Notwithstanding whatever may be said in favour of or otherwise about it, the mere presentation – even belatedly by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, of Budget 2024 last Wednesday, to a joint session of the National Assembly, constitutes a commendable outing by his administration.
For several months and weeks before the presentation, heightened expectations and sundry speculations had been rife across opinion circles in and outside the country, in respect of the direction of the new administration. And Budget 2024, was expected to provide the appropriate clue, at least as the first full-year fiscal agenda for the administration. Tinubu’s presentation last Wednesday, more than provided that clue.
The basic features of Budget 2024 include a projected expenditure of N27.5 trillion, which is higher by 2.3% than the 2023 figure of N24.82 trillion. Other significant numerals of the 2024 budget include the adopted price of $96.00 per barrel for Nigeria’s crude oil in the international market, with the expectation of selling 1.78 million barrels per day. In the same vein, the administration is adopting the exchange rate of N750.00 per $1.00 for related transactions. A rather interesting angle is that debt servicing, which gulped N13 billion or 6.11 % of GDP in 2003, is allocated the sum of N18 billion which comes to 3.68% of the country’s projected GDP for 2024.
In a general context, Budget 2024 features the foregoing along with several other components that indicate the commitment to and a fair attempt by the Tinubu administration to renew hopes for a better Nigeria, even as some other provisions require discretion and the incorporation of suitable palliatives for their implementation. One of these components is the proposed expansion of the National Social Safety Net to include more poor people. The issue here is that the designation of the so-called poor, has never been transparent. But that is a matter for another day.
Also of interest is the intention of the administration to build closer collaboration with the private sector. This clearly is a booster initiative that will prove strategic to its enterprise, as governance without a robust interface with the private sector is akin to trying to clap with one hand.
In another vein is the intention of the administration to impose a more robust tax drive to increase collectables from less than 10% of the GDP presently, to at least 18%. This will definitely prove a testy pill to swallow for the country’s not so rich citizens, given the history and politics of tax increases in the country, especially with the current state of destitution of most Nigerians.
Meanwhile, also among the reasons for heightened interest in Budget 2024 is the revelation from several areas where the Bola Tinubu administration is embarking on a different direction from the previous tenure of President Muhamadu Buhari, even as both dispensations are of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Among the differences between both of them – given the emerging aspects of the Tinubu era, is that while his predecessor Buhari was rather laid-back in his style, Tinubu is believed to be more assertive in leadership. Hence, Tinubu’s administration is not a continuation of Buhari’s and therefore it cannot be business as usual with him at the helm of affairs. This is especially more so, as far as Budget 2024 is concerned, being the first road map for his presidency.
With the budget package now in the hands of the National Assembly, both the administration and Nigerians need to appreciate the implications of its avoidable lateness, and therefore brace for a return to the days of late budget passage. With the routine cycle for budget passage in the National Assembly being between 12 and 16 months, the earliest time for passage of this budget is March 2024. That is so, unless the unusual happens.
It is significant that the President of the Senate Godswill Akpabio has promised that the National Assembly will review the budget package with dispatch. This is just as he also muted the requirement of ministers and heads of MDAs shelving travels during the end of year season, in order to be available to respond to enquiries by the National Assembly, which the budget review exercise entails. While this is a tacit inveighing by Akpabio on the failure by the Tinubu administration to bring the budget on time – ostensibly as early as September 2023, it remains to be seen how it will manifest and redeem the situation, as even the National Assembly will also be on end of year vacation soon with its members billed to travel out.
This is where the Tinubu administration needs to upgrade its inner workings to be more disposed towards executive promptness in service delivery. While it may be admitted that the Tinubu administration is new and needed to put its house in order, it also needs to be pointed out that from experience, delays in national budget exercises often arise from system-wide weaknesses, and not necessarily by the fault of any single agency of government. Hence while, the Tinubu administration may have earned some significant positives in its outing, the circumstance of late arrival of Budget 2024 should serve as a wake-up call and measure of the capacity as well as capability ratings for the country’s federal public service establishment.
Of a more critical significance is the unmistakable mismatch between the current public service structure and the mouth-watering promise of the Renewed Hope Agenda. Put succinctly, without a drastic overhaul of the federal public service structure and repositioning same for better service delivery, the Renewed Hope agenda will remain nothing better than an irritating slogan associated with a flaccid initiative.
In the context of the current state of affairs for most Nigerians, the Renewed Hope agenda is taken by them as gospel truth with prospects for life support. Hence, its success qualifies as a life and death matter for millions of them. That is why significant premium hangs on this budget as it is not just Tinubu’s first budget. It is a statement on whether he should be trusted in the coming four or eight years of his Presidency.
Going further, one area that the Tinubu administration will gain credit in its bid to turn-around the country, is in domestication of whatever initiative it has on its cards. The revival of the economy ultimately depends on taking Nigerians back to increased productivity, through fast-tracked, actualisation of producing what we consume, and consuming what we produce.
This is the grondnorm of meaningful and sustainable economic turn-around which the country is crying for. This is also why the focus of the administration should be on our grassroots production bases – namely our farms, factories, cottage industries and craft-centres. That should be the meeting point between Budget 2024 and the Renewed Hope agenda.