By Olusegun Adeniyi
The futility of budgets in Nigeria was once captured in an X (then Twitter) thread by ‘Laolu Samuel-Biyi. I have twice referenced it on this page. Writing how a serious national economic planning instrument has been cynically subverted, Samuel-Biyi concluded: “If you want to keep hope alive in Nigeria, don’t look at the budget”. Since we are in that season when authorities in Abuja and the 36 states are releasing their budgets for the coming year, the admonition is important for those who seek to retain their sanity. Ironically, the federal government appropriation bill 2024, presented by President Bola Tinubu, was christened ‘Budget of Renewed Hope’ even when the breakdown suggests otherwise. But there is even a more fundamental subtext to that.
During the appropriation process in the National Assembly, Senator Adams Oshiomhole spoke to the social injustice in our country. What prompted his lamentation was the budget allocation for the Nigeria Correctional Service (NSC). “One of the things that has come out is that an unconvicted Nigerian is being fed with N750 (per day) and you feed each of the dogs under your care with N800 per day! So, a dog is better fed in the Nigerian prison than an innocent Nigerian in your custody,” Oshiomhole told the NSC Controller General, Haliru Nababa, before concluding that the challenge is institutional. “It is a major policy issue. We don’t know the intention of the government to allocate more money to feed animals than to feed human beings.”
Before we come back to that policy, symptomatic of the way Nigerians are regarded by officialdom, let’s examine the ongoing budget ‘naming ceremonies’ across the country which should interest onomasticians. Having agreed to represent his N800 billion budget earlier passed by five members in a 32-member House of Assembly, the people of Rivers wait to see how Governor Siminalayi Fubara delivers on his ‘Budget of Renewed Hope, Consolidation and Continuity.’ But for the first time in a long while, the people of Cross River State are being presented with a budget whose title they can at least understand. Whether it makes a difference in their lives is another matter altogether. Gone are the trillion Naira budgets of ‘Deep Vision’, ‘Infinite Transposition’, ‘Kinetic Crystallization’, ‘Olimpotic Meristemasis’, ‘Qabalistic Densification’ etc. fantasised by Ben Ayade whose successor has christened his ‘The People First Budget’, whatever that means.
Even when the revenues expected to fund their (mostly deficit) budgets will be sourced from fresh borrowings, many of the governors have come up with fanciful titles as captured by Statisense, a financial reporting data company: Abia (Budget of New Beginning), Adamawa (Budget of Re-engineering), Akwa Ibom (Arise Budget for Growth and Expansion), Anambra (Budget of Changing Gears), Bauchi (Budget of Consolidation & Renewed Focus), Bayelsa (Budget of Sustainable and Shared Prosperity), Benue (Budget of Infrastructure, Development, Job Creation and Poverty Alleviation), Borno (Budget of Consolidation and Progress), Delta (Budget of Hope and Optimism), Ebonyi (Budget of Innovation and Progress), Edo (Budget of Home Run and Finishing Strong), Ekiti (Budget of Sustainable Growth and Development), Enugu (Budget of Disruptive Economic Growth) Gombe (Budget of Continuity and Consolidation), Imo (Budget of Renewed Economic Growth), Jigawa (Budget of Greater Jigawa), Kaduna (Budget of Rural Transformation for Inclusive Development), Kano (Budget of Restoration and Transformation), Katsina (Building Your Future), Kebbi (Budget of Infrastructural Development and People Empowerment), Kogi (Budget of Consolidation and Continuity for Inclusive Growth), Kwara (Budget of Economic Expansion and Collective Prosperity), Lagos (Budget of Renewal), Nasarawa (Budget of Renewed Commitment), Niger (The Budget of the Future), Ogun (Budget of Sustained Growth and Development), Ondo (Budget of Economic Resilience), Osun (Budget of Reconstruction and Recovery), Oyo (Budget of Economic Recovery), Plateau (Budget of New Beginnings), Sokoto (Budget of Hope and Resilience), Taraba (Budget of Moving Forward), Yobe (Budget of Consolidation and Economic Recovery) and Zamfara, (Rescue Budget).
While we can leave experts to dissect these budgets, even laymen like me can see that when you juxtapose the amount earmarked for debt servicing with allocations for recurrent expenditure as well as projects considered priorities in many of them, the only conclusion to draw is that resource allocation resembles a distribution of spoils rather than a serious plan for growth and development. What is even more worrisome is that for many of these states, the Fiscal Sustainability Index presents a distressing picture. Not many can meet salary obligations to their workers from internally generated revenues.
