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Editorial

Aligning Budgets To Nigerians’ Needs

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President Muhammadu Buhari signed the 2021 federal budget of N13.08 trillion into law on
Thursday, December 31, 2020. Tagged the “Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience”, it comprises a capital expenditure of N4,125,149,354,222 trillion and recurrent expenditure of N5,641,970,060,680 trillion, statutory transfer of N496,528,471,273 billion, N3.324 trillion for debt servicing, supplementary capital allocation of N1,060,751,051,650 trillion, and Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 3.00 per cent.
Budgets globally aim to have a guide on revenue generation and spending to prevent confusion. Every arm, tier, and agency of government formulates its budget for the fiscal year and they are not expected to spend above the approved limits. But oftentimes that is not the case in Nigeria as some agencies expend unapproved monies with impunity.
Following the presidential assent to the 2021 budget, many concerns are expressed as to whether the budget addresses the people’s necessities and how the document can be correctly implemented in line with the existing fiscal and monetary laws.
The executive and legislative arms of government have always produced yearly Appropriation Acts. But successive budgets for several decades have not been implemented satisfactorily. Consequently, administration after administration has been unable to realise the grand objectives of the serial economic plans.
Regrettably, our national budgets are not aligned with the country’s development goals. With the demise of national development planning, budgets are prepared without plan or strategic framework. It is like building a huge edifice without an architectural drawing. That is why government’s promises cannot be actualised because there is no effective budget policy.
It might be necessary, at this juncture, to ask: how far have budgets gone to alleviate some of the endemic problems in Nigeria? We do not just mean the federal budget but all the state budgets put together. Every year, 38 budgets are rolled out including those of the federal government, 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
To what extent have budgets ameliorated the problem of poor electricity, water supply, health care, education, dilapidated roads, unemployment, insecurity, etc? Are Nigerians faring better now compared with last year when the budget was passed? What systematic changes have occurred? What periodic solutions have been provided or on-going? What difference has occurred in the life of an average Nigerian?
This is even more worrisome when the citizens are rarely and inadequately consulted or engaged in budget planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. In most cases, the national and state budgets do not adequately reflect the expectations and aspirations of the citizens.
This situation mainly exists because the budgeting process in Nigeria is faulty. It is split only between the legislative and the executive. The processes are not open and active participation is not encouraged. Most access to information and civic participation at best occurs at the seldom held public hearing stage in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
At the planning stages of our budgets, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and traditional rulers being representatives of the people ought to be enabled or encouraged to communicate their needs and concerns to the government and possibly contribute to the Medium-Term Revenue Framework and the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF), or even the draft budget.
Citizen participation in budget hearings is significant. It can be done through involvement and advocating for more public hearings on a budget in the National Assembly. These and others are ways to sustain and improve access to information and civic pursuit in the different phases of budget preparations.
The failure of budgets across the country is heart-breaking. That is why pessimists call budgeting in the country annual ritual. That has been the case since 1999 when the present democratic dispensation began and it was thought that the era of military impunity was over. Indeed, our rogue budgets are merely rituals; they seem not to be made to change anything.
And really, how can there be change when on average, every year, 70 per cent of our budgets go for recurrent expenditure while only 30 per cent is for capital expenditure. How can an underdeveloped country like Nigeria develop when only a fraction of the annual budgets is put for capital projects?
Faced with corruption, neither the recurrent budget nor the capital spending achieves its target. The inability of many state governments to pay salaries, pension benefits and other entitlements to workers underscores the failure of recurrent expenditure. Sadly enough, the Federal Government is gradually contracting the disease and is no longer able to pay workers’ salaries promptly.
There seems to be no law that compels governments to account for the previous budget before announcing a new one. As a way out, there is a need for such a law, at all levels, to make public, at the end of each financial year, the performance of the previous year’s budget; what was achieved and what is left, which would form the basis for making a new budget.
Beyond the usual pomp that characterises budget signings in our country, we hope that President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2021 budget, unlike previous appropriations, will operate within standard budget parameters to attain its broad objectives of meeting policy goals and development needs of Nigerians.

