When the 2023 annual budget of N20.51 trillion annual budget was presented to the joint session of the upper and lower legislative Chambers, it would have been taken as a normal exercise without raising an eyebrow, considering that the presentation was in line with some relevant provisions of the Constitution.
However, issues of legitimacy and otherwise began to prop up as both Chambers commenced the legislative debate on the general principles of the document on Wednesday.
The debate on the general principles of the budget document, which is officially an executive bill, has nonetheless revealed figures in detail, item by item in line with the priority of government under Capital, Personnel and Recurrent expenditures.
It is in line with this that DAILY POST observed that the recurrent expenditure of the current administration has been alarmingly on steady rise amid the yearning of government to cut cost in governance. For instance, the recurrent expenditure or overhead cost as it is also called for 2023 has surged from N6.9 trillion in 2022 to N8.2 trillion.
The recurrent expenditure is the yearly cost of activities of government and it was expected that this cost reduces due to certain measures or policies of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration which were aimed at putting this expenditure on the downward spiral.
It is observed that in 2018, three years after President Muhammadu Buhari took over governance on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), the recurrent expenditure was out at N3.5 trillion in rise of the preceding year; again in 2019, it went up to N4.7 trillion. This is even when governance was completely shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. DAILY POST recalled that both public and private establishments resorted to virtual means of doing business, yet no single amount of money was refunded to the national treasury of the Federal government as unspent overhead.
Again in 2020, the total amount for recurrent stood at N4.8 trillion. This is notwithstanding the embargo placed on recruitment of workers into the Federal Civil Service in the past seven years of Buhari’s administration. This is except for replacement of workers who have either died or resigned from service.
Though, the legislative session in the upper and lower legislative Chambers have been suspended to enable the Committees conduct public hearings on the appropriation of Ministries, Departments and Agencies of government, it should be a matter of curiosity on the part of the Chairmen and the members of those Committees to subject heads of the agencies of government to serious interrogation.
To also dwell much on budget performance of each agency of government would be the right thing to do, particularly on their recurrent expenditure where it would lay bare value for funds released by the Federal Ministry of Finance for the year under review.
Reacting on Wednesday after plenary, the Senator representing Borno South Senatorial district, and Chairman of Committee on Army, Ali Ndume decried the yearly rise in recurrent expenditure without the commensurate results or successes in government circle.
In what he described as “Yahoo Yahoo boys in government offices”, the lawmaker lamented that some civil servants in government were worse off when it comes to the handling of public funds, stressing that they steal with impunity.
He queried the 2023 recurrent expenditure which the Federal government was seeking approval from the parliament, saying that it amounted to a 43% increase compared to that of 2022, while insisting that the appropriation shouldn’t be allowed to scale third reading in a hurry after they have reconvened on 15th November.
The lawmaker believes that the upward trend in the recurrent expenditure means enriching individual pockets of some officials of government and further queried the essence of IPPIS and other payment platforms.
Though he lauded the Buhari administration’s timely releases of funds based on the yearly budget circle that runs from January to December, he doubted that meaningful achievements could be recorded amid rise in recurrent expenditure and debt servicing, particularly in 2023.
Ndume said: “What we witnessed in this administration is an improved implementation of the budget, in terms of releases.
“To the continuous rise in the recurrent expenditure and debt servicing, but that in debt servicing is even understandable. When you borrow to spend on recurrent and this money is going to less than 5 percent of Nigerian workers.
“Right now the recurrent expenditure is standing at about 43 per cent which should be a concern to everyone.”
He also called for investigation of the current figure, saying: “This rise in recurrent expenditure should be investigated.
“The introduction of TSA, GIFMIS and IPPIS is supposed to control this cost, but instead you know Nigerians. I suspect we have more yahoo Yahoo people in the government than you find in the hotels and on the streets.”
According to him, the sum of N32 billion allocated to the Nigerian Army as capital expenditure amid the high level of insecurity was grossly inadequate, adding that the figure has been static in the last three years.
He said the Army which he chairs have improved the security challenges across the nation, believing that if the amount was upscaled it could reduce insecurity in the country.
He added: “I’m in charge of the Army. Look at the funniest thing, we are in a war situation everywhere. We are saying the challenge of insecurity should be addressed which is very important.
“But guess what? The capital budget of the Nigerian Army again is only N32 billion. Are we serious? If we are not safe, how can we even spend?
“The capital budget of the Nigerian Army is still grossly inadequate compared to what they need to bring this issue of escalating insecurity to an end.”
In her view, Senator Oluremi Tinubu representing Lagos Central Senatorial district commended President Buhari for the 2023 budget, saying that he has laid a solid legacy over the years he has spent.
She said: “President Muhammadu Buhari has laid a solid legacy and the 2023 N20.51 trillion which is a combination of all subheads will be used to continue his legacies in infrastructure by the successive governments.
“Of course, Buhari is not a magician that will complete everything during his tenure. He did his best and he is still doing but another government will continue from where he stopped”, Oluremi said.