Indeed, the 2023 States Fiscal Sustainability Index Analysis by BudgIT, a civic organisation that applies technology for citizen engagement to facilitate societal change, paints a dreary picture. “While at least 50% of the total revenue of 33 states were federal transfers, 13 states relied on federal transfers for at least 70% of their total revenues,” according to BudgIT 2023 State of the States report, based on 2022 records. To dig ourselves out of the collective hole in which we have now found ourselves, only a bipartisan approach can help. Luckily, we have in Tinubu a president who can forge such consensus though the question remains – to what end?
As earlier stated, there is something broken in a nation that would allocate more money to feed a dog than to feed a human being. To be fair, the NSC has for years been advocating an increase in the feeding allowance for inmates. The total number now stands at 81,354 nationwide, out of which 53,352 are awaiting trial. But Chairman of the National Assembly joint committee and former Labour leader, Oshiomhole could see the bigger picture. “About 53,352 or more (inmates) are awaiting trial. They are not guilty of any offence known to law; they are innocent under our laws. For an innocent Nigerian who is being held in a correctional home, N250 per meal is grossly inadequate. I wonder what you are feeding them with,” said Oshiomhole who then spoke to the injustice of our system. “Many of them are there for an offence they knew nothing about. Somebody said if (the late Mr Nelson) Mandela was in a Nigerian prison for 27 years, he would have lost his sanity by the time he was released to govern South Africa.”
That should compel a rethink. Meanwhile, given that the dire economic situation has pushed the nation in the direction of an aggressive tax drive, authorities in Abuja and the states should also be aware that such monies are meant to fund critical infrastructure and social services. Not to feed the vanity of political office holders who continue to live large at the expense of poor citizens. As The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Hassan Matthew Kukah reminded the president in his Christmas homily, hope has worn thin in our dear nation. “Nigerians have almost lost hope in the fact that a government can really and truly care for them. Nigerians have lost hope in the fact that our politicians will put our interests first.”
That message is not only for President Tinubu, but for all the 36 governors as well.
The Herods in Our Midst
With pounded yam aided by ‘Wara’ and other delicacies peculiar to our people, it’s been fun since we arrived Ilorin, Kwara State last weekend as we do every year. But since there is more to this season than eating and drinking, I had to be in Church on Monday for the Christmas service. Instead of joining my wife to attend the family’s Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) church in Osere, I chose to attend First ECWA on Taiwo Road along with my cousin, Wale Banmore. It turned out to be fortuitous.
The sermon was preached by a visiting Pastor Godwin Adeboye, who is currently the African Regional Coordinator at Shepherd’s Academy, Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, United Kingdom, where he is also conducting his doctoral research as a Langham scholar. He took his text from the book of Matthew chapter 2, verse 16 to 18: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’.”
The young pastor said he chose the story which is hardly emphasized at Christmas (even though central to it) so we could draw lessons from a central character and the massacre he orchestrated out of insecurity and sheer wickedness. While, as the pastor said, Christmas is not about Herod, Nigeria is what it is today because of the Herods that populate critical areas of our national life in both the private and public sectors. And he cited a few examples and named names to buttress his point. It is not from my mouth that anybody would hear that teacher’s mother is a witch so let’s leave out the names, although the pastor also stated that there are Herods everywhere, including in the Church.
However, in expanding that thesis, Dr Babatomiwa Moses Owojaiye, the host pastor, said Herod in the story represents more than a person: “It is an idea, a philosophy, a way of life” and that no society can progress when you have so many people with the spirit of Herod. Indeed, it will take people with the spirit of Herod to orchestrate the kind of massacre visited on 23 villages in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local governments of Plateau States last weekend. With dozens killed, vehicles and houses razed, the Beron Youth Moulders Association spokesman, Rwang Tengwong summed up the tragedy: “On a day meant to celebrate love, compassion and togetherness, the perpetrators of this dastardly act have brought untold agony, suffering and grief to the affected communities.”
On the paradox of celebrating the birth of Jesus, in the context of Herod’s slaughter of innocent children, Melinda Quivik argued that the story of salvation amid cruelty is crucial rather than something to avoid. “A shallow religiosity will not want to hear about the murder of children, but such horrors are not endured by failing to hear about them,” she wrote. “What overpowers the bloody spectacles human beings create is the overwhelming truth that God gives not only a means for responding to evil but also a reason: God’s creation is holy, intended for good.”
In the ‘Heartlight’ devotional piece that is also based on the same passage, the writer confessed to his dislike of the children’s massacre because “It spoils the sentimentality of the birth story of Jesus.” He, however, added that it also contains a message that should not be lost on society. “The slaying of the innocents reminds us of how easily we can slip into a mentality that puts personal protection, reputation, and position above the rights of those who are vulnerable and powerless.”
As I pray God to deliver us and our country from ‘the spirit of Herod’, I wish all my readers a prosperous year 2024.
• You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on www.olusegunadeniyi.com