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ASO ROCK WATCH: Buhari’s budget lamentations. Two other talking points



Budget lamentations

On October 8, President Muhammadu Buhari disclosed that revenue generation to fund annual budgets has been the greatest challenge of his presidency.

Addressing a joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives while presenting the 2021 budget, Buhari had said: “Let me emphasise that revenue generation remains our major challenge.”

“Nevertheless, government is determined to tackle the persisting problems with domestic resource mobilisation, as there is a limit to deficit financing through borrowing,” he added.

Buhari’s lamentations over dwindling revenue to fund his Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience is understandable. Oil, as the main source of Nigeria’s revenue, has seen continuous fall in price in the global market. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has got worse, seeing to a 60% drop in the country’s revenue as attested to by the President Buhari on September 7 during a ministerial performance review in Abuja.

The funding gap naturally calls for a push on the cost side of governance. Regrettably, the Buhari-led administration has not shown enough political will to shed its excesses. Every turn still reveals a culture of profligacy as if there are no financial challenges.

This is evident in the duplicity of government agencies which find no rationale in economics but the political expediency of keeping the ‘boys’ occupied. Worse still is the blatant refusal by the political class to acknowledge that the presidential system has created a bloated structure which has become a drain pipe to the nation’s dwindling resources.

To parade ostentatiousness in the face of poverty is the height of deceit. A meaningful but practical response will be for the president to lead a revolution of some sort that would rejig governance to reflect the realities on the ground.

Cosmetic changes will not do it for a country that has been riddled with corruption across all arms and tiers of government. Any call to sacrifice must begin with the leadership, and President Buhari must be seen to be the driver of this initiative.

While in pursuit of austere measures, the President must, however, query why and how the Ministry of Petroleum, headed by him, continues to run one of the highest costs of producing oil in the world. The misnomer remains a source of great leakage, as payable royalties to government are lowly assessed.

Indeed, a crisis head is reached when Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) refuse to remit or partially remit accruals to government.

Beyond the lamentations, therefore, President Buhari must set a visionary tone for his peers across all strata and divide, showing clearly that he is ready to sacrifice and bring transparency to bear on governance.

Two other talking points

Rewarding teachers

In celebration of World Teachers’ Day, on October 5, President Muhammadu Buhari made an announcement that added vigour to the teaching profession in Nigeria.

Represented by the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, in Abuja, the President approved a special salary scale for teachers and increased the years of service from 35 to 40.

Buhari said: “Only great teachers can produce excellent people and students that will make the future of our country great.”

“There will be a special pension scheme to enable the teaching profession to retain its experienced talents as well as extend teachers retirement age to 65 years and the duration of teaching years to 40 years,” he added.

The President deserves all the commendations, as the initiative is bound to impact the teaching profession and ultimately raise the nation’s capacity to regenerate its human capital. More importantly, it attaches honour to a profession which seems somewhat unattractive to many.

Read also: ASO ROCK WATCH: As Buhari journeys into self-praise. Two other talking points

As the Buhari takes accolades, he must, however, address a different set of pertinent questions:

1. By how much have we prioritised education?

2. Why has the Federal Government found it hard to fulfil the agreements it signed with teachers to improve infrastructure in schools?

3. Why have past and present governments failed to fulfil UNESCO’s 26% recommended national budgetary allocation to education?

4. How comfortable does the Federal Government feel about the six-month shut down of tertiary institutions?

5. Will the Nigerian Government ever find a lasting solution to the recurring ASUU strike in Nigerian universities?

These questions and more tell how far we are from meeting global minimums in the pursuit of a sustainable educational system. The current leadership must appreciate the job is not yet done and should, therefore, gird its loins. Perhaps, in this way, the dignity of schooling in Nigeria would be restored.

On people’s welfare

The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, on October 6, stressed the need for elected and appointed public officers to focus on improving the welfare of the people.

Speaking at a two-day Joint Executive-Legislative Leadership Retreat in Abuja, he said: “So, my brothers and sisters, it is time to focus on what we have been elected or appointed to do; this is the welfare of our people.”

“Our people just want food on their table, shelter over their heads, clothing on their bodies, healthcare, and education for their children and themselves,” he added.

No doubt, Osinbajo’s commentary captures the challenge of governance succinctly. The Buhari-led administration has increasingly been bogged down by mass agitations over rising poverty made worse by recent hikes in cost of petrol, electricity, and human rights abuses.

While synergy between and among government institutions is a welcome development, the principle of separation of powers must not be sacrificed on the alter of camaraderie or political exigence.

This is especially so as the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) leads a charge on its lawmakers to desist from open challenge of the perceived shortcomings of the executive.

By John Chukwu…

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