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Editorial

As Task Force On Street Trading Returns…

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On Tuesday, August 11, 2020, the Rivers State Government dissolved the Rivers State Task Force
on Illegal Markets and Motor Parks. The Special Assistant to the Governor and head of the defunct task force, Mr. Bright Amaewhule, was instantly relieved of his appointment.
Although no reasons were provided by the state government for the action, the Commissioner for Information and Communications, Pastor Paulinus Nsirim, directed members of the task force to return the operational vehicles in their possession and their identity cards to the Office of the Secretary to the State Government.
The government also pledged to reconstitute the task force and give proper orientation and training to the members. Recall that the Rivers State Government under the watch of Governor Nyesom Wike had constituted the task force to rid the streets and roads of Port Harcourt and its environs of illegal markets and motor parks.
In the course of its operations, the defunct task force sailed far beyond its mandate and the prescribed operational modalities as several negative reports and complaints trailed its activities. Allegations of extortions, high handedness, and other sundry atrocities were levelled against the members.
Innocent residents of the state also fell victim to the brutal assault by the task force. Some persons were alleged to have been rough handled with reckless abandon, brutalised and even maimed by the members. There were equally instances where they were accused of confiscating the goods of traders without any just cause.
Men of the task force became lords and uncontrollable, taking laws into their hands. Fed up with their monstrous activities, the government wielded the big stick, and this it did after Wike had, on several occasions, intervened and advised the members to tread with caution, turn over a new leaf or face dissolution. Unfortunately, they failed to heed the governor’s timely counsel.
After a lull, the Rivers State Government reconstituted the task force recently. The new body is headed by DSP Felix Nwadibeyi (rtd). Nwadibeyi and his members have since begun the sensitisation of the public on the need to obey government ban on street trading and illegal motor parks.
“Today, we are going out to sensitise the people to make sure that they are aware of our presence and that we have commenced operation. For some time now, there was no task force working. We are now going out to alert the public that we have commenced operation. Anybody caught wanting will be prosecuted,” said Nwadibeyi.
Conscious of popular concerns about the antecedents of the former task force, Nwadibeyi assured that no member of the old body was part of the reconstituted team under his coordination. He guaranteed the public of the civility of the new task force. This is commendable. But experience has shown that assurances of this nature are easier given than carried out.
We support the reincarnated task force. It is hoped that they have been trained properly in line with the government’s promise. Unlike the head of the disbanded team, the chairman of the current task force must ensure that there is discipline among his members. Rivers people will be left in the lurch if the new task force goes the way of the other.
The state government is lauded for the timing in instituting the new task force. We noticed that since the disbandment of the former team, there has been increased turmoil on Port Harcourt roads. The illegal activities of drivers and traders made twice as much, leading to an unprecedented state of filth and disorder in the city.
Indeed, most Port Harcourt roads and streets are an eyesore to behold. It is so outrageous that every available space within the Port Harcourt metropolis and its environs has either become a market-place or a motor park. An added dimension is the constant perpetration of crimminality by hoodlums who often take advantage of the ungoverned state of affairs in those spaces.
There is no gainsaying the fact that the foregoing scenario has seriously defaced the state capital and cast a slur on the urban renewal efforts of the present administration. There is an urgent need to end the continued defacement of Port Harcourt by unscrupulous elements. No responsible government would turn a blind eye to this nauseating reality without taking pragmatic steps to curb the menace.
As the new task force proceeds with its operations, it will be appropriate for the state government to give it a legal backing. That will provide cushion and succour to residents of the state who may feel aggrieved by its activities. Additionally, such legislation would insulate both the members of the task force and the citizens from abuse and arbitrariness.
Likewise, the state government is advised to convert the task force into a complete agency for optimal performance. This way, it can generate employment for our teeming youths and perhaps revenue for the state. In the alternative, it could be incorporated into the state Ministry of Transport to be guided by the extant laws and rules governing the civil service.
Furthermore, we advise the government to consider demands by some people for the withdrawal of the police from the task force following their untoward activities in the former set up. In our opinion, such calls are not lost, given the vicious and corrupting influence of the police and their penchant for perfunctory use of firearms which has mutilated or ended innocent lives, including a female police traffic warden who was shot dead last year by a policeman attached to Amaewhule’s task force.
It is imperative for all concerned unions to cooperate with the organisation and see them as partners in progress to ensure sanity in our city. These unions have a responsibility to encourage their members to be disciplined and law-abiding. By and large, everyone is duty bound to return Port Harcourt to its erstwhile status of a “Garden City”.

