Shrouded in mystery: the Nigerian budget and the challenge of implementation

Author: Abasiodiong Ubong Udoakpan
LLM Candidate, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Nigeria

The Budget as one important economic policy instrument at the disposal of the Government is key to the attainment of the economic prosperity of the people. However, the gap between its initiation and full implementation to attain economic prosperity has been of serious concern to researchers and Nigerians alike. It is one thing to propose a budget and another to implement the proposed budget to the extent that it attains the goals of economic growth and development. In recent times, the focus on the budget has assumed greater prominence because of increasing democratisation, civil society participation and the desire to respond to developmental challenges of poverty.

In the public sector, Budget Implementation is pivotal in driving entrepreneurship development. According to the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics, small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in Nigeria have contributed about 48% of the national GDP in the last five years.[1] Despite the significant contribution of SMEs to the Nigerian economy, challenges persist that hinder the growth and development of the sector, one of which is the weakness of the Budget Implementation Process in Nigeria.

Under the process of Implementation, funds are being transferred to the spending agencies, ( e.g. Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment); goods and services are being delivered by following the budgetary provisions, the ministries, agencies and departments produce in-year and year-end reports on the spending of allocated funds[2], these reports are done in line with sections 30 & 50 of the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2007. Sadly, the agencies of the Nigerian government have failed to live up to the expectations of this legislation.

In the last three years, the Federal Government has budgeted well over 20 trillion naira without much on the ground to show for it. The combined budgets of the 36 states and the Central Government in the last 3 years amounts to hundreds of trillions of naira. However, with the trillions of naira budgeted, Nigeria has little or nothing to show for it, in terms of critical infrastructure, employment opportunities, poverty and debt reduction.

Generally, for a budget to achieve its aim, it must possess some important qualities, namely: it should be well designed, effectively and efficiently implemented, adequately monitored and finally its performance should be evaluated[3]. It could therefore be deduced that the essence of the budget is not in its formulation or initiation but in its implementation which is aimed at meeting the needs and aspirations of the people. A well-implemented budget helps to translate government campaign promises, policies and programs into outcomes that have a direct bearing on the people such as the provision of employment opportunities, poverty reduction as well as the development of critical infrastructure such as roads, water, electricity, hospitals, schools etc. for the good of the people. While appreciating the fact that budget implementation is the basic thing, however, the size and structure of public expenditure are expected to boost the growth in output of the economy. Be that as it may, the implementation of policies and programs is germane to the attainment of the socio-economic wellbeing of the society.

Over the years, billions and now trillions of naira are budgeted yearly to improve the living standard of the citizenry through an increase in output. These dreams have been elusive perhaps due to the failure of the government to implement the content of the budget to the letter. As accurately noted by experts, the budget is supposed to be the most important economic policy instrument.[4] Unfortunately, the Nigerian Budget is shrouded with a lot of myths and illusions and usually not effectively implemented, leading to its failure to contribute to the economic growth and development of the country.

In tackling this issue of poor implementation of budgets in Nigeria, there is a need to call on the National Assembly to ensure that due processes, as well as value-for-money audits, remain in our policy for economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the use of resources. It is important to engage due process mechanisms with structures, systems, and skills to ensure that it endures. Due process is too centralised and must be decentralised in a bid to move procurements by the spending units from the threshold of the resident due process team.

Finally, civil society plays a crucial role in the Nigerian budget process. Nigeria’s budget process, just like many other African countries, is now clearly defined into four main stages: drafting, legislative approval, implementation and monitoring. There are international best standards of how some civil society groups have contributed to the budget process in their respective countries. For instance, the budget formulation in Porto Alegre (Brazil) has been enhanced by the work of CSOs while the Institute for Economic Affairs (in Kenya) and IDASA (in South Africa) are applauded for reviewing government budgets to help improve public understanding of budget issues. Regarding civil society participation in budget implementation and its role in challenging misapplication of budget funds, two examples are often highlighted in the literature: the case of public expenditure tracking for Ugandan schools and the use of citizen report cards in the Philippines to improve performance monitoring.

However, in Nigeria, it is only recently that civil society organisations are engaging more systematically in the budget process.[5] Civil society groups are usually invited to participate in seminars and also to review the implementation of the Fund. CSOs have also recently been incorporated into national teams which monitor the implementation of MDG programs in various parts of the country. More recently, increased financing from external donors has been sought to strengthen the activities of Nigerian NGOs and academics to contribute more effectively to the budget process.[6]

Civil society could make even greater contributions to ensuring fiscal transparency in Nigeria and Africa, if they improve their lobbying skills. This is necessary if civil society groups are to contribute more effectively to enhancing fiscal transparency in their countries. It is also important to identify allies among legislators, cultivate relationships with the executive, and effectively communicate campaign messages to them. Building the technical competency of these organisations is also crucial, to enable them to engage in informed debate as well as avoid the tendency for elite capture and illegitimate representation.

For the prosperity of African countries, greater civic engagement on fiscal issues is needed and well-organised civil society groups can play a valuable role in this endeavor.

[1] PwC Nigeria, Nigeria SME Survey: Assessing current market conditions and business growth prospects; https://www.pwc.com/ng/en/events/nigeria-sme-survey. Accessed on 15th September 2021.

[2] The International  Budget Partnership: The 4 Stages of the Budget Process, https://www.internationalbudget.org/wp-content/uploads/MODULE-2-Defining-the-Problem.pdf. Accessed on 15th September 2021.

[3] Adah, S & Akogu,A. (2019). Budget Implementation and Economic Development in Nigeria: Problems and Prospects; International Journal of Innovative Finance and Economic Research; vol 7(3). ISSN:2360-866X, 34-43

[4] Ogujiuba, K. & Ehigiamusoe, K. (2013). Capital Budget Implementation in Nigeria. Evidence from 2012 capital budget, vol.24(10). 299-314.

[5] Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Philip Osafo-Kwaako. The Role of Civil Society Organizations in Supporting Fiscal Transparency in African Countries (Background Notes for Discussion)

[6] Interview with Soji Apampa (INTEGRITY, Nigeria). Upcoming programs include initiatives such as the Coalition for Change program sponsored by the UK Department for International Development (DFID).

About the Author:
Abasiodiong Ubong Udoakpan is a Human Rights Lawyer and a Data Protection Advisor and is presently an LLM Candidate at the Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Ogun State, Nigeria, an academic lawyer whose research interests cuts across Labour Law, International Development Law, Environment & Climate Change Law, as well as the intersection between International Human Rights and Mental Health Law and Policy.

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