By Dr John Abhuere, Director, Centre for Child Care and Youth Development, Abuja.
In more ways than one, the 2016 Budget Proposal represents a reassuring step in the right direction. It is bold in ambition, far sighted in vision, widespread and courageous in coverage and rich in content.It reflects a deep understanding of the socio- economic problems of the country which it boldly and passionately seeks to overcome through what it calls ‘inclusive growth. It plans to spend N6.08 trillion of which 30% would be devoted to capital projects. On the whole it is good budget full of roses for the Nigerian youth. Various sections of the proposal suggest that it was prepared with the interest of the youth at heart.
A COMPREHENSIVE PROPOSAL FOR ALL
The 2016 Budget proposal is however a comprehensive proposal for all citizens and it aimed at dealing with many of the problems of the nation. There is something good for everyone- from the child to the youth, from the adult to aged member of society, from the employed to the unemployed, including the retired citizens and from the business man to the contractors and consultant including those being owed – people whose contracts have not been settled.
Hope and confidence flow from almost every sentence. It shows a deep understanding of the real nature of the the nation’s problems as could be gleaned from the stated goal , language and strategy of the budget proposal. Appropriately the goal of the budget is to ‘lay foundation for sustainable growth’, stimulate and revive the economy, create jobs, ensure macro economic stability, manage inflation, and promote inclusive growth of the economy. With sincere commitment and effective implementation, the average citizen including the youth should better off with it.
According to the proposal, the state of the economy has been ‘ worrisome’ and worsened by a number of factors including corruption, insecurity, poor management of resources and failing fortune as exemplified by a crash of global oil prices from a 2014 high of $112 to 2015 low of $39 per barrel. It creates dark clouds of uncertainty and difficulties. As the proposal notes it represents a ‘huge decline with painful effect on the economy’ and has created difficulties in society especially for ‘those who lost jobs, young people who have never had jobs, and those affected by insurgency’.
Against the background of sprawling national hard times, the budget proposal hopes to promote inclusive growth, give due priority to the welfare of Nigerians, stimulate the economy and make it more competitive, help grow industry, commerce, promote investment, address the problem of youth unemployment, improve the living conditions of the poor and extremely vulnerable Nigerians, diversify the economy, tackle poverty and underdevelopment and safeguard the lives and property of Nigerians.
In particular it promises to deliver ‘security, jobs and infrastructure – as right of all Nigerians’ put more Nigerians to work. For these and others, the federal Government plans to spend as much as N6.08 trillion in the financial year 2016 to deal with issues of poverty, unemployment , exclusiveness, rural and agricultural neglect, infrastructural deficit, mono- cultural economy defined here as over dependence on oil, deflation, low consumer purchasing power, inefficiency, corruption etc.
It is needless to say that if the country can implement even only half the contents of the proposed budget, things would improve considerably for the average citizen. A quick look at the proposed sectoral allocation makes this clear. For instance : Works, Power, and Housing-N433.4 billion,- an average of 144.5 billion per sub sector, Education-N369.6 billion, Defense- N294.5 billion Transportation -N202 billion, Special Intervention Program for the poorest and most vulnerable citizens – N300 billion, Health-N221.7,billion, Interior- N 145.3 billion, sinking fund for retirement of maturing loans-N103 billion, Debt Servicing- N1.36 trillion….,Youth & Sports N70,816,387,061(70.8 billion- about 1,1% of proposed budget). Labour and Employment-7,817,589,915
2016 BUDGET PROPOSAL AND YOUTH DEVELOPMENT AND EMPOWERMENT
As already hinted, there are many indications in the proposal to show that it seeks to promote youth development and empowerment for effective participation in the development process of the country .Though the allocation to youth development may at first look small and lagging behind many other sectors and thus needs to be increased in future in view of the group’s dominance in the nation’s population- about 60%, yet the budget proposal on careful examination is very youth friendly. It seeks to develop and empower the youth in many ways that would benefit them either directly or indirectly and enable them to play responsible noble role in society.
The budget is generally oriented towards the promotion of the welfare of the people including young ones. For instance,if we provide jobs, good education , health and do infrastructure as stated in the 2016 budget proposal, then we are actually empowering the citizens of which the youths are in the majority in Nigeria to participate in the development process. There is something for everybody in it.The drive for Employment and Empowerment of citizens is a striking features of the 2016 Budget proposal.
Other notable features of the proposal include the attempt to deal with identified problems directly or head on, the introduction of special welfare policy for the extremely poor and vulnerable -for which about N300 billion has been earmarked and the dedication of 30% of the budget proposal to Capital projects. These and others are meant to develop and empower the citizens including the youth. Says the budget proposal: ‘ to deliver our development objectives capital expenditure rose from the 2015 level ofN557 billion to N1.8 trillion in 2916′.
