by Bassey Udo
More than a week after the federal government unveiled a N4.3 trillion budget proposal for 2015, details of the spending plan remain a secret, and are not available to Nigerians, amid an unusually high expectation of the budget’s specifics as the government battles to minimize the impact of slumping oil price.
The Nigerian government has outlined a range of responses to the oil crisis, and says it will cut costs and implement measures to neutralise the implication of dwindling revenues on developmental projects and the nation’s economy.
But many Nigerians are eager to see in clear details how the government has responded, data only the budget could provide.
Publishing the budget immediately will also help investors, local and foreign, take prompt business decisions.
The expectation came amid concerns that not much will change in the budget, and that the government is likely to retain much of the usual expenses considered wasteful, while development suffers.
A pointer to that is the allocation to the National Assembly, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Courts as provided in the budget summary.
Instead of a cut, given the revenue crisis, the three bodies, categorised under statutory transfers, will receive a higher allocation of N411.84 billion compared to N408.69billion in 2014.
Another pointer is the government’s allocation of only N387billion as developmental expenditure for the entire nation for 2015, a huge reduction from N1.1 trillion allocated in 2014.
It means the bulk of the budget, as is typical with past years, may be used for salaries for politicians and federal civil servants, and for government’s administrative cost.
More than a week after the presentation of the budget to the National Assembly, the Budget Office of the Federation has refused to make available specific details of the document to journalists, analysts, economists and researchers.
PREMIUM TIMES reporters who contacted various sources, including the federal budget office, and the finance ministry, for the document were denied access.
Others journalists and analysts also told this newspaper they were also denied the details, amid speculations the government may deliberately refuse to publish them online or in hard copies as done in past years, to avoid embarrassing reports and analyses.
Oluseun Onigbinde, co-founder of BudgIT, an online analytics on budgetary information, also said his organisation has not been able to obtain the elusive document for days.
Paul Nwabuikwu, the spokesperson to the Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, said he was neither in a position to make the document available nor explain why copies are unavailable to the public.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Bright Okogu, the director general of the Budget Office, by phone, he said the budget could not be put out because copies were still being corrected and updated.
He could not explain why the review was taking place when the budget had already been submitted to the National Assembly.
He said the copies would be published “soon”, and refused to provide specific dates.
Pressed to know if he would permit the reporter to stop by his office to pick a copy or get the soft copy, Mr. Okogu, abruptly terminated the call.
The Finance Minister, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala, had, on behalf of President Goodluck Jonathan, laid the draft appropriation law before the two Chambers of the National Assembly on Wednesday, December 17, 2014.