Nigeria’s feat as a piece of world-class epidemiological detective work and a spectacular success story.
It is against this backdrop that we think that all critical stakeholders should not relent on the achievements recorded in 2014 in the event of the current EVD scare.
Ebola is widely considered to be worse than HIV/AIDS not because it has no known cure or vaccine. Infected persons face painful death in a matter of days. Regrettably, it has claimed many lives, including heathcare providers who in the discharge of their professional duties paid the supreme price.
Infected persons exhibit symptoms ranging from diarrhea, bleeding, high temperature, haemorrhagic fever, sore throat, among others. This is why we need sensitisation of the populace to track patients that exhibit such symptoms for early treatment and isolation.
With the report of the virus and breakout in the above-named Central African country, Nigerians more than any other time need to be very cautious as conditions that predispose the populace to the virus appear to be everywhere, even as medical experts warn against consumption of ‘bush meat,’ physical contact with infected persons by way of handshake, sexual intercourse and exposure to wild animals and birds. It is worrisome that we cherish the bush meat delicacy as well as live in slum settlements which make our people more vulnerable in case of the virus outbreak.
Our consolation, however, is that the World Health Organisation (WHO), the European Union (EU), the Federal Ministry of Health and other critical stakeholders have been striving hard to put in place strategies to combat the scourge.
The time for the media and all stakeholders to synergise towards providing the much-needed sensitisation is now or never. In the main, the least any Nigerian could do, for now, is to remain vigilant and prayerful.

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Editorial

Let Votes Count In Bayelsa, Kogi

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On Saturday, November 16, 2019, the people of Bayelsa and Kogi States, would troop out in their numbers, to vote for candidates of their choice in the governorship elections which the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) fixed on that day for the two States.
Expectedly, preparations for the elections have reached an advance stage, as the electoral umpire has put everything in place for a smooth and hitch-free exercise. This time around, expectations are really high for INEC to acquit itself creditably, by ensuring that the elections are not only peaceful but also credible, free and fair.
On this score, feelers indicate that INEC has already distributed over 2.4 million permanent voters cards (PVCs) to the electorate in both states, to ensure that they participate maximally in the electoral process.
INEC chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, while dropping this hint during a quarterly meeting with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Abuja, said a total of 889,308 PVCs were collected in Bayelsa State while 1,485,828 PVCs were collected in Kogi State as at September 30.
Yakubu equally disclosed that the commission had accredited 135 domestic observer groups and 16 foreign observer groups for the polls in both states, hinting that the commission was desirous of deepening transparency and accountability in the conduct of the polls.
There is no doubt that political tension has reached fever pitch in the two states, considering the volatility of these areas, particularly when it comes to matters of politics and elections. To say that the political atmosphere in both states today is fully charged is to state the obvious.
Speculations that violence may characterise and mar the elections are rife. It is even alleged that the various political gladiators in the states are warming up for a serious political showdown come November 16; and are ready to throw everything at their disposal to the ring to ensure that they clinch victory at the polls. The political indices on the ground are frightening.
Just recently, stakeholders from Bayelsa and Kogi States listed violence, vote buying and manipulation of the youths as some of the issues that would determine the outcome of the elections in the two states.
According to one of the stakeholders, apart from violence orchestrated by the Army and other security agencies, the electorate see INEC officials and security agencies as agents of fraud rather than arbiters of fair play.
It is, however, heart-warming that INEC has indicated its willingness and determination to correct the mistakes of the 2019 General Election with the November 16 polls in the two states, stressing that the two elections would correct the mistakes in the general election and set a new standard for future elections.
The chairman of the Board of INEC’s Electoral Institute, Prince Solomon Soyebi, who gave this assurance said, “the elections will provide the commission with yet another opportunity to test-run its policies, process and new initiatives”.
According to the INEC National Commissioner, “Athough the conduct of the 2019 general election and the commission’s performance had some challenges, we can use the 2019 general election as a barometer for comparison with subsequent elections, including the Bayelsa and Kogi governorship elections. Clearly, the commission is not under any illusion about the many issues and challenges posed by the electoral process”.
There is no gain saying the fact that INEC’s performance in the 2019 General Election was not too encouraging, as it fell short of the expectations of most Nigerians. One obvious area where the electoral umpire performed abysmally was the manual recording and transmission of results instead of the electronic transmission from the polling units. It is mind-boggling and shocking that INEC, going by attestation at the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal, had no server. This, indeed, leaves a sour taste in the month, as it offers and provides room for easy manipulation of results.
The Tide believes that the governorship elections in the two states, this time around, offer INEC another opportunity to redeem its battered image. The polls are, indeed, another litmus test for the electoral body, as all lapses and mistakes of the past must be corrected, through them.
The truth is that we are not yet satisfied with what is on the ground in both states in terms of preparations for the elections. INEC must be thorough. It must do all within its capacity to restore the confidence of Nigerians in the electoral process. This, it can do by being truly neutral and independent.
Above all, all the institutions, including the Police and other security agencies must be up and doing. They must all provide the enabling environment for violence-free, peaceful, free, fair and credible elections to take place in the two states.
There is the need for politics to develop in the country to the point that the people can have confidence in the electoral system in such a way that the electorate, irrespective of political part affiliations, should be allowed to vote for candidates of their choice.
Again, all stakeholders including political parties must realise that what is at stake is the interest of the two states, as it relates to development and good governance. Elections are only vehicles in actualising the yearnings and aspirations of the people in this regard. Elections are never a do or die affair.
Only the best should be allowed to emerge at the end of the day.
Thus, there should be no room for desperation and manipulations. The people must be allowed to vote with their conscience.
It is also high time INEC gave the electronic voting system a shot. It can experiment this with the governorship elections in the two states. There should be no manual thing, as we experienced in the 2019 General Election. The world is still watching. The most important thing is, let the votes count in Bayelsa and Kogi States.

