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How to improve Nigeria’s budgetary process – Rep. Golu

What are the activities of your committee? The committee is one of the 96 standing committees of the House with a specific mandate as enshrined…

What are the activities of your committee?

The committee is one of the 96 standing committees of the House with a specific mandate as enshrined in our rules. This committee is specifically responsible for objective and timely analysis of the budget or any economic/financial document of the country. The committee gives direction on such documents.

But the main work of the committee is oversighting the National Assembly Budget and Research Office (NABRO), which is an internal budgetary structure of the parliament. It is equivalent of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the US Congress. What we do now as a committee is to supervise the establishment of that office. 

This is the third time the National Assembly is trying to establish NABRO. It was first passed into law during the tenure of former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, and transmitted to him about three weeks to the end of his tenure. So, he didn’t sign it, and there was no time to veto him. 

Also, late President Yar’Adua didn’t have enough time to take decision on it because of his sickness. Jonathan too could not sign it because it was taken to him three days to the end of his tenure.

What progress have you made so far on the NABRO bill?

When we came on board, I said we would do it within the shortest possible time. As soon as I was appointed, we sat down within six months and concluded work on the bill. It went through first, second and third readings. The Senate concurred and we took it for the president’s assent. 

However, our legal department later made some observations and we had to recall it to make some additional input.

Just last week, I resubmitted it before the House for us to rescind our decision on some of the aspects of the bill. Once we resume next week, the Committee of the Whole will reconsider some of the observations. The Senate has already done it. So, once NABRO is in place, it would guide the National Assembly in budget process and consideration, because we have relied so much on the executive in the past for budgetary information and sometimes they’re misleading.

There’s already a national budget office, why should the National Assembly have another?

We need one because as an oversight body for MDAs, we need to be well-equipped, informed and strategic. We need to know what we’re doing. We can’t go to the ministry of finance or budget and rely on their information without experts analysing it for us here. As people who work on the budget, we need to be on top of the situation.

Most of the projects included in the budget estimates submitted to the National Assembly don’t worth budgetary approval because there are no criteria.

Won’t it clash with the National Budget Office?

Not at all; NABRO is a strictly parliamentary budget office to feed the standing and ad-hoc committees, while the National Budget Office is an executive structure. NABRO can oversight the National Budget Office and obtain information from them. It’s mandatory for them to supply NABRO with every information demanded.

You see, the Minister of Works is allocating almost all projects to his own area without federal character. Look at the kind of allegations he’s coming up with against the National Assembly. He wants us to be a rubber stamp so that when they submit budget, we should just pass it.

The National Assembly is made up of intelligent and professional people like him. Those that put the constitution together knew what they were doing. What we’re doing is in line with the law. There’s no way you will exclude, for instance, Nasarawa State, from federal projects because you’re from Lagos State and you want the projects to be around your area. There is need to spread these projects so that all Nigerians will benefit.

So, if NABRO comes into being, it will take care of all these anomalies. Before any project is considered worthy of budgetary attention, it must be approved by NABRO, if not we won’t pass it.

With all these issues, how implementable is the 2017 budget?

We agreed with the executive on their assumptions when we were working on the MTEF. But the assumptions have changed, so we had work based on the new development. We have a point in doing that, but I think the deficit will be very small. We increased the budget primarily because of increase in expected expenditure. You can see that the security situation in the country is being taken care of, and that can’t be done without funds.

As it is now, if the executive makes an estimate of a road project between Lagos and Calabar, do you know that we’re supposed to, not just go and see it with our eyes, but also carry along our technical experts? But that isn’t available in the National Assembly now, unlike the executive. That’s going to be part of NABRO’s work anyway.

So, the budget is implementable if the presidency has the will to do it. I believe they have the will to do it because there’s nothing extra or outside what the people want. If you go through the budget, we were able to spread all projects that were concentrated in particular areas. We can’t be talking about roads, water and agriculture only to concentrate such projects on one side.

There’s this issue of non-implementation of the national emergency communication centres that you brought before the house; what was it all about?

It had to do with the need to reactivate the 199 dialing code that we had under the defunct NITEL. As soon as you dialed, it would take you to the call centre and then they would know you’re in distress. With the demise of NITEL, that just disappeared. NCC was given the mandate to reactivate that in 2006 with the emergence of the GSM network.

If this dedicated national telephone line is made available through the service providers, it will solve a lot of problems. Look at the recent fire incident on the House on the Rock. They would have just dialed the line for fire service. Funds have been committed for NCC in the budget, so what have they been doing with all that? They have to come and explain.

How soon can that be achieved?

It is achievable because as a house, once we commit something to a committee, we don’t sleep on it; we pursue it to the last. If not for the oversight of the National Assembly, the situation would have been worst. MDAs have been very reckless with their mandate. You’ll approve money for them, but they won’t use it until you wake them up. They’ll just sit on the funds.

When will the NABRO bill be ready?

We’re set to be through with it as soon as we return from the break. We believe if it is signed into law, it will solve all these problems of unnecessary blames. The absence of NABRO is affecting the quality of our budgetary process.

We want a situation where the budgetary calendar will revert to January to December. We’re expecting the MTEF next month so that we can work on it and give the budget accelerated consideration and passage. The MDAs have started budgetary meetings, but they’re not consulting the National Assembly. If they do, it will make the process faster and reduce friction.


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