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Editorial

Task Before Biden

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The President-elect of the United States of America (USA), Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. will be sworn in
today as the 46th president of the country, alongside his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris. Harris is the first woman and woman of colour to serve as US Vice-President. At age 78, Biden will become the oldest president in US history.
Born on November 20, 1942, Biden was declared the president-elect of the U.S. on November 7, 2020, following an initially tight electoral college contest against incumbent President Donald Trump and four days of vote-counting. The campaigns leading up to the election were individuated by mudslinging as the results were vigorously contested in court by Trump. Biden’s victory makes him the first former vice president to win the Oval Office since George H. W. Bush, who won in 1988 after eight years under Ronald Reagan.
In an election carried out during a pandemic, as well as a national reckoning over racial injustice, Biden won over 74 million popular votes — the most in U.S. presidential election history. On December 14, 2020, the Electoral College cast a majority of votes for him, formalising the presidential election in the manner set out in the constitution.
Before his run for the nation’s highest office. Biden served 36 years as a U.S. Senator from Delaware, a small Mid-Atlantic state, and went on to rule as vice president of the United States with former President Barack Obama. As a two-term vice president, Biden focused largely on economic and foreign policy issues. The foregoing is an indication of his preparedness to occupy the most exalted and dominant seat in the world.
We warmly congratulate the president-elect on his victory and commend him for his composure in the face of provocation by Trump. As he takes his oath of office, he will surely be faced with enormous pressures to implement a laundry list of priorities on a range of issues from foreign policy to the climate crisis, reversing many of the stark changes implemented by his predecessor.
As a first step, Biden must unite and heal America, now a deeply divided country. Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud prove that to heal the country, Biden must be clear about what is dividing Americans and that is racism. He has to do away with racial anxieties often rooted in status and privilege. He should desist from building his policies on how it may assuage or enflame a particular race.
The Coronavirus pandemic is another sensitive area to be pushed forward. With over 23.9 million cases and about 397,000 deaths, Biden will have so much in his hands. Upon his inauguration, he should get his Covid-19 team to hit the ground running immediately. A new nationwide plan needs to be rolled out against the pandemic while measures to fix the disastrous economic fallout should be determined. The team could put together a serious public information campaign which has been missing.
With the outcome of the election and his assumption of office finally set in stone, Biden can now turn his attention to pandemic-ravaged U.S. economy that has caused widespread devastation to the livelihoods of millions. The U.S. economy, crippled by the global health crisis, has since shown strong signs of slump. A grave point of entanglement where attention is needed is the humongous number of Americans that are jobless, struggling to make ends meet.
During his campaign, the former vice president promised voters what he would do if elected president. These include re-entering the Paris Climate Agreement, returning to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, in which Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of harsh economic sanctions, restoring U.S. membership of the World Health Organisation (WHO), and reversal of travel ban for travellers from Muslim countries. There are strong global expectations that the new U.S. leader would fulfill these promises.
After four years of what many view as President Trump’s irrationally abrasive treatment of key U.S. allies, an instant improvement in the atmospherics between Washington and the international community under a Biden administration can be anticipated. That matters in a bilateral relationship that is ever more important as an anchor for the broader partnership between the United States and other countries. It is believed that Biden’s foreign policy credentials, institutionalist track record, and the promise of a return to a more multilateral approach in U.S. policy will create much goodwill for America.
As Biden confronts enormous challenges, we urge him to reverse the four years of Trump’s administration that was largely delineated by disdain, disinterest and derision towards Africa. The change of guard in the White House today is expected to herald a shift towards the African continent, which has always yearned for a prime spot on a crowded U.S. foreign policy agenda.
Most African countries are prepared for a U.S. administration that treats Africa with civility, certainty, dignity and respect. Africa is looking forward to Biden to intervene in the precipitous decline in democratic governance across the continent in the last few years, ease the travel ban on African countries including Nigeria, continue U.S. engagement on African security issues, particularly anti-terrorism campaigns, and renew Africa/U.S. relations in the critical domain of trade and investment, among others.
The president-elect must be equally lauded for appointing some women of colour into his cabinet. This way, he has opened up his cabinet to all without prejudice. Biden’s appointment of two Nigerian-born women, Adewale Adeyemo, as the deputy treasury secretary and Funmi Olorunnipa Badejo, as one of his legal advisers at the White House, is indeed instructive. It portends his willingness to work with anyone regardless of colour or race.
The role of the judiciary in the handling of Trump’s election lawsuits is worthy of emulation. Judges appointed by Republicans and Trump himself became singularly uncooperative conspirators in the assault unleashed by the president. The judges have shown their devotion to judicial principle and constitutional fidelity. This is food for thought for Nigerian judges who would do the bidding of their appointors in similar circumstances.
Also, the certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory by the federal lawmakers in defiance of violent attempts to discombobulate the process by Trump and his mob is especially notable. We extol the lawmakers for affirming their independence and loyalty to the constitution when they ate away Trump’s moves to halt the peaceful transfer of power by staging a violent insurrection inside the U.S. Capitol.
As Trump vacates the White House today, rather reluctantly, with an awfully low approval rating of 29%, the 74 million Americans who voted for him, the pro-Trump alliance, the ultra-right Trumpers that he inebriated with the oxygen of hate, the anarchists who bought into his politics of deception meant to de-legitimize Biden’s victory, that is, those who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6, may be pained that their era is over, at least for now. But for the rest of the world, Trump’s exit is a big relief, the end of horror and a terrible nightmare.

