…asks President to also remove 37bilion for N/Assembly renovations, reduce salaries of appointees from 2020 budget
…wants 9 Presidential jets sold off
…says Nigeria can’t afford luxuries during austerity
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar has said that the revised version of the 2020 budget with a paltry difference of N71 billion was grossly insignificant to heal the ailing economy.
It will be recalled that the Federal Executive Council, FEC chaired by President Muhammadu Buhari in a virtual meeting on Wednesday cut down the 2020 budget from N10. 594 trillion signed into law to N10. 523 trillion, leaving a difference of about N71.5 billion.
The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zaniab Ahmed had told the State House Correspondents after the meeting that the development saw the inclusion of new expenditures into the budget to mitigate the effect of coronavirus pandemic which was not envisaged when the original budget was prepared.
She said: “This is because, as we cut down the size of the budget, we also have to bring in new expenditure previously not budgeted, to enable us adequately respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The federal government in this budget will have direct revenue of funding the budget of N5.158 billion. The deficit to this budget is N5.365 trillion and this will be financed by both domestic as well as foreign borrowing.”
But reacting to the cut, former Vice President Atiku said that there was no noticeable difference between the former and the revised versions of the budget.
He expressed surprised that the Federal government would still choose to ‘merry’ in time of austerities.
Counseling Buhari on the best possible way to withstand the harsh economic realities occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, Atiku who was also the presidential candidate of the main opposition People’s Democratic Party, PDP in 2019 general election asked the President to jettison billions budgeted for his travels and feeding as well as those of his Vice, Professor Yemi Osinbajo.
Writing on a topic “Nigeria Cannot Afford Luxuries During an Austerity” on his Facebook page, Thursday, Atiku also asked Buhari to do away with the N37billion budget for the renovation of the National Assembly, urging him to downsize the massive budgets to run both the Presidency and the Legislature.
The former Vice President also counselled that the budget for purchasing luxury cars for the President, his vice, and other political office holders must be abandoned.
He also asked Buhari to sell 8 or 9 of the jets in the Presidential Air Fleet and also reduce the salaries of political appointees.
The opposition leader, however, warned against touching the salaries of civil servants.
He wrote: “It is to my consternation that despite the crash in the price of oil, and the inability of Nigeria to expand our revenue base through the non-oil sector, the Federal Government of Nigeria has only seen fit to slash our budget by a mere 0.6%, from ₦10.594 trillion to ₦ 10.523 trillion. This represents a reduction of only ₦71 billion.
“Putting politics aside, this is grossly insufficient and betrays the fact we have lost touch with the current realities in the global political economy.
“For the avoidance of doubt, when this budget was presented to the National Assembly on Tuesday, October 8, 2019, it was predicated on a projection that our nation would generate crude oil production of 2.18 million barrels a day, at an expected oil price of $57 per barrel.
“Today that is no longer the case. Both our production, and the price of oil have been severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic, to the extent that we have unsold vessels, and our income has tanked by more than 50%.
“Given that this is the case, how can anyone justify a reduction in expenditure of just 0.6%? We cannot be the only nation bucking the trend?
“Saudi Arabia, a nation with a much stronger production capacity than ours and with a larger global market share, as well as a foreign reserve that is 12 times ours, has slashed her budget by almost 30%. Ditto for other oil economies.
“Nigeria cannot make up for the loss of expected revenue by taking out more loans and issuing out more bonds. Debt will be the death of our economy, and bonds will put our people in bondage.
“The best way out of this economic quagmire is to reduce our expenditure. And a 0.6% reduction is no reduction. It is only window dressing.
“My counsel to the Federal Government of Nigeria is this: put Nigerians first and cut your coat, not according to your size, but according to your cloth.
“Realistically slash the budget. Every pork barrel has to go. The billions budgeted for the travels and feeding of the President and Vice President has to be reduced. The ₦27 billion budget for the renovation of the National Assembly has to go. The massive budgets to run both the Presidency and the Legislature has to be downsized. The budget for purchasing luxury cars for the President, his vice, and other political office holders must be abandoned. Leave the salaries of civil servants alone, but reduce the salaries of political appointees. Sell 8 or 9 of the jets in the Presidential Air Fleet.
“Any budget slash that is less than 25% will not be in the interest of Nigeria. And beyond a budget slash, Nigeria needs a budget realignment, to redirect expenditure away from running a massive bureaucracy, into social development sectors like education, infrastructure, and above all, healthcare. We must invest in the goose that lays the golden egg – the Nigerian people.
“These are the types of sacrifices that we need in a time of crisis. We do not need empty gestures that will lead to empty treasuries.
“In times of austerity, no nation, not the least a mono-product economy, such as ours, should be living in luxury at a leadership level.”