Director, International Press Centre
Director, International Press Centre

Improving the Budget Process in Nigeria’s Young Democracy

 

(Being a contribution by Publisher of Uhuru Times newspaper and former Chief Press Secretary to Ogun State Governor, Mr. Wale Adedayo, at a one-day Open Budget Forum organised by the International Press Centre (IPC) at Pisces hall, All Seasons Conference Centre, Opposite Cadbury, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos State on Tuesday, 23 May 2017.)

 

 

The state of the nation is often expressed through GDP (Gross Domestic Product), daily stock market results, consumer spending levels, and national debt figures. But these numbers provide only a partial view of how people are faring. The Human Development Index was developed as an alternative to simple money metrics. It is an easy-to-understand numerical measure made up of what most people believe are the very basic ingredients of human well-being: health, education, and income.

 

The most valuable capability people possess is to be alive. Advancing human development requires, first and foremost, expanding the real opportunities people have to avoid premature death by disease or injury, to enjoy protection from arbitrary denial of life, to live in a healthy environment, to maintain a healthy lifestyle, to receive quality medical care, and to attain the highest possible standard of physical and mental health.” – (Measure of America of the Social Science Research Council, http://www.measureofamerica.org/human-development/)

 

Introduction

The erudite Pakistani economist, Mahbub ul Haq, may not have met with our own Chief Obafemi Awolowo. But the thoughts of both men on what should constitute the measurement of a nation’s development largely revolved around the same parameters, namely, Free Education; Free Healthcare Services; Integrated Rural Development; and Gainful Employment. Awolowo’s Four Cardinal Programmes formed the basis of the defunct Action Group’s (AG) and Unity Party of Nigeria’s (UPN) manifestoes. Unfortunately, none of the political parties registered in Nigeria today has this vision.

 

Why this detour to Awolowo’s and Haq’s politico-economic thoughts? Both men were Finance Ministers of their respective countries – Awolowo in Nigeria, and Haq in Pakistan. The Pakistani was to later work with Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and other gifted economists, and in 1990 published the first Human Development Report (HDR), which was commissioned by the United Nations Development Programme, which has since discarded the use of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of development in any country, replacing same with the Human Development Index (HDI). What the foregoing means, is that, any budget designed for the genuine development of Nigeria, state or local government must take into account the primary needs of the people as encapsulated in Awolowo’s Four Cardinal Programmes. This presupposes that elected and appointed political office holders should have in the manifestoes of their political parties these ideas, carrying the electorate along in the process.

 

The past

From the brief given to me for this discussion, one is expected to share experiences about ideas that can promote accountability, citizens’ participation and by extension, good governance in the implementation of Nigeria’s yearly Budgets, and in particular that of the 2017 Budget of Lagos State. Mine will be based on membership of the Obafemi Awolowo School of Political Thought (September 1979 – till date) and the years 2004 – 2009 spent in Ogun State, first as Director of Organisation, Peoples Democratic Party (December, 2004 – May, 2007), and later, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor (June, 2007 – January, 2009).

 

I’ll try to restrict myself to what should happen at the State and Local Government levels, being areas where one has some experience. From December 2004 through January 2009, while I was there, the Ogun State Government, under Otunba Gbenga Daniel, sustained a yearly gathering of key stakeholders before Budget Estimates are submitted to the Ogun State House of Assembly. At these gatherings, which could last for three to five days, participants drawn from the state’s 20 local governments, ministries, traditional rulers, extra-ministerial departments, mass media and civil society groups often spend, on the average, nine hours daily, debating the merits and demerits of items conta

ined in the budget. Removals and additions are often done here along with fine tuning of others. Beyond these gatherings and long before Budget Formulations, Daniel usually embarked on an annual movement round the 20 local governments of Ogun State meeting residents at events tagged, “Village Square Meetings.”

