By Isaac Botti, Programme Officer, Social Action, Abuja.
The Nigerian federal government on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, presented its 2018 Appropriation Bill to the National Assembly for consideration and approval. The 2018 federal budget is tagged “Budget of Consolidation”, developed to consolidate on the achievements of the 2017 “Budget of Recovery and Growth”. Taken together, the impression is that the government crafted the earlier budget to revamp and stabilise the economy, while the current proposal is to solidify those gains.
The text of press briefing on Nigeria’s debt profile and management by the Social Development Integrated Centre (Social Action), Abuja, Nigeria, October 19, 2017.
At a National Conference on Public Debt Management in Nigeria organised by Social Action in November of 2015 in Abuja, Social Action presented an advocacy research report on Nigeria’s debt profile and management, including state-level debts. Social Action warned that the indicators emanating from across the economic sectors do not support any further ramping up of debts. We called for action to towards sustained reduction in the debt profile of both the national and sub-national debts.
In an assessment carried out by Social Action on ‘states of openness in the Niger Delta’, Edo state came out tops in the statistical analysis of open budget indices.
Social Action has congratulated the Edo State Government for ensuring that Edo State blazed the trail in the open budget process. Social Action’s message was conveyed during advocacy visits to senior government officials in Benin City on 21 July 2017. Officials visited included the Chairman, Committee on Information and Appropriation, Edo State House of Assembly, Hon. Damian Lawani, the Chief of Staff to the Governor of Edo State, Taiwo Francis Akerele and the Commissioner of Budget, Planning and Economic Development, Maryam Abubakar. Social Action’s Public Finance Accountability team included Programme Officers Prince Ekpere and Peter Mazzi and members of Edo State Open Budget Cluster.
Ken Henshaw, Programmes Manager of Social Action, reflects on efforts to promote public finance accountability in the states and local governments of Nigeria
In Nigeria, quite often, accountability in the management of public resources is sacrificed on the altar of cronyism. This state of affairs may be more established at the sub-national levels where about half of all public revenues in the country are expended. While there is a justified focus on the federal government and the office of the President, in particular, many citizens do not tend to pay attention to the 36 states and 774 local governments which together receive almost 50 percent of all federally collected revenues – not to mention internally generated revenues. However, the significant allocations to states and local governments from the Federation Account on a monthly basis hardly translate into real benefits for the majority of citizens. Even more worrisome is the breeding of citizens’ apathy towards sub-national governments – the local government councils, in particular. Rather than the tier of government closest to the grassroots promoting participation, what we find is alienation, which further reinforces non-accountability of public officials.
Social Action is working with citizen groups to mobilise community activists towards tackling corruption at the sub-national levels of government in Nigeria.
In the last quarter of 2016, activists and volunteers connected with Social Action’s Community Budget Advocates Committees (CBACs) went around monitoring the implementation of budgets in six states of Nigeria. In Abia, Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, Kano and Nasarawa States, community budget advocates in the various locales visited project sites, interviewed project beneficiaries and government officials with the aim of ascertaining whether public funds were being deployed as appropriated in the budget.
This new Social Action briefing presents findings of research into the extent to which 5 states of the Niger Delta- Akwa Ibom, Delta, Rivers, Edo and Bayelsa- operate their fiscal processes in line with the principles of open budget. It equally examines how citizens in these states relate with and perceive government and its officials on fiscal matters.
The year 2015 witnessed unprecedented economic downturn in Nigeria. With the price of crude oil in the international market dropping steeply, the Nigerian economy shrank and the government considered activating austerity measures.
On the 31st of August 2016, Social Action’s Open Budget Cluster carried out a Citizens’ –Government Roundtable meeting on Open Budgets. The event aimed at ensuring that state annual budgets are open and available to citizens. This accessibility of state budgets will kick-start other forms of citizens’ engagement which will lead to more participatory and prudent fiscal practices.
It is worrying that at the sixth month of the fiscal year, Rivers state, Akwa Ibom state, Bayelsa state and Delta state have not deemed it appropriate to make copies of their annual budgets available on the state official websites or otherwise for public access. This is the high point of a tradition of executive and legislative secrecy which has become common practice in the aforementioned states.
Following the completion of its monitoring of the implementation of the 2015 budget of five Niger Delta states, Social Action’s budget advocacy coalition, the Niger Delta Citizens and Budget Platform has presented reports containing its findings to the key government officials in Akwa Ibom and Delta state.
According to Coordinator of the budget advocacy coalition Ken Henshaw, ‘it is important the governments get copies of this reports and use it as a guide to take action in future to make sure that budgets impact more on the people than it currently is.’
In Akwa Ibom state, the presentation was made by Executive Director of coalition partner Policy Alert, Mr Tijah Bolton, while in Delta state it was delivered by the Mrs. Bridget of the Int’l Centre for Women Empowerment & Child Dev. (ICWECD) based in the state capital Asaba.
The report contains findings by teams of budget monitors comprising of transparency and accountability activists, the media and community volunteers who were on the field for two weeks in early 2016, visiting sites of projects mentioned and allocated funds in the 2015 budgets of the various state.
Reports of health, education and food sufficiency project sites indicate that up to 80% of projects allocated funds were never executed in the states. ‘The difference between allocation and implementation is just too high. It is either the budget was too unrealistically made with impossible revenue expectations, or something else we don’t understand is going on,’ says Sebastian Kpalap, Executive Director of Citizens’ Voice Initiative and coalition member.
In the coming week, budget monitoring reports will be presented to other state governments in the Niger Delta.