Budgets, Drugs and Elections: Nigeria and the Plague of Motion Without Movement

Nigeria is just about a year away from the next Democracy Day celebration which will coincide with another presidential oath-taking, the identity of the oath-taker to be determined about two months prior. A similar ceremony will be held in many states across the federation on the same date, 29th May, 2018 and just like the sitting president, a majority of the governors have occupied their present executive seats for three years without a significant impact in efforts to reverse the loss of hope in the fortunes of this nation.

There have been three budget cycles, since May 2015, at the federal and state government levels with the principal actors paying inordinate attention to their comfort without facilitating adequate funding for the needs of a burgeoning population burdened with unemployment and infrastructural deficit. The federal government may however seek to argue that it has made record allocations to capital expenditure under successive budgets but the truth is that far too little has been given up and excessively much more than is necessary is continually arrogated by members of the political class.

We are approaching the midpoint of the year and the 2018 budget proposal presented to the National Assembly since December 2017 has not been passed by the lawmakers. We are neither being told what exactly the issues are nor are we seeing any concerted effort by members of the executive and legislative arms of government in resolving such issues. It would appear that the political misgivings of the principal actors of both arms of government have been allowed to hold a nation of over 180 million people to ransom.

One would have thought that with claims of introducing more transparent measures into the budget preparation process in 2016 and 2017, the 2018 budget would have had a shorter timeframe but what we presently see is a befuddling nonchalance by concerned stakeholders. The nonchalance may however be understood from the point of considering the level of regard accorded that document and its purpose.

The president has recently admitted to spending as much as $496 million on military jets without either budgetary allocation or legislative approval. It suggests those in government do not think their expenditure constrained by that document. The allocations contained in the document are similarly not significantly directed at alleviating the pains of the common Nigerian. The National Assembly of 500 lawmakers will for instance allocate to itself nearly 3 percent of the entire budget and still accord to its members, control over significant sums in the name of constituency projects.

The recent tussle between the executive and legislative arms over the order in which the 2019 general elections should be conducted also highlights the self-thinking that pervades our political class. Members of that class continue to show that the preservation of their interests either as individuals or members of the same political bloc is what matters most, not facilitating means by which the average Nigerian can live a better life. The acrimony around the process of arriving at that decision has also been seen in other activities connected to the 2019 elections.

Compared to the 2011 elections, the 2015 elections were generally more transparent and the pre-election activities less chaotic. It is therefore disturbing to see that at a time political stakeholders ought to be consolidating on the gains of 2015, there is a deliberate roll-back of those gains. Ward congresses of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) have been characterised by violence and widespread allegations of rigging reminiscent of the election stories between 2003 and 2011. One positive was however seen in Kaduna where local government elections were conducted by electronic voting and were generally rancour-free. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), the National Assembly and the Presidency will do well to examine what lessons can be learnt from the exercise and extrapolated to the general elections. A necessary step in this regard will be timely presidential assent to the amendment of the Electoral Act as passed by the National Assembly earlier this year. In all however, we can only hope that the 2019 elections to be superintended by the APC government will be as transparent as the 2015 polls.

Beyond the incidents highlighted above, there have been a number of recurring decimals in the Nigerian experience which have dominated the headlines in recent weeks. Codeine addiction is presently a hot topic, owing to a popular documentary, but before it there had been similar expressions of worry around abuse of Tramadol and cannabis at different times. It was unsurprising to hear of a ban and raids but it is certain that without an all-inclusive and structured approach to promoting enlightenment and monitoring access, among other steps, Nigeria will always have a drug problem and the sporadic bans and raids will only create content for media platforms.

On a closing note, one presidential spokesman tried to make a major deal of President Muhammadu Buhari’s return to the country from his medical checks in London about 24 hours ahead of time and failed to see the irony of his excitement. His omission is however excusable, seeing that his principal has similarly failed to realise the irony that his regular escape for foreign treatment has become, for a man who condemned medical tourism and vowed to upgrade infrastructure while campaigning for the presidency. The president and his health minister have in one week justified the foreign trip without addressing the paralysis of public health institutions where workers have downed tools.

Sadly, failure of institutions as a result of greed and nonchalance of those elected or selected to drive the affairs of those institutions has been Nigeria’s experience for decades. As we approach another election year, we can only hope against hope that we are doing enough to dislodge the present crop of politicians and enthrone persons who are more result-oriented in their application of our commonwealth. This going round the circle surely cannot be our eternal destiny. Go register to vote if you have not and encourage people around you to. Similarly resolve not to cast your vote for persons and parties who have not exhibited seriousness in effectively dealing with the issues that confront us. That seriousness must be reflected in detailed plans matched with timelines not lamentations couched in nursery rhymes or angry words. Perhaps if we try, we just might stand a chance at saving this nation from motion without movement.

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About Tobi

Lawyer. Writer. Observer
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