Between saying too little and asking too much: Question marks over Nigeria’s budgeting figures
Budgets have not always been part of man’s politics or even his vocabulary. They emerged first in the early eighteenth century, necessitated by centuries of monarchs making a mess of public wealth. In other words, budgets can be said to have been spawned by corruption.
Ironically, however, budgets have today also become a fertile ground for the growth of that same menace. They are not just documents enabling a nation to plan ahead; they have become a sprinkler used by public officials to water their garden of greed.
This basic truth deserves credit for the massive poverty suffered by countless Nigerians and the stagnancy of the nation’s economy. A lot is wrong with us. Despite our human resources and material wealth, despite our towering gross domestic product (GDP), our annual budgeting benchmarks are still nowhere compared to those of South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, and even Angola. But not only are we not generating enough to keep up with global trends in advancement, year in year out, the little we make is mostly sacrificed for the utmost comfort of those who already have more than enough.
A glance at the typical Nigerian budget is enough to expose the government’s lack of sincerity in its fight against corruption and concern for the people. There is, to begin with, a thick quilt of secrecy deliberately pulled over various budget items in order to dissuade prying eyes. One will discover more than enough examples, alongside contract amounts, in the Budeshi database of nearly 7000 procurement projects.
For instance, from this document, we find that the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) recently gave out a contract of N588 million to a company called MS Durberry Nigeria Limited for the purchase of “patrolites” (i.e. electroshock torches). According to EBay, one unit of this torch should go for about N7500 ($24). But we can’t say exactly how many of these are covered under the contract — except further Freedom of Information (FoI) requests are made.
If we go with these figures, we can estimate that the procurement should be for at least 70,000 units of patrolite. It should, however, be noted that, according to the New Agency of Nigeria (NAN), FRSC has a staff strength of only 20,320. Even if they have no such torches presently, a legitimate question would be why on earth would the agency want to buy three of these items per officer?
The same corps contracted Skylight Engineering Services Ltd in 2016 for the “supply of motor vehicle tyres”. The contract amount is a whopping N674 million. Not only do we not know how many tyres precisely are covered under this arrangement, it is difficult to understand why so many are needed in the first place. Likewise, in 2016, the Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate (PTAD, Abuja office) requested to pay Ebuvik Oil N242 million for the “supply of diesel for June 2016”. How many litres? Nobody knows.
Though brevity is the soul of wit, when it comes to budgeting in Nigeria, it also doubles as the soul of fraud. It is an open secret that, in the ‘giant of Africa’, procurement items are hardly contracted at their actual price. They have to be gigantic to make sense. They are thus inflated that everyone may benefit — except the masses who truly own the money. Asides this, it is also ensured that substandard work is done. As a result, the people are fed an illusion of development, while their leaders continue to feast on their collective sustenance.
For instances where specificity is not slaughtered on the altars of negligence and dishonesty, it takes little time to notice a wide gap between the figures stated and market realities. FRSC, in 2015, said it needed to be supplied eight units of operational vehicles; but not just any operational vehicles — the Double Cabin Pick-up IVM Carrier. The budgeted figure for that fiscal year was N1.8 billion, while the entire contract amount is N9.5 billion. There is, however, one problem. The most expensive of such Innoson vehicles is the four-wheel drive carrier which, according to an automobile blog, costs N13.8 million. Multiply that by eight units, and we have is just N110.4 million. Since they are made in Nigeria, it additionally means customs duty is out of the question.
A second striking example is the 2015 budget of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). The commission apparently asked IBH-Njaku Petroleum Ltd to supply 27,000 litres of diesel. While the budgeted amount was N20 million, the contract sum was stated as N497 million. Given that the figures are not round, one would have been led to believe they have a foundation of genuine mathematics. But that is very unlikely.
According to a 2018 report, diesel is most expensive in Taraba state where it is sold at a price of N250 per litre. That figure multiplied by 27,000 litres equals only N6.8 million — less than half of even the budgeted amount.
There is also the National Agency for the Control of Aids (NACA) requesting for N310 million to procure 17,000 packs of Fluconazole 200mg tablets. There is the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) asking for N239 million to produce 1000 copies of its 2015 scorecard — which is, by the way, more than the N212 million demanded by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) to construct a 25-classroom storey building with ICT centre in Osun state. The list is endless.
A recent case which exemplifies the dangers of having vague budget items is the scandal involving Chief of Staff Abba Kyari. In response to an allegation of fraud respecting a contract for the supply of 15 Toyota Hilux trucks to the State House, presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said no such contract existed in the 2016 and 2017 budgets. And when he was confronted by The ICIR with facts to the contrary, he simply and unashamedly replied that, though the budgets did mention Hilux vehicles, none of them specifically gave their number as fifteen.
One need not consult the oracle to know that a nation is doomed without transparent budgeting and procurement processes. Such a nation is blessed with the irony of a high GDP per capita coupled with high poverty and unemployment rates. Such a nation is one whose budget is nothing but a racket and a leaking basket. It has boundless wealth but still finds itself running to the east and west for loans. Such a nation is Nigeria.
And if the people there desire improved lifestyles, they must start by demanding accountability from those who lead them. They must begin by scrutinising the root source of embezzlement. Their annual budgets.
This opinion piece was first published by The International Centre for Investigative Reporting, and was submitted for the Budeshi Datathon, 2018.