 

Ogun State is divided, for Federal and State Administrative convenience, into 20 local governments. These are further divided into 236 Wards. Daniel’s annual trips, while taking him to the 20 local governments annually, are expanded once in four years to the 236 Wards of the state. While in each Ward, a brief stop-over is regularly made to all the villages making up each Ward to commission projects or listen to complaints from residents. Arising from the above is a fact that till tomorrow, there is NO village in Ogun State, where one project or the other as demanded by the community was not sited by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during Daniel’s tenure. These include boreholes for potable water, electricity transformers and rural roads among others. In some cases, respectable members of the community, where the project is sited, are co-opted into a Management Committee to manage such, for example, boreholes, which require regular attention.

 

At the ‘Village Square’ meetings, which often last more than eight hours, sometimes late into the night, all traditional rulers including Baales of every village are invited. In some cases, the meetings are held in the most rural parts of the state with palm fronds serving as sheds since the usual canopies cannot be easily moved into such places. If my memory serves me right, two of the Governor’s official vehicles had to be abandoned at about 10.30pm one night because despite being SUVs, they got stuck in the mud of the bad road and could not be easily towed away. It is ONLY towards elections we sometimes pass the nights in such remote places, including Mr. Governor himself. There was no question the residents could not ask. The individual only need to raise his or hand, and all the questions are always noted by Mr. Governor in special notebooks designed for that purpose along with answers provided either by him or state and local government officials. These are subsequently loaded on computer systems for follow up actions and easy reference. Answers to questions/demands from these gatherings often formed the basis of projects in these communities later. In some cases, Commissioners responsible for particular issues are invited in the open to give account on the spot with amends made almost immediately.  But I dare say, again, that issues arising out of these meetings almost always find their ways into the state’s annual budgets.

 

Another angle to Daniel’s grassroots approach to governance, thus Budget Formulation, to the best of my knowledge, was an unwritten law of the former Ogun State Governor: “Any project in a particular area MUST have people of that community as suppliers/contractors and the like.” Road construction/rehabilitation and building/renovation of schools, for instance, always had locals supplying sand, gravel and water. Carpentry work is a must for locals. Beyond the project, the idea was that the economy of the particular locality MUST be directly and positively affected by any project, such that those who benefit from jobs/contracts, being from that community, will also contribute to growing the local economy, as food vendors, okada riders, taxi drivers and others will benefit indirectly from the jobs these artisans get from the Ogun State Government.

 

The present

Democracy in its best form requires official and unofficial monitors if the full purpose of participatory governance for the benefit of the people is to be served. The official monitors include Law Enforcement Agents and The Judiciary. But the unofficial monitors are primarily, the Mass Media and Civil Society Organisations. Part of the responsibilities of the unofficial monitors of participatory governance is what we are discussing today, which is transparency, to ensure quality Budget Formulation and Budget Implementation. In a society like ours, these unofficial monitors, who are the major pillars of a democracy, remain very weak, given the fact that Nigeria’s is a Young Democracy, where the participants are just learning the ropes of democratic governance, given our recent history of prolonged military rule. Unfortunately, anywhere these Pillars of Democracy are weak, underdevelopment will persist along with its veritable signs of poor education, health challenges and high unemployment including a very high crime rate.

 

The questions remain, what vision(s) informed the contents of the formulated budget? Do these budgets meet the people’s expectations? Beyond the elected representatives of the people, does each level of government in Nigeria carry the people along each time budgets are being formulated and implemented? What about implementation? To what extent are the people carried along? How do we resolve shortcomings in budget implementation, where they occur, especially when the people complain? In addition to the questions raised above, do our yearly budgets at the Federal, State and Local Government levels contribute to Human Development as formulated by Great Awo? All these are possible questions, which the authorities can normally get through a quality direct interface with the people. However, the most important routes, apart from elected and appointed political office holders getting involved with the people directly along with the civil servants, who work for them, are the Mass Media and Civil Society Organisations. And, as pointed out earlier, these two Pillars of Democracy are very weak in today’s Nigeria.

