2021 budget: Will Reps insist on ASUU demands, compensation of police brutality victims? 

President Muhammadu Buhari presents budget to National Assembly

JOSHUA EGBODO writes on issues arising from the 2021 budget deliberations in the House of Representatives 

Buhari’s message

Besides the request for quick passage of the 2021 budget bill, one thing that seemingly gladdened President Muhammadu Buhari was the effort of the National Assembly at returning the nation’s budget cycle back to a January-December format, which it successfully instituted through the 2019 budget.

“Today marks an important occasion in our quest to accord the federal budget process the seriousness it deserves. In line with our commitment, we have worked extra hard to ensure early submission of the 2021 –2023 Medium-term Expenditure Framework and Fiscal Strategy Paper, as well as the 2021 Appropriation Bill. It is my sincere hope that the National Assembly will pass this Bill into law early enough to enable implementation by 1st January 2021, given the collaborative manner in which the budget was prepared”, the President stated in part of his opening remarks.

Also making reference to the performance of the 2020 budget, the President noted that “Over the last year, this Administration has implemented several priority projects. I am happy to report that much progress has been made on several fronts and our Government has delivered on key policies, programmes and projects in these priority areas”.

He emphatically told the lawmakers that the 2021 budget was “designed to further deliver on the goals of our Economic Sustainability Plan. This Plan provides a clear road map for our post- Coronavirus economic recovery as a transitional plan to take us from the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017 – 2020) to the successor Medium-Term National Development Plan (2021 – 2025). 

Recalling some of the challenges being faced by the nation hitherto, he said there was need therefore, to “accelerate our economic recovery process, promote social inclusion and strengthen the resilience of the economy. The 2021 Appropriation has, therefore, been themed the ‘Budget of Economic Recovery and Resilience’. It is expected to accelerate the pace of our economic recovery, promote economic diversification, enhance competitiveness and ensure social inclusion”.

It is one thing to pass a budget to escape the blame game that usually characterize the annual ritual, and leaving executive arm of the federal government helpless in terms of executing same, this time however, the President appealed that “Nigerians expect that the 2021 Budget will contain only implementable and critical projects, which when completed, will significantly address current structural challenges of the economy, improve the business environment and accelerate economic recovery”.

Gbajabiamila’s expectations

With the budget bill successfully laid, and the next task squarely on the parliament, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila gave assurances that justice would be done by his committees, and by extension, the National Assembly, and early too. He said “I believe I speak on behalf of the entire National Assembly, in assuring you that the proposal will receive thorough and speedy consideration.

“We will collaborate with the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the Executive to deliver a budget that meets the needs and matches the ambitions of the Nigerian people. And we will hold ourselves in the Legislature to the highest standards of integrity so that our deliberations and contributions to this process are motivated only by considerations of the best interests of the Nigerian people”.

With the sudden emergence of restiveness by youths over police brutality, a new twist was added by the Speaker on the need to make provisions in the budget to compensate victims of such acts, vowing that he would never sign off the budget without such, as well as allocation to address pending issues of earned allowances to members of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), which have kept nation’s ivory towers closed for months running.

“As Speaker of this House of Representatives, let me say now for the records to reflect, and in the expectation that I would be held to account: I will not sign off on a 2021 Budget that does not include adequate provisions to compensate those who have suffered violence and brutality at the hands of the police in Nigeria in the last two decades.

“I will not sign off on a budget that does not meet the reasonable demands of the ASUU, to which the government has already acceded. There is no better time to rethink the system of funding for higher education in Nigeria. The current system does a great disservice to our children and our country, and we must commit to changing it so that we can free our institutions of higher learning to be citadels where innovation thrives, and excellence is a given”, the Speaker stated in a remark at resumption of plenary on Tuesday.

Speaking further on victims of police brutality, Gbajabiamila said “With my colleagues in the House of Representatives, I will visit over the next week, some of the families of those who have lost loved ones to police brutality and when we come back, we will work together to honour the memory of those we have lost their lives”.

Echoes from committees engagements

Specifically on October 14, 2020, the 2021 budget Bill passed second reading on floor of the House, with a charge from the leadership on the standing committees, as well as that of appropriations, which in practice remains the clearing house, to ensure that the January-December budget circle is sustained.

Majority Leader of the House, Hon. Alhassan Ado Doguwa in the admonition said, “I urged committees to look at this document (budget) dispassionately and do justice to it, by redirecting the context and content of the budget for the benefit of the people. We must not compromise on the achievements made on the January-December circle, so as the committees go to work, I urge them to look at the new calendar”.

The committees in tune with the thinking of the leadership, have since last week been engaging federal government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) in appraisal of their 2020 budget performances, and defence of the coming year’s proposed estimates.

Some of those engagements as usual, were dramatic. Others smooth, and having instances where committees curiously lament over poor budgetary allocations to some of the MDAs. The Committee on Science and Technology during a pre-budget defence oversight visit to the Ministry of Science and Technology last week through its Chairman, Hon. Beni Lar said there was a need for immediate higher budgetary allocation for the sector. 

There have also been several instances of committees turning back MDAs over wrong presentation format of reports and estimates, failure of top heads of such MDAs to make appearances, and sometimes, inability to convince panel members on allocations to certain subheads.

The House Committee on Power, led by Hon. Aliyu Magaji on Tuesday,  was in the news for vowing not to allow any new project in the 2021 budget of the Transmission Company of Nigeria ((TCN), insisting that it would rather redistribute funds towards completing the plethora of ongoing projects. It also told the agency to urgently pay all statutory debts owed the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), or risk being denied its 2021 budget.

Nigerians expectant

With a timeline already issued to the committees, it is of great hope that all engagements with the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) would be rounding off next week. With a lot of promises made by President Buhari as he presented the budget, the citizens are in high expectations, that the National Assembly would deliver on time and in a manner that is implementable.

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