We’ll fulfil our own part of social contract with 2016 Budget – Buhari

After months of delay, controversies and forth and back correspondences with the National Assembly (NASS) over alleged padding and grey areas, President Muhammadu Buhari, Friday signed this year’s Appropriation Bill (Budget) into law.

The signing of the budget has effectively brought to an end six months of disagreements between the legislature and executive arms of government.

With this, the economy is set to pick up, as funds for capital projects will be released any time soon to execute them and fund other government undertakings.

The signing ceremony, which took place in the President’s Office at the Presidential Villa, Abuja was witnessed by a retinue of highly-placed government officials, including Vice President Yemi Osinbajo; Senate President Bukola Saraki; Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir David Lawal.

Others who witnessed the signing were the National Chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun; Chairmen, Senate and House Appropriation Committees, Danjuma Goje and Abdulmumuni Jibrin; Ministers of Finance, Kemi Adeosun; Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma; State (National Planning), Zainab Ahmed; and Special Assistants to the President on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang (Senate) and Abdulrahman Kawu (House).

Buhari, in a short speech before the signing, said the occasion marked the beginning of the proper implantation of the manifestos of his party, as outlined driving his inaugural speech in May last year.

According to the President: “This budget is intended to signpost a renewal of our commitment to restoring the budget as a serious article of faith with the Nigerian people.

“This administration is committed to ensuring that henceforth, the annual Appropriation Bill is presented to the National Assembly in time for the passage of the Act before the beginning of the fiscal year.

“Through the 2016 budget, aptly titled ‘Budget of Change,’ the government seeks to fulfill its own side of the social contract.

“The budget I have signed into law provides for aggregate expenditures of N6.06trn. Further details of the approved budget, as well as our Strategic Implementation Plan for the budget, will be provided by the Minister of Budget and National Planning.”

Buhari, who promised to speak more on the details of the budget, its implementation and the over-all national economic and social policies of the government in his first anniversary speech on May 29, however, indicated that the budget was anchored on disciplined implementation.

“In designing the budget, we made a deliberate choice to pursue an expansionary fiscal policy, despite the huge decline in government revenues from crude oil exports.

“This is why we decided to enlarge the budget deficit at this time, to be financed principally through foreign and domestic borrowings. All borrowings will, however, be applied towards growth-enhancing capital expenditures.

“Consequently, the signing of the budget today will trigger concerted efforts to reflate the Nigerian economy, a key element of which is an immediate injection of N350bn into the economy by way of capital projects.

“To illustrate our renewed commitment to infrastructural development, the budget allocates over N200billion to road construction, as against a paltry N18billion allocated for same purpose in the 2015 budget.”

He added that “Despite the current difficulties, we will work extra hard to achieve our revenue projections. Our revenue generating agencies are coming under better management and are being re-oriented. The implementation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) is expected to contribute significantly to improving transparency over government revenues.

“Our determined fight against corruption is resulting in improvements in the quality of public expenditure. The work of the Efficiency Unit, as well as other public financial management initiatives, are also contributing in this regard.

“The continuing efforts to reduce recurrent expenditures should hopefully free up more funds for capital expenditure in 2017 and beyond.”

Making allusion to his New Year message, the President reiterated the fact that living in the State House does not in any way alienate him from the daily struggles of Nigerians, saying: “I read the newspapers and listen to the television and radio news. I hear your cries, share your pains.”

“We are experiencing probably the toughest economic times in the history of our nation. I want to commend the sacrifice, resilience and toughness of all Nigerians, young and old, who have, despite the hardships, continued to have hope and confidence of a great future for Nigerians.

“But permit me to say that this government is also like none other. We are absolutely committed to changing the structure of the Nigerian economy once and for all.

“We are working night and day to diversify the economy, such that we never again have to rely on one commodity to survive as a country, so that we can produce the food we eat, make our own textiles, produce most of things we use.

“We intend to create the environment for our young people to be able to innovate and create jobs through technology.”

He said he would not promise Nigerians that this would be an easy journey, adding: “But in the interest of so much and so many, we must tread this difficult path.

“But I can assure you this government you have freely elected will work with honesty and dedication day and night to ensure that our country prospers and that the prosperity benefits all Nigerians.”

In a chat with State House correspondents after the event, Saraki said it was an epoch-making event, noting that the legislature would work in close cooperation with the executive to ensure the budget is fully implemented for the good of Nigerians.

Flanked by Dogara and Odigie-Oyegun, the Senate President admitted that the passing of the budget had been the most difficult assignment for the lawmakers, but appealed to Nigerians to put the chapter behind and look forward to a brighter future.

“The passing of the Appropriation Bill is the most difficult all over the world. Even America that we copy, sometimes the government is shut down, but we didn’t see that in our case. It is a first time and a new government, so these sorts of challenges are rare.

“But I am happy we are all here to see that we have passed the budget and the President has ‎signed it into law and what we await now is implementation.

“I want to assure Nigerians that from the comments of the President, our commitment is to see that the budget is implemented, not just the assent, and that is when Nigerians will begin to see the benefits.

“Let us focus on the good part and play less on the controversy that is behind us now and I want to assure Nigerians of the benefit expected from this budget is implemented.”

Asked how the controversy surrounding the budget could be averted in future, the Senate President said early presentation of the budget is a major panacea.

“We have long time now to prepare. The government is in place, the new appointments and those in National Assembly are in place, so I am sure it will not be like this again.

“Let us focus on what that document is, and that is the benefits to Nigerians, that we will begin to see in the implementation. And that is what we will do in our oversight function.”