Let me express my pleasure and gratitude to CIRRDOC for inviting me to chair the public presentation of the Nigerian States Budget Transparency Survey 2020. Over the years, I have been involved in the survey process by CIRRDOC. In 2014, I gave the keynote address. The issues have remained recurrent and persistent. Let me commend CIRDDOC and partners for their consistency.
The budget is perhaps the most important instrument for the development of any modern state apart from the constitution. The focus on budget has assumed greater prominence in recent years with increasing democratization, civil society participation and the desire to respond to the development challenge of poverty and inequality. In Nigeria, the return to civilian rule in May 1999 after many years of military rule not only put issues of budget in the public domain but brought out the role of parliamentarians and citizens in the budgetary process. More importantly, although budgets were prepared and read during military regime, there was neither participation by civil society nor input from parliament. In fact, during the twenty-nine years of military rule, the legislature was completely absent. However, since return to civil rule, the reality of budgeting in Nigeria is changing. Citizens, civil society organisations are engaging more with the process. But there is still a huge challenge especially in regard to participation and openness of the budget.
It is well known that Nigeria is endowed with enormous human and natural resources, yet the country and its people are poor. Nigeria, which was one of the richest 50 countries in the early 1970s, has retrogressed to become one of the 25 poorest countries at the threshold of the twenty first century. It is ironic that Nigeria is the sixth largest exporter of oil and at the same time host the largest number of poor people in the world. Statistics show that the incidence of poverty using the rate of US $1 per day increased from 28.1 percent in 1980 to 46.3 percent in 1985 and declined to 42.7 percent in 1992 but increased again to 65.6 percent in 1996. The incidence increased to 69.2 percent in 1997. The 2004 report by the National Planning Commission indicates that poverty has decreased to 54.4 percent. But by 2010, the poverty rate has increased again to 69.1 percent. Currently, poverty rate is about 41 percent. Nigeria fares very poorly in all development indices. From the above, it is clear that the resources in the country have not translated into development. As a matter of fact, the development indices in Nigeria are comparable only with countries in war.
Several scholars have argued that one of the greatest problems confronting Nigeria is corruption. It well known and documented that corruption is widespread, deep and endemic in Nigeria. Nigeria has been consistently rated among the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International in its Corruption Perception Index.
Meanwhile, the budget has been described as the most important document for the development of any country. It is the most powerful way that a government can meet the needs and priorities of the citizens. The budget process is crucial to good development outcomes. Corruption in any country starts from the budgetary process. In very corrupt countries, the budget is done in secret. Releases are done without the knowledge of citizens. Procurement information is not made available to citizens and corruption is guarded and protected. This is why civil society organisations are advocating for an open budget system. A budget is regarded as open if citizens have access to the key budget documents; have high level of involvement in the budgetary process and have access to procurement information.
Democracy will be meaningless if the citizens do not participate in how government raise and spend money. This is why the tool (Open Budget Survey Tracker) developed by the International Budget Partnership (IBP) is a very useful instrument. It surveys the availability of eight key budget documents to members of the public: pre-budget statement, executive budget proposal, enacted budget, citizens’ budget, in-year report, mid-year review, year-end report and audit report. The Pre-budget statement is meant to disclose the parameters of the budget proposal including macro-economic assumptions. The enacted budget is the budget that has been passed into law by the legislature. The Citizens’ budget is a simplified version of the budget proposal that the average citizen can understand and relate with. The in-year report is a monthly or quarterly report of budget implementation. The mid-year review is a comprehensive update of implementation in the first half of the year. The year-end report is the annual report of implementation. The audit report is the audited annual account of the government.
It is important to note that the efficacy of the budget determines the success of governments in meeting societal needs. There is a process of making budget which should be open, transparent and participatory in order to bring about development. Unfortunately, despite the enormous resources in Nigeria, the country and its people are poor partly because of corruption, secrecy in the budget process and poor public finance management. This is why open budget is a necessity for development in Nigeria. Anyone interested in the development of Nigeria must join the movement for Open Budget in Nigeria.
It is however gratifying that the report being presented today indicates that there is progress. It reports that an overwhelming majority of states improved their 2020 scores on the State Budget Document Availability Index. In particular, Akwa Ibom, Ekiti, Ebonyi, Kaduna, Kogi and Ogun states all scored above 60 and provide a significant amount of budget information. It also showed that several states used town hall for the first time and that the procurement process continued to be more robust and open than in previous years. In addition, the 2020 data showed that all states except Enugu have a legal framework guiding the procurement process. These are improvements that need to be consolidated. I call on all stakeholders to continue to push for Open Budget in Nigeria.
Thanks and God bless.