The proposed budget envisions to employ more hands and to pay workers competitive wages and in good time. For instance as part of the war against unemployment, 500000 graduates of universities and colleges of education would be recruited as teachers while’ every aspect of the execution of the budget would focus on job creation’. And strategically, both capital and recurrent expenditures of the proposed budget are meant to deal with unemployment and many of the problems that affect youths the country.
Generally the proposal seeks to promote employment, boost infrastructure, empower miners, equip farmers with the right tools, technology, and techniques, secure lives and property and train the youth to enable them to take advantage of emerging opportunities in the economy. But basically the strategy is clear: every aspect of the execution of the budget would ‘have job creation focus.
While all these are bound to positively affect the youth the more. the employment generation drive would be ‘private sector-led through a number of incentives including ‘reduction of tax rates for smaller businesses, subsidizing funding for priority sectors such as agriculture, and solid minerals. And citizens especially market women, traders, farmers, artisans, youths will be empowered through appropriate financial training, provision of right tools, exposure to appropriate technology , techniques and formation of Cooperative Society in order to create jobs and promote entrepreneurship at all levels.
All these are ok except that we would like the state to lead the war against unemployment ( WAP) as a primary concern of government . To the private investor, profit is the motivation and if he/she can do it without creating one job- so be it.
According to the proposal, the N300billion earmarked as special intervention fund shall take the form of ‘conditional cash transfer programs for the poorest and most vulnerable ones’ and shall be implemented in phases. The special funds will equally cover ‘home grown public primary school feeding, free education for science, technology and education students in tertiary institutions. Is Awo’s Vision for an enlightened society finally gaining acceptance at at the federal level even if only partial ?
The investment in infrastructure and insecurity are principally meant to promote employment and to empower the citizens especially at the grassroots .It is needless to emphasize that all these will impact positively on the youths if the budget is well implemented to the letter .They have every reason to be pleased with the budget and hopeful for a better future. However there is an urgent need for synergy and cooperation between ministries to ensure effective implementation.
A SOURCE OF COLLECTIVE INSPIRATION AND HOPE
The Budget proposal is a source of collective inspiration and hope? Words, ideas and definitions are important pebbles in development. They help to set the direction and inform the kind of steps and action of developers and policy makers. Above all they inspire confidence and support for a given cause.
In a nation such as Nigeria that has been weighed down for long by insecurity, youth related problems and youth driven challenges, large scale of unemployment, corruption it was quite inspiring and reassuring to hear Mr President say that even though the ‘confidence of many might be shaken’ yet he was out to ‘secure our country , rebuild our economy and make the federal republic of Nigeria stronger than it has ever been’. In moment of collective doubt, difficulty and looming depression, a nation needs such soothing and moving words of inspiration to lift the spirit and soul and to energize the body io positive action. The 2016 budget proposal has much of this on offer to citizens.
Thus it makes special meaning when the budget talks of doing ‘inclusive growth’, dealing ‘with unemployment, underdevelopment’ etc aimed at ‘putting more Nigerians to work’, investing ‘to safeguard lives and properties and ‘to prevent the problems of today from confronting our children and their children’. And that the ‘Nigerian economy needs to move away from dependency on oil, Nigerians must be part of the growth story and our action will speak for us’. It is like a pact with the people.
ABIDING FAITH IN CITIZENRY PARTICIPATION.
The proposal showed abiding faith in citizens’ ability to turn things around and realism that government lacks the resources to do it alone. It appealed to our collective sense of self-reliance, our can do it spirit as a people and patriotic participation in the implementation of the budget. As the proposal notes : the ‘answers to our problems are within the country’s farmland, corporation, hearts and minds of citizens especially the youths who have refused to give up despite despite all obstacles confronting them’.
Thus it invites all hands on deck because ‘as a government we cannot do it alone.We require the support of all- the civil servants, the organized labour, the Press, the industry group…our religious and traditional institutions. It is a call for all citizens ‘to stand and serve our country… and a major step in delivering a new opportunity for Nigeria’ to make a bold leap forward.
PART TWO- GROUNDS FOR WORRY
However there are grounds to worry about the 2016 proposal.The first is the frightening sense of high debt profile and looming fear of the dawn of a regime of excessive taxation in the country. Of the N6.08 trillion budget proposal as much N2.22 is deficit, while only N3.86 trillion is projected revenue, about N1.84 would be borrowed: N984 billions from home and N900 billion from abroad respectively. It is like sentencing generations Nigerians debt hood .
