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2012 BUDGET AND THE SECURITY CHALLENGE

By NBF News
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Since Tuesday, December 13 when President Goodluck Jonathan presented the N4.749 trillion 2012 Budget to a joint session of the National Assembly, tongues have not stopped wagging on the merits and demerits of government's spending plan for 2012.

Ordinarily, presentation of a budget for an incoming year is routine. Presidents present their budgets to the National Assembly which, in recent years, ensures that the budget figures are jerked up to accommodate extraneous matters. Funds expected to be released for budget implementation are hardly released as due, and execution of the plan is always below expectation. This is why the Federal Government proudly announced the above average execution of the 2011 budget.

Ordinarily, Nigerians hardly directly feel the impact of budgets but for the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of government which frequently attribute their poor performance to non-release of funds appropriated in the document. The budget is, therefore, often not of great interest to the ordinary people. But, this year, the case is different. The lingering dispute on the resolve of the president to remove subsidy on price of petroleum has generated much heat across the nation with arguments for and against the planned removal. To underscore government's resolve on the matter, the 2012 budget is silent on subsidy for petroleum, an indication that fuel will be sold at an unsubsidised, commercial rate. The implication of this is that the cost of petroleum will go up, thereby affecting the cost of transportation, goods, services and virtually everything.

Labour leaders under the aegis of Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and Trade Union Congress (TUC) have vowed to resist the fuel subsidy removal while state police commands have been reported to be stocking up anti-riot gear in preparation for containment of any public protests that may break out over the subsidy issue.

Beyond fuel subsidy palaver, however, is the issue of allocation of funds in the budget. Recurrent expenditure takes the lion's share of the budget, gulping N2.472 trillion while capital expenditure takes N1.32 trillion. Although N1.32 trillion is a 15% increase on the capital expenditure for last year, the N2.472 trillion allocated for recurrent expenditure is inexpedient. What it means is that the 2012 budget will be significantly devoted to payment of salaries of government workers and other such bureaucracy even when this category of Nigerians represent less than five per cent of the population of the country.

For me, another big issue in the budget is that of sectoral allocations. Apparently playing to the gallery and taking advantage of the panic over security in the country, the government allocated a whopping N921.9 billion to security.

This sum is the single largest sectoral allocation with, Power, in spite of all the problems that epileptic supply has caused this country, having only N161.42 billion. With the deplorable state of public infrastructure in the country, especially the roads, Works has N180.8 billion. The troubled health sector, which has turned Nigerians into health tourists pouring millions of dollars into health sectors of other countries when they seek medical treatment abroad, has N282.77 billion while agriculture/rural development has N78.98 billion. Education has an improvement in last year's allocation, as it will now receive N400.15 billion.

While not detracting from the importance of security, especially in the face of the threats from Boko Haram in the North, Niger Delta militants in the South South and kidnappers and armed robbers in all parts of the country, the vote for security is clearly disproportionate. The sector is to receive about a fifth of the entire N4.7 trillion budget, a sum more than that allocated to Power, Works, Health, Agriculture, Petroleum Resources, the Niger Delta and the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) all put together. As a matter of fact, the amount allocated for Security is more than that budgeted for twelve ministries put together.

Security is important and should be well funded, but it is debatable if it should command a figure that is about 75 percent of the entire amount allocated for capital expenditure for the whole year!

The impression this has created is that the problem with security has been turned into an excuse to corner such a large chunk of the budget, leaving other critical sectors gasping for funds. This could be reasonable if the problem with security has only to do with the security agencies and if throwing money at the problem can resolve the security challenge.

This is not so. Beyond proper funding of security agencies, government has to get to the root of the problem of insecurity. This cannot, in any way, be divorced from the employment crisis in the country. The large army of unemployed persons who have become willing tools in the hands of terrorist organisations both within and outside the country, and those who have turned kidnapping, pipeline vandalism and armed robbery into business ventures, need to be taken off the streets and given a sense of belonging. It is not possible to arrest, jail or kill all of them. They, rather ought to be re-integrated into the country by addressing their grouses. As a matter of fact, killing of these people may only lead to more of such terrorist attacks because Nigeria, especially on the Boko Haram problem, is dealing with people to whom life means nothing.

These, indeed, are people willing to lay down their lives at the drop of a hat! The situation, therefore, needs delicate balancing to achieve the objective of securing the polity.

The government has to invest massively in job creation strategies to get the army of both skilled and unskilled persons off the streets. One way to do this is to invest massively in agriculture, which has great capacity for employment generation. Improvement in power generation is another sure way to boost employment generation, as industries will be able to run profitably, expand and employ more hands.

Artisans such as barbers, welders and hairdressers will be able to practise their vocations more profitably and unemployed persons can be empowered to go into these professions. But when electricity supply continues to be epileptic, as we have it now, there is little chance of success in these endeavours, and frustrations set in for artisans. This leads to increase in number of persons taking to crime and endangering security of the people.

The roads sector is another area that deserves to be declared an emergency and treated as such. The allocation to the ministry in charge of the sector does not suggest that we will be seeing any revolution in the condition of Federal roads. And, this sector is critical to all the other sectors, as transportation costs affect cost of goods and services.

Luckily, the House of Representatives has been reported to have raised eyebrows on the gargantuan allocation to security in the budget. Let the lawmakers discuss the issue dispassionately and do what is in the best interest of the people.

The problem of insecurity will not be solved through committing of more than the allocations of 12 ministries to security. Or, flooding agencies in the security sector with funds while others groan. More creative ways should be designed to tackle the security challenge. When the people perceive that the government cares for all aspects of their lives, Nigeria will not need to commit so much of her scarce resources to security at the expense of development of other sectors of the economy.