By Ignatius Okorocha
There was rowdy session in the Senate on Tuesday following the disagreement between main opposition Senators and their ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) counterparts at the commencement of debate on the 2021 Appropriation Bill, which was laid before the two Chambers of the National Assembly last Thursday by President Muhammadu Buhari.
While most members of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the proposals as mere annual ritual and unrealistic, members of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), made desperate efforts to convince Nigerians that the budget was intended for their good.
The Leader of the Senate, Senator Abdullahi Yahaya, had after moving a motion for the Senate to commence debate on the general principles of the money bill, introduced and led the debate on the proposals.
Immediately he finished his lead debate, where he commented on the various projections and parameters used to prepare the budget, the Senate Minority Leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe, took the stage, pointing out the numerous defects in the budget.
He posited that the budget was nothing but mere repetition of previous years’ rituals based on unrealistic assumptions and expectations.
According to him, the budget did not take care of the global changes, whereby economies were shifting from oil to alternative sources of revenue.
He said: “Nigeria’s 2021 Federal budget proposal reads like a template from yesteryears; just with different numbers. The budget does not reflect an understanding that the world has changed and that the nation’s problems have intensified.
“The oil era is fading out, but the government retains an attitude of business-as-usual. This is not a time for tokenistic ideas. Nigeria needs big ideas. This 2021 budget proposal failed to deliver on that point.
“While Nigeria postures as a capitalistic economy, Buhari’s 2021 Federal budget de-emphasises the role of the markets in addressing the challenges in the economy, and seeks to expand the size of government.
“While socialism has its values, the arguments are in favour of capitalism. Governments should never do that which the markets are better able to accomplish.
“This position is even more compelling in a country like Nigeria, where it is difficult to find a true believer in the fact that the government is more efficient and effective than the markets.
“For instance, the 2021 budget proposes the building of new healthcare centres, procurement and equipping of numerous primary healthcare centres. While this makes for a good political headline, it is not different from what was done in the past that resulted in a substandard healthcare system.
“The 2021 budget does not reflect an understanding of the fundamental challenges with providing healthcare services in Nigeria. The budget does not reflect any actions to encourage private sector investments in the health sector.
“Most Nigerians acknowledge that the bureaucracy is too big and unwieldy; yet, the Buhari administration is focused on expanding the bureaucracy. For instance, the 2021 budget proposes to establish five new Federal Science and Technology Centres.
“The budget does not reflect an understanding of why the education system has failed or what needs to be done to fix it. Building new centres when the old centres are substandard does not address the rot in the system. Throwing good money after bad ideas is what got Nigeria in this rot in the first place.
“Building without foundations the revenue and expenditure activities proposed by the 2021 budget do not provide any evidence that they are based on a well-considered development agenda. Indeed, the budget acknowledges that the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, which was the Buhari administration’s development agenda”.
However, the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan, challenged Abaribe, reminding him that the budget proposal was an estimate and assumption, adding that it was what every government did since 1999 and would continue to be.
“Concentrate on those things you think we can do to make this budget perform optimally.
But Abaribe countered Lawan asking rhetorically that if the budget was based on assumption as he said, “why are you not assuming properly? We should not also be assuming the wrong things.’