President Muhamadu Buhari presented the estimates for Budget 2022 to a joint session of the National Assembly last Thursday, in an ambience that captured the historicity of the event. For instance, the fact that this was the last full year budget exercise was not lost on many Nigerians including himself, as he admitted so in his speech. According to him, “The 2022 Budget will be the last full year budget by this administration. We designed it to build on the administration’s achievements of previous budgets and to deliver on our goals and aspirations as will be reflected in our soon to be launched National Development Plan 2021 -2025”.
This pronouncement which more than any other accentuates the premium by the administration on Budget 2022 as an d end game of sorts, remains one dispensation in which the President needs to reconcile with his legacy at exit from office, come May 29 2023. As is expected, the next budget of 2023 by this administration will only be valid for the period January 1st to May 29th of that year. The lesson therefore should not be lost on any discerning mind that the dispensation of Budget 2022, remains, predictably, Buhari’s last testament to posterity as whatever he presents as the 2023 budget may not be more than a foot note, apparently for guidance of the succeeding administration, which may even debunk and discredit it, depending on the turn of prevailing political circumstances in the country.
Hence the circumstances of Budget 2022 qualify for more than a perfunctory consideration, as the administration should not approach the budget’s implementation with the mindset of business as usual. Rather, the implementation of Budget 2022 should accentuate a commitment not only to correct as much as possible, the numerous glitches of previous budgets by the administration, but also set the country and future on the path of economic sustainability, political stability and social harmony. Nigerians cannot be asking for too much, with respect to these expectations.
Instructively, juxtaposing the foregoing expectations from Budget 2022 with the antecedents of the Buhari administration offer worrisome angles that provide little cheer; a situation that is in sharp contrast with the glee with which some legislators (fawning acolytes of the Buhari persona they are), received the budget presentation. For a closer look at its parameters and promise betray the reality that unless an uncommon approach is availed the implementation of Budget 2022, its end game will not be more dignified than the preceding six budget packages, under the Buhari administration.
Coming at an ambitious value of N16.39 trillion, Budget 2022 admissibly qualifies as a jumbo package by Nigerian standards. But just as the issues of size and impact are as far apart as Lagos is from Maiduguri, so not a few Nigerians rank the administration as positively impactful with respect to taking the citizenry to a higher level in all these years since 2015. Meanwhile, other highlights associated with it include its not very early presentation by the president in October instead of August. The situation leaves the prayer warriors in the administration to go to work and pray that the expectation that Budget 2022 sees the light of day by January 2022, and runs its constitutional mandate of January to December, materializes. Another is its status as the starting point for the rather belated National Development Plan 2021-2025. The moot point here is that plans in every situation, are best launched ahead of the envisaged plan period. However, according to the president in his budget speech, the new National Development Plan 2021-2025, is actually taking off towards the end of 2021!
Yet another point of interest remains that once more the national budget (Budget 2022) shall be driven with a significant deficit funding of N6.6 trillion or 3.39% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which even breaches the upper statutory limit of 3% set by the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007. The implication here is that the administration’s seeming fixation with debt accumulation, hits an apogee as its signing off note. On a more relaxed note, one can still remember along with street wise Nigerians of an older generation, the old pop song by Norman Whitfield – ‘Papa was a rolling stone, wherever he laid his head was his home. And when he died, all he left was a loan’.
It is no secret – except to the leading lights of the administration that the indebtedness of the country courtesy of the Buhari administration, has kept every discernible Nigerian worried, with only categorical statement and specific action directed at reducing the country’s debts capable of assuaging the citizenry. Budget 2022 estimates as presented by the President to the National Assembly clearly indicates that the administration is not thinking in that direction.
The question therefore remains whether President Muhamadu Buhari is actually comfortable with leaving office with a legacy of leaving the country with its present and future generations steeped in the morass of chronic indebtedness, as his last testament to posterity? One would have expected him and the administration to have done better with Budget 2022.