Of institutions and engaging the right issues -By Eze Onyekpere

Filed under: Democracy & Governance |

Eze Onyekpere

 

It seems our attention, energy and the bulk of our resources are channelled into the wrong causes as we neglect the weighty issues and occupy ourselves with issues that will not move us forward as a people. In the discourse about moving forward, countries determine the direction of the forward movement and the leadership leads with the followers moving in tandem in the desired direction. Again, every serious nation defines its priorities and dedicates the bulk of its resources towards achieving those priorities. In so doing, the country creates the right framework and an enabling environment to guarantee the achievement of the priorities.

Also, there is usually a bond between the leadership and the led and the major issues affecting the society, to the extent that the leadership agenda seeks to respond to the stimuli of the people. But this seems to be missing in Nigeria. We have always failed in proactively addressing issues before they get out of hand, create a calamity or lead to loss of lives and property. Two issues will be used to demonstrate our misplacement of priorities. They are the constitution amendment and budgeting processes.

Since 2015, the National Assembly has been working on constitution review and as the parliament of the people, it is supposed to gauge the mood of the nation in its legislative, oversight and representative functions. The same National Assembly was fully aware of the broad and deafening agitation by moderates for restructuring, reconfiguring, devolution of powers, “true federalism”, resource control, etc in the country. On the other side of the spectrum are persons agitating for the right to self-determination for a certain section of the country on the basis of a claim to marginalisation and neglect. The minimum expected of the National Assembly was a full dispassionate consideration of the issues on the bill for devolution or decentralisation of powers and coming to well-nuanced amendment in ways that meet the enlightened interest of virtually all sections of the country. Greater autonomy and devolution of powers and resources to the states could have been the beginning of a process to decongest the stranglehold of the centre.

But the federal lawmakers representing certain interests still threw away the constitution amendment bill for devolution of powers. They did this in a cavalier devil-may-care manner with the majority of those who voted it down having come from the background of a “Say no campaign” consisting of persons who have always rejected all major reforms proposed shortly before and since Nigeria’s independence. In every union and human relationship, when associates and partners are deeply complaining about the direction of the partnership, it is imperative that the partners sit down in a give and take spirit and iron out their differences. Now, we have a storm in our hands. The Southeastern part of the country is in the grip of a military deployment called Operation Python Dance II and its fallout which is threatening the very fabric of the Nigerian society. The voice and booming sounds are one of violence and bloodshed. What is the response of the National Assembly? Postponing its resumption date at a time it would rather have reconvened to make an input into solving such a matter of grave and urgent national importance. Also, the National Assembly can afford to be proactive. It could engage the security and intelligence agencies in a cross-fertilisation of ideas and ask for briefings on possible tension points in the polity as a guide to its legislative work.

We are in the middle of September and the 2018 budget preparation activities are in top gear in the executive arm of government. There is little or no information out there on how Nigerians can contribute to the process. No one is sure on the extent of the engagement between the executive and legislature. But be sure that there will be the usual fireworks as soon as the executive estimates are unveiled and submitted to the legislature. Stories of padding and altering will emerge. But there has been adequate time for consultations and engagement so that a turf war will be avoided.

Any reasonable person who takes time to review the 2017 federal budget will come to the conclusion that our national institutions have ridiculed the concept of federal budgeting. It makes no sense for the Federal Government, under any guise, to be voting sums of money in its budget for activities outside of the Exclusive Legislative List in far flung communities that would have been better served by states and local governments. Pray, what are town halls, street lighting, primary health care centres, community primary and secondary schools, even mission schools and boreholes doing in a federal budget? None of these projects can find justification under the exclusive legislative list. After paying for the capital expenditure component, who pays for their recurrent costs to ensure that the facilities are maintained and deliver improved services and value for money? It appears that budgeting on issues outside the legislative competence of the National Assembly could be ultra vires its powers. But this needs to be tested in a court of law.

Again, civil society organisations, professional associations, and the organised labour seem to have abandoned their roles in the budgeting process. How many organisations have prepared and submitted pre-budget memoranda to the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of interest within the context of the preparation of the 2018 budget? Shall we wait until after the estimates have been prepared to complain after the fact? For instance, should the Academic Staff Union of Universities not be interested in the contents of the 2018 federal education budget? Or, would they wait to declare a strike later?

It seems that Nigerians have even forgotten the implementation of the 2017 federal budget as no one seems to be asking questions about it. For the executive, they find themselves in a bind, a budget with a large capital vote which is supposed to run out by December 2017 and all that has been released and utilised is less than one quarter of the vote. This raises the poser: Do we budget for the sake of budgeting, to fulfil all righteousness because our constitution demands a budget? Why produce a budget that will be very poorly implemented and no one is sure of the sources of financing. The whole idea ridicules the budgeting process.

Nigeria is in need of institutions, citizens and civil groups that are proactive and can anticipate events and respond to them before they turn into emergencies or throw a spanner in the works of development. Our institutions need to begin to spend the bulk of their time engaging the right issues.

 

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