 

 

Possible Solutions

 

  1. The re-branding, rebuilding and re-orientation of Nigeria’s Institutions of Democracy (NID) are essential. The key ones remain, Judiciary; independent and virile media organisations; and independent and virile civil society groups. An average Nigerian today does ot have confidence in any of these institutions, believing that the rich and highly connected have cornered them.

 

It is no longer news that a sizable part of the Nigerian Judiciary is corrupt. Ordinary Nigerians thus have little or no choice than to resort to self-help in seeking redress about perceived wrongs. These have led to communal clashes among others, resulting in loss of lives and properties. The Mass Media is not different. Currently, there is a joke out there that, hardly can one find an independent media organisation in Nigeria despite the fact that a large number of them are privately owned. Journalists are either poorly paid, thus a regular recourse to selling their conscience through financial patronage from those they are expected to monitor, or ownership of such media organisations prevent the few journalists with conscience from practising their craft the way it should be. Poor training of journalists is neither here nor there. Many of us started out as rookies.

 

The case of Civil Society Organisations is no less pathetic. Activists for sale abound in large numbers across the land. Many of their top figures with no other means of livelihood apart from ‘activism’ are multi-millionaires today courtesy of being ready for regular hiring by the same set of people they had pledged to monitor. In some cases, leaders of some civil society organisations have often being at the vanguard of promoting anti-people policies, hiding behind the one finger of false identities in writing opinion articles or brazenly going on air at broadcast stations to justify the points of view of their paymasters. For me, it is a reason popular protests are no longer popular. Unpopular policies are often promoted through such protests by some supposed civil society organisations.

 

  1. Re-orientation of civil servants along with elected and appointed politicians on the essence of Human Development through a quality Budget Process is essential. This is where regular seminars and conferences come in. And this is, primarily, a job for quality civil society organisations, which should ensure that such programmes are given quality coverage by the media. Not everybody can become an Awolowo or a Haq. But almost everybody has a conscience, and when appealed to sufficiently, the individual is bound to change course at some point. Those holding positions in Government (politicians and civil servants) need to be ‘fed’ the importance of Human Development, which is the true essence of quality Budget Formulation and Implentation. Without the people being served, what comes around will surely go around at some point. For instance, the Police often parade armed robbery suspects, who always claimed joblessness forced them into it. If Government officials had been diligent in their duties, in most cases, Awolowo’s vision of Gainful Employment would have nipped that in the bud. Meanwhile, Government officials are n
    ot immune from armed robbers’ attacks!

 

  1. Journalists and civil society organisations should work more on exposing White Elephants projects, which will add no value to Human Development, except to bulge the pockets of elected and appointed politicians along with those of their associates. The same institutions of democracy should focus on ongoing and abandoned projects.

 

  1. Journalists and Civil Society Organisations should get more involved in monitoring Internal Democracy among the country’s many political parties (party primaries/Congresses), which is about electing candidates for elections and officials to run the affairs of political parties. Once competence in holding a public office is compromised on the altar of loyalty as is currently the case in most states of Nigeria, there is no amount of work put into Budget Formulation and Implementation that can deliver quality projects that will be beneficial to the people. At best, most of these projects, which are always celebrated are the same white elephant ones packaged as dividends of democracy to a gullible public. The biggest beneficiaries remain the contractors and those who approved such projects at the Government level. An open and transparent Internal Democratic Process will enhance quality governance with credible persons coming on board, on the average. Once mediocre people are ‘elected’ as candidates or party officials, the same bad Budget Process will continue.

 

  1. Special attention should be given to whistle blowers. There are always many, who are ready to expose ongoing shenanigans among political office holders. But most times such persons are discouraged either by fear of being identified or inaction on previously exposed cases. Either way, a special place ought to be given to whistle blowers.

 

Thank you for listening. And God bless you all!

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