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Editorial

Still On Police Brutality

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The immediate substitution of the infamous Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS), a component of the Nigeria Police Force, with the Special Weapons and Tactical Team (SWAT) in the aftermath of the October 2020 #EndSARS protests across the country, has turned out to be a repackaged old wine in a new bottle. The perdurable police savagery is a manifestation of that fact.
The former SARS officers operated like notorious gangsters, infamous for unlawful killings, extortion and torture marched only by the Nazi treatment of the Jews in the Concentration Camp. For years, human rights organisations and the media have documented cases of extra-judicial killings, torture, and other ill-treatment committed by SARS operatives and other units of the police.
When SWAT was set up by the Inspector-General of Police (IGP), Mohammed Adamu, in October, 2020 to appease protesting youths against SARS’ brutality, it was a superficial action to create the impression that the clamour by the youths for the abrogation of the Anti-Robbery Squad had been heeded. Many Nigerians queried the hurried action of the police and accused the force’s leadership of hypocrisy.
Several Nigerians, especially young persons, were either impaled or outrightly killed for insubstantial reasons which included accusations of being internet fraudsters. Many others were profiled for their indecent appearances, hairstyles and having tattoos on their bodies and subsequently apprehended by members of the disbanded police unit.
A few days after the so-called name-change that had no semblance of a fresh working direction and goals, the wear and tear activities of the very new SWAT demonstrated that indeed a leopard cannot change its spots. Not long after its formation, a monarch in the Nkanu East Local Government Area of Enugu State, Emmanuel Mba, was brutally killed by men suspected to be SWAT officials.
The story went that some AK-47 rifle-wielding officers dressed in mufti invaded a meeting being attended by the monarch and demanded to see him. The suspected SWAT operatives, led by an inspector, shot the monarch while he was addressing members of his community at the town hall meeting. He died before he could get medical help.
According to the account, three natives from the Oruku Community in the council area reportedly came with the SWAT officers and left with them soon after the operation. We expect the orchestrators of the harrowing act to have been fished out by now and made to face the full wrath of the law if the police were truly a force to be relied on.
In December last year, an ugly scene played out between a bus driver and some policemen in Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State. The driver, identified as Emenike, was completely stripped for refusing to expend the usual “toll” to the police. Other drivers who witnessed the incident remonstrated along Ada George Road where the happenstance occurred, causing an unprecedented traffic jam.
Still, along Ada George Road, a policeman attached to a supermarket fired random shots at three persons who were admitted to the hospital for gunshot wounds. The trigger-happy police officer groused about the uncooperative attitude of some commercial vehicle and tricycle drivers along that route.
In November, 2020, a police officer, in a desperate attempt to clear the road for their patrol vehicle that was stuck in gridlock around the market along Yenagoa — Mbiama Road, openly shot at three women. Police brutality gained further height when, at Rukpokwu in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area, Rivers State, a tricycle driver was shot dead by a police officer over refusal to give a hundred naira gratification. That incident sparked off protests by angry drivers in the community.
Also, in the same local government area, one Abiodun Jimoh was shot dead by a policeman attached to the Elelenwo police division. It was ironic that an older brother of the deceased was an eye witness. He alleged that the killer-policeman was stupendously drunk on the day of the incident. Further reports claimed that the police officer shot the victim despite pleas by a senior colleague to release him.
These incidents and many others across the country have transpired despite the #EndSARS protests and assurances by the police authorities to check frequent police brutality and put an end to it. The animalistic conduct of the Nigerian police is a negation of modern global policing strategy. It is an absurdity unabashedly displayed by our ill-trained and flat-footed police while the citizens groan helplessly.
It is high time the Nigerian police was radically reformed by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration for optimal performance. Since the Federal Government promised to carry out reforms in the force, no practical steps have been initiated in that direction. No doubt, Nigerians need SWAT to confront dangerous crimes, but not for routine policing as it exists currently.
This country cannot achieve much with a highly militarised police force. What is needed is a radical departure from the current centralised police structure to a decentralised force. The glaring inadequacies in the force arising from the unworkable configuration that came into effect since states were created in 1967, must be broken away from.
Enough of police brutality. Nigerians have been extorted, raped, tortured, and killed by the police, particularly the defunct SARS now SWAT. Although continued protests compelled the Nigerian government to scrap the infamous and dreaded police unit, that is not sufficient. It needs to be complemented by justice for victims of police brutality. It is a bitter reproach that police cruelty remains an issue in the country this time and age. Buhari must take immediate steps to halt this act of ignominy in the force.

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