A friend of mine had told me not to be worried because according to him the hall mark of a successful business man is the ability to borrow for investment emphasizing that borrowing is part of the business world. He may be right but supposing the business fails.
For this and other reasons I shall continue to worry. For instance,corruption and poor management have been the the bane of past budgets. These ills which hindered effective implementation of budget are still with us. Lack of executive capacity was another. While all these are still very much with us, the desired change will take some time in coming. Yes General Buhari meant well in his anti corruption crusade but how many Buhari’s has Nigeria at the moment? In the present circumstances, it would be fool hardy to expect all Nigerian elites to become Angels over night.
We ought to heave a sigh of relief from the fact that the budget was billed to derive more revenue from non oil sector than oil. While only N820 billion will come from oil wealth, about N1.45 trillion is expected as non oil revenue . But there’s a snag – the source of derivation. It is largely from taxes – company taxes, custom excise, federation accounts levies, levies.
The prospect is a frightening regime of over taxation some of which may be inimical to both the individual and corporate tax payers. It is hoped that we shall all not be over taxed to the extent that some investors may be forced to be looking for more tax friendly countries to invest. We also hope that the desire for tax would not force to over relax some of the import restrictions currently in place in the national interest.
I agree with the idea that Nigeria is not a poor country but the fall of oil prices sends a new signal that the era of cheap money and unwise spending is over. The emerging reality addresses us to embrace the need to embrace a culture of prudence, reason and shame and to begin to do away with life of profligacy. It challenges us too to find creative ways of dealing with our endemic problems such as poverty, unemployment inequality poor infrastructure, rural neglect, corruption etc. It poses serious moral challenge to the ruling elite to do the right and needful in the circumstance declining fortunes. It requires us to change our poor style of leadership and negative attitude to governance .
While we are happy that the budget recognized the need to diversify the the source of revenue generation, there are still signs of profligacy and unreadiness to make sacrifices in the national interest. As already observed there is something good for everyone in the 2016 budget proposal. However, it is sad to observe that some – the elites are getting far more in excess than others from the national cake. To earmarked almost N9 billion for Cars for members of the National Assembly -just 469 Nigerians is disproportionate and even scandalous. Such a huge amount can create more employment and much relief to millions of Nigerians say if invested in infrastructure, sports, performing arts, small scale or cottage industries etc.
The votes for cutlery, entertainments, cars and tours should be reviewed and drastically scaled down. The VP deserves a befitting place but when will the residence be completed ? Let us use our old cars, cutlery, houses for now till the situation improves. The affected Nigerians can easily buy cars, rent houses , spoons and knives if they really need them. They are rich enough to be able to do so. In a highly populated country with abundance of trained people it is privilege to serve the country at such high offices. Let our sense of patriotism, morality and sacrifice prevail.
Even as I write, I am still unable to resolve the dilemma over the social welfare policy announced in the proposal . In principle it is good and desirable but in practice it is highly questionable in the face of falling economic fortunes of the country. Thus the question here is not whether it is good or bad but whether we can fund and sustain it. There would always be problem of definition and delineation. What is the yard stick for declaring or classifying one among the poorest and the most vulnerable in our society?
We should think before leaping. For instance,the disbursement of funds should not be based on party affiliation but on the dire need of the individual or group. It could be given as counter part payment to groups efforts at the grassroots say for cleaning or keeping their environment healthy or support group of ex- corps members who are organized for business but lack funds to take off. We just hope it would not become another source for elites’ self enrichment aka the pension fund.
The assumption of the budget proposal that $ 38 per barrel of oil will prevail in 2016 at the international market may prove wrong and misleading. The American presence as a producer and exporter of oil is important factor. She has never hidden her dislike for OPEC and would do every thing to keep prices low say by over flooding the market.Even at the time of presenting the budget, oil was selling at $32 per barrel. It could even be lower in due course. This could affect implementation .
The emphasis on growth in the budget proposal makes me uncomfortable because as experience has shown there can be growth without development. This is why Development experts such as Dudley Seers have suggested focussing on meeting man’s basic needs including housing, health, education , unemployment , etc. In this respect the budget proposal that job creation will be led by private sector is not healthy. Let the incentives be. Let even have higher pyramid of incentives for investment be created. Let there be large room for healthy competition for all people that are able and willing to do business but the state must lead and show the way.
Business men are more concerned with profit – making or adding value to their investment than with employment generation. The latter is one the responsibilities and greatest challenge of government today in Nigeria and the state has to lead here even as it removes all encumbrances in the way of the private investor.
On the whole, the budget proposal remains a good attempt. With good management and effective implementation, it could move the country truly forward. It is hoped that the Efficiency unit of the government is able to do its work of monitoring and checking progress and eliminating waste in the process.