Nigeria is officially identified as a democratic state. Simply implying that we are a nation defined and governed by democratic tenets.
There is a timeless definition of democracy that most people are aware of and would probably never forget. That definition was given by Abraham Lincoln in his famous Gettysburg address which was given in honour of soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the greater good of a unified prosperous United States of America.
Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘’that government of the people, by the people and for the people’’. He further stated – ‘’as I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy”.
It is that second quote by Abraham Lincoln in reference to his understanding of democracy that profoundly unsettles when looking at the 2020 Nigerian budget and the general state of affairs in the nation.
As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.
Looking through some details of the Nigeria 2020 budget as presented before the National Assembly by Muhammadu Buhari, the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, I see a recurring phenomenon present in national budgets of Nigeria for decades now.
The political elites, always assuming the position of a master, properly and excessively caters for their personal and positional needs as leaders no matter the national financial constraints. It doesn’t matter the vacuum of desperate needs in critical sectors of the socio-economic strata, it doesn’t matter that the population of poor Nigerians has so much swell that the country has been officially declared as the poverty capital of the world. No matter how bad the situation of things are in the Nigerian state, her political leaders always find a way to comfortably cater for their luxurious needs with the limited national cake.
The 2020 national budget has put total expenditure at 10.33 trillion naira. 2.45 trillion will be expended on debt servicing, 2.14 trillion on capital expenditure, 4.88 trillion naira on recurrent expenditure and 556.7 billion naira goes to statutory transfers.
A noticeable feature that stands out in the 2020 budget is the 50% increase in the Value Added Tax (VAT) from 5% to 7.5%. The VAT increase was premised on the increase in government expenditure for 2020 due to the increase in minimum wage from 18,000 naira to 30,000 naira amongst other reasons.
A 60% increase in minimum wage has therefore led to a 50% increase in VAT.
Everyone should certainly look forward to a further increase in the price of goods and services. Cost of transportation will definitely increase and the average worker/trader who travels long distances to work every day will feel a painful bite in income. In the end, the working class Nigerians will have to wonder how an increased salary refused to change their living standard. The millions of unemployed Nigerians will experience deeper agonies of living without a source of income in a costly society.
While I leave the technical analysis of the 2020 budget to the data pundits, I was more interested in how that budget provides for personal and positional needs of the political elites.
I gathered this little information out of what I believe would be numerous provisions for the Nigerian political leaders:
- Out of the Statutory Transfers, 125billion naira goes to the National Assembly while 110billion naira goes to the Judiciary. Do not forget the stupendous monthly paycheck of an average Nigerian lawmaker.
- 3.327billion naira goes to the President and Vice President for foreign and local trips in 2020.
- 4.062billion naira will be expended on annual routine maintenance of mechanical/electrical installations in the state house.
- 1.492billion naira to be spent on the upgrade of some of the aircraft in the Presidential fleet.
- For the President and VP, 149million will be spent on foodstuffs and catering materials while 43million naira will be spent on refreshment and meal. 135.668million was also budgeted for same refreshment and meal in the budget of the State House headquarters.
- For the President and VP, honorarium and sitting allowance is budgeted at 183.438million naira. 478.313million naira was allocated for same honorarium and sitting allowance in the budget of the state house.
- 526.234million naira allocated for the phased replacement of vehicles, spares and tires in the presidential, CVU security/police escort and State House operational fleets.
- 389.64million for outstanding liabilities on routine maintenance and other services in 2016.
- 91.681million for the purchase of vehicle tyres in the state house.
- 32.199million for fuel and lubricants, 32.5million for wildlife conservation and 45.4million naira for sewage charges.
These figures are just an excerpt of budgeted allocations for political officers and appointees. They do not include the salaries and allowances of the President, Vice President and political appointees in the executive arm.
The figures in the provisions above contained in the 2020 budget totals approximately 246billion naira. That is a budgetary allocation solely for the benefit of less than 0.00005% of the Nigerian population.
246billion naira splashed on personal and positional needs of less than 0.00005% of the population is 5 times more than the budgetary allocation for Education (which is 48bn), 3 times more than the budgetary allocation for Agriculture (which is 83bn) and more than 5 times the budgetary allocation for health (which is 46bn).
Yet, these are critical sectors that are meant to serve the health, education and agriculture needs of more than 200 million Nigerians. The sum of the budgetary allocation to these three sectors is not even up to 246bn.
Ali Ndume, a senate leader, recently asserted that there is no solution on ground to alleviate the hardship being experienced by a large percentage of the population. But it is noteworthy there is always a solution on ground year in year out to provide for the sumptuous wealthy lifestyle of the people in power who are supposed to represent the interest of the rest of us. What a travesty!
How can my representative be stupendously rich off the national wealth while I am wretchedly poor? What sort of democracy is that?
That nobody should be a slave has a ring of truth in the democratic practices of the Nigerian state. However, to say nobody should be a master is the second half of the Nigerian democratic tenets that has been well resisted by the Nigerian political leaders.
Leaders in this part of the world do not lead by example. The citizens must make the necessary sacrifices where the nation’s progress is concerned while the leaders continue to forcefully live in the affluence that power provides.
That is the truth of the 2020 national budget as with preceding annual budgets. It is a budget that makes allocation for the master and his subjects, it is a budget that ensures that the political elite continue to live in abundance no matter the dire state of the Nigerian economy. It is a budget that is far more dictatorial than democratic.
When you consider the hundreds of billions of naira that will inevitably be lost to corruption in order to further satisfy the unending masterful desires of individuals in the corridors of power, you would understand why decades of huge budgets coated with big grammars couldn’t translate to clear developmental progress for Nigeria.
Representative democracy must be clearly seen in national budgetary allocations for positive sustainable development that impacts the lives of the greatest number. It must show that there are neither slaves nor masters.
Annual national budgets must allocate national resources in such a manner that everyone benefits without sharp widened differentials that ends up making the rich dishonestly richer and the poor unjustly poorer.