President Muhammadu Buhari said on Wednesday that he was compelled to sign the 2018 budgetary appropriations into law not to further cripple the ailing economy.
The budget was assented to by the president at exactly 12.05p.m at the mini-conference room of the Presidential Villa, Abuja, in the presence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation; Abba Kyari, Chief of Staff to the President; Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate); representatives of Bukola Saraki, the Senate President, and Yakubu Dogara, Speaker of the House of Representatives, among other top government functionaries.
Bala Ibn Na’Allah represented the Senate President while Ado Doguwa represented the Speaker, House of Representatives.
The budget estimates which was shored up from N8.612 trillion to N9.120 trillion by the National Assembly is said to be approximately 22 percent higher than the N8.612 trillion appropriated in 2017.
Shortly after signing the budget estimates for 2018, Buhari went cynical, saying, “Hmmmm, after seven months!” which was an indication of his disapproval of the delay the budget witnessed in National Assembly.
Buhari could not hide his grievances over what he described as the mutilation of the budget, just as he accused the lawmakers of padding the estimates in their favour.
He confirmed that a total of N347 billion was cut off in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to the lawmakers for vetting.
He complained that the National Assembly members introduced 6,403 projects of their own, amounting to N578 billion.
“An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by N14.5 billion from N125 billion to N139.5 billion without any discussion with the executive.
“Notwithstanding the above-stated observations, I have decided to sign the 2018 budget in order not to further slowdown the pace of recovery of our economy, which has doubtlessly been affected by the delay in passing the budget,” Buhari told the gathering at the Presidential Villa.
Irked by these developments, the president said steps would be taken to remedy some of the most critical of the distortions through a supplementary or amendment budget process to be initiated by the executive soon.
He said: “It is in this regard that I am concerned about some of the changes that the National Assembly has made to the budget proposals that I presented.
“The logic behind the constitutional direction that budgets should be proposed by the executive is that it is the executive that knows and defines its policies and projects.
“Unfortunately, that has not been given much regard in what has been sent to me.
“The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.
“Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.
“Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed, and costed, and will, therefore, be difficult to execute.
“Furthermore, many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.
“As it is, some of these projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the states and local governments, and for which the Federal Government should, therefore, not be unduly burdened.”
While reeling out some projects from which cuts were made, Buhari said provisions for some nationally/regionally strategic infrastructural projects such as counterpart funding for the Mambilla Power Plant; Second Niger Bridge/ancillary roads; the East-West Road; Bonny-Bodo Road; Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, and Itakpe-Ajaokuta Rail Project were cut by an aggregate of N11.5 billion.
Still blaming the legislators, the president said provisions for some ongoing critical infrastructural projects in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, especially major arterial roads and the mass transit rail project, were cut by a total of N7.5 billion.
Also affected by cuts were funds for the provision of rehabilitation and additional security measures for the United Nations building by the FCT, Abuja, which was cut by N3.9 billion; that is, from N4 billion to N100 million.
According to the president, it would be impossible for the Federal Government of Nigeria to fulfil its commitment to the United Nations on the project.
Buhari also lamented strategic interventions in the health sector such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, the establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables which were cut by an aggregate amount of N7.45 billion.
Similarly, the provision for security infrastructure in the 104 Unity Schools across the country was cut by N3 billion at a time when securing students against acts of terrorism, the president said, ought to be a major concern of government.
The president added: “The provision for the Federal Government’s National Housing Programme was cut by N8.7 billion.
“At a time when we are working with labour to address compensation-related issues, a total of N5 billion was cut from the provisions for Pension Redemption Fund and Public Service Wage Adjustment.
“The provisions for Export Expansion Grant (EEG) and Special Economic Zones/Industrial Parks, which are key industrialisation initiatives of this administration, were cut by a total of N14.5 billion.
“The provision for construction of the terminal building at Enugu airport was cut from N2 billion to N500 million which will further delay the completion of this critical project.
“The take-off grant for the Maritime University in Delta State, a key strategic initiative of the Federal Government, was cut from N5 billion to N3.4 billion.
“About 70 new road projects have been inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works, and Housing.
“In doing so, the National Assembly applied some of the additional funds expected from the upward review of the oil price benchmark to the ministry’s vote.
“Regrettably, however, in order to make provision for some of the new roads, the amounts allocated to some strategic major roads have been cut by the National Assembly.”
The president also lamented that at a time when the government was trying to keep down the cost of governance, the National Assembly increased the provision for statutory transfers by an aggregate of N73.96 billion, especially for recurrent expenditure.
Buhari’s Grievances Over Budget Distortions Not Our Problem— NASS
Meanwhile, Bala Na’Allah, Deputy Senate Majority Leader, has reacted to some of the grievances raised by President Muhammadu Buhari while signing the 2018 budgetary appropriations into law.
Na’Allah said the National Assembly members will not lose sleep over the distortions identified in the budget by the presidency.
He made the reaction while fielding questions from State House correspondents on Wednesday.
But Na’Allah said if they had allowed the budget to remain the way the president presented it to them, they would have incurred the wrath of those who elected them.
Asked if the National Assembly was worried about the concerns raised by the president, Na’Allah responded, “No, we are not worried. The job of parliamentarians is a very difficult one. The way the budget came, if we had allowed it to go that way, we would have been in trouble with those who elected us.
“You have to balance between the six-geo political zones. It is the balancing efforts by the National Assembly that led to those observations”, he said.
He assured that the National Assembly would as quickly as possible deal with a supplementary budget which Buhari promised to send.
He said since the president had not sent the supplementary budget, he could not give a timeline on when it would be treated.
“Normally, supplementary budget doesn’t last long, it will be built on what has already been done by the National Assembly. I think that is the most important issue,” he said.
Na’Allah admitted that Buhari was right in complaining about the delay in passing the budget, noting, however, that “if you remember, you were here, the president had to order some MDAs to appear before the Assembly for the purpose of defending their budgets. It’s a very delicate issue.
“If somebody said he wants N500 million for the maintenance of bridges nationwide, then you expect the National Assembly to say Ok, that budget is approved because it came from the executive, then we have not done our work, we will be interested in knowing which of the roads are you going to maintain so that again we don’t give another allocation in the next budget. Those observations are correct, but in the budgeting process, those things are normal.”