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Editorial

No To Nationwide OPI

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Last week, while deliberating on matters of urgent national importance, the Federal House of Representatives passed a motion suspending a proposed exercise by the Nigerian Army tagged, Operation Positive Identification, OPI.
The exercise which was billed to last between November 1 to December 23, 2019 would require Nigerians to move about with means of identification. According to the Army, the operation would enable them profile Nigerians and identify genuine citizens from aliens, bandits, insurgents, kidnappers and other criminals.
But the Reps members, while unanimously voting against the operation said that the planned exercise was unconstitutional and against the natural rights of Nigerians to free movement.
Also, on Tuesday, Justice Rilwanu Aikawa of Federal High Court, Lagos ordered the Nigerian Army and its Chief of Army Staff (COAS) to suspend the operation, which had already commenced on the first day of the month.
According to Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), who brought the matter before the court, the operation violates his right and that of other Nigerian citizens to liberty, “as encapsulated in Section 35 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, as amended and Article 6 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, (Cap A10) Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 2004”.
The Tide cannot agree more with the Federal House of Representatives, Justice Aikawa, Mr Falana and indeed many other concerned but silent Nigerians, who would be put through untold hardship if the operation was allowed to live through its schedule.
No matter what may have informed the exercise or the objectives the propounders had hoped to achieve, allowing OPI to be carried out nationwide by the Army would have wrought more agony, tears and complaints on Nigerians.
We think that, apart from being unconstitutional, the Army by their training and operations are not equipped for this kind of operation that is supposed to be civil in nature. It is really undemocratic to over expose the Army to the civilian populace, especially, when there is no war.
It is worrisome that the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be over-labouring the military with extra responsibilities, most of which are civil in nature, when there are other agencies of government, that should naturally be saddled with such responsibilities. The Army has its roles and responsibilities clearly stated in the Constitution of the country, which mandates them to protect and defend the territorial sovereignty of the nation from external threats and insurrection.
While we are not against the military adopting any measure or tactic, including OPI to check and quell banditry, insurrection and Boko Haram menace, particularly in the North-East and North-West of the country, extending it to all parts of the nation at this time is uncalled for.
Infact, we see OPI as mooted by its sponsors as a high level scam, a kite flown by some highly placed individuals in the corridors of power to rip off the nation, even as it groans under the weight of scarce resources. Therefore, no effort should be spared to discourage and nip the illegality in the bud.
If we must embark on an exercise to profile and identify Nigerians and residents, we believe that the Nigerian Immigration Service, NIS, the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, the Department of State Services DSS and Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC are better equipped for the job. The military, we think, should be left to concern themselves with their constitutional duties, particularly, that of checking external aggression against Nigeria.
Apart from being unconstitutional and uncalled for, OPI across the country at this time will not only exacerbate the existing tension and frustrations in Nigeria, the citizens would be downgraded. The country will be militarised while the international community will also view us as an unsecured nation that is not worthy for investment.
That most Nigerians have either rejected or spoken against OPI at the scale that was put forward by the Army shows that it is not in the interest of the people. Moreso, the fact that sources within the military a few days ago recanted on the OPI and denied ownership of the operation suggests that the operation should be treated with suspicion.
That is why we expect the Presidency to pull the plug on the operation, while the Federal High Court and the National Assembly go beyond suspension of the exercise and cancel it outrightly.

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