From Ndubuisi Orji, Abuja

All eyes are on the House Representatives to see how far it can go in ensuring that the 2024 budget addresses the concerns of the citizens. Prior to the passage of the 2024 budget, the House of Representatives had vowed that it would not be business as usual, with the implementation of the Appropriation Act

According to the House,  it would ensure effective oversight of the various Ministries, Departments and Agencies ( MDAs ), so that the budget will achieve its objectives.

The  N28. 777 trillion 2024 budget, which is christened the Budget of Renewed Hope was signed into law by President Bola Tinubu on January 1, after it was passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly, on December 30, 2023. A breakdown of the Appropriation Act indicates that N1, 742,786, 788,150 is for statutory transfers; N8, 270, 960,606,831, debt servicing; N8, 768, 513, 380, 852,   recurrent (non debt) expenditure and  N9,995, 143,298,028 as contribution to development fund for capital expenditure.

President Tinubu’s budget proposal, which was increased by N1. 2 trillion,  had generated diverse reactions, with the Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP), dismissing it as “deceitful”.

While the the PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Debo Ologunagba, had picked holes in the budget, several members of the House said the document will address burning issues in the country.

The opposition party had said, “ the 2024 budget is filled with heavily padded figures, duplicated items and several false statistics including claims of global increase in inflation rate as excuse for an impending excruciating increase in taxes and interest rate to the detriment of our productive sector.

“It is clear that the 2024 budget as proposed with its heavy provisions for luxury appetite of the Presidency and All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders which is predicated and expected to be funded from multilateral and bilateral foreign loans and increased taxes on Nigerians, is designed to further mortgage our nation and strangulate the already impoverish Nigerians. “

However, as the Executive Arm of government begins the implementation of the 2024 Appropriation Act, the question is whether the parliament will match words with action in its promise to hold the feet of MDAs to the fire, as regards diligent implementation of the budget.

The parliament has two key roles in the appropriation process- approving the money bill and exercising  oversight of the implementation. Nevertheless, critics say over the years, the National Assembly has not lived up to  expectations, in the discharge of these twin functions.  This budget proposal has suffered from lack of proper scrutiny of the budget proposals and adequate oversight of Appropriation Acts, by the various committees.

Ironically, like in previous years, the budget defence sessions, in the Green chamber, in respect to the 2024 budget, was a hallow ritual. The National Assembly, in a bid to sustain the January to December budget cycle had rushed through budget defence.

Nevertheless, analysts say the success or otherwise of the Appropriation Act will depend on the ability of the parliament to perform its constitutional roles effectively. Members of the House share the same sentiments too.

An All Progressives Congress (APC) member of the House, Ahmed Jaha, says the lawmakers have a major blame in the failure of the budgets and in the inability of the parliament to perform its oversight function very well.  Jaha, during debate on the 2024 budget, had posited that the Appropriation Acts, in the last four years had suffered from lack of effective oversight.  He noted it behooves on the 10th House to rise up to its responsibilities in the interest of the country.

“We are aware that for the last four years, there were budgetary provisions for all these development issues. There were releases 100 percent as promised by the President in the last four years. Where we have issues, I am sorry to say is with the members of the National Assembly parliament, which I am inclusive;  doing a proper oversight function to make sure that money appropriated is used for the purpose intended without any compromise is equally an important thing we should bear at the back of our minds as members of parliament.

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“We still have enough time to make history. Enough time to change the narrative. This is the first budget presented to the 10th National Assembly and more than 280 members were not part of the last four years narrative; in which there were budgetary provisions; 100 percent releases but there were minimal performances.

“This time around, the President has not only agreed but promised to fund the budget 100 percent. In other words, members have every reason to do their oversight function properly to make sure that monies appropriated in this budget are used for the purpose intended, “ the lawmaker stated.

Similarly, the chairman, House Community on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi, while hailing the 2024 budget as well intentioned, had pointed out that unless the parliament rise to the task of effective oversight, the Appropriation Act will not translate to anything meaningful in the country.

According to him,  “our work will either make or mar the commitment of Mr President.  Our own is to provide robust oversight engagement. I want to call our Honourable Colleagues to ensure that we have done what Nigeria people have called us to do by providing robust oversight in all MDAs to ensure that they are supporting Mr President in delivering dividends of democracy and good governance to the people of Nigeria.

“Until this is done, no matter how good the budget looks like, no matter the good intention of Mr President, he is one person; if proper oversight is not provided by this House and the Senate, do not hope that expectation of Mr President will be satisfied.”

Amidst economic hardship and worsening security, stakeholders say the onus is on the parliament to ensure that the Executive Arm delivers on the 2024 budget. Executive Director,  Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre (PLAC) , Clement Nwankwo,  while speaking at a Citizens Town Hall on the 2024 budget, organized by the House, last December, had charged the speaker, Tajudeen Abbas to ensure that the budget addresses the needs of the people.

Nwankwo had said: “we do hope your leadership will turn budget lines to development, address unemployment concern and failure of budgeting to address poverty.  Let nobody underestimate the nature of poverty and the expectation that citizens have that this government will begin to address these issues.”

Interestinly, Abbas, while speaking at the event last December, had decried the existing economic hardship in the country.  Abbas stated that is the duty of the parliament to ensure that the budget reflects the needs of the citizens.

According to him,  “as representatives of the people, it is our duty to ensure that the annual appropriation reflects the needs and aspirations of every Nigerian citizen. We are acutely aware that so many Nigerians are grappling with the challenges of soaring inflation.

“In August 2023, the headline inflation rate increased to 25.80% relative to the July 2023 headline inflation rate, which was 24.08%.  The food inflation rate was 29.34% on a year-on-year basis, which was 6.22% points higher than the rate recorded in August 2022. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics also shows that transportation costs have soared due to the hike in the pump price of Premium Motor Spirit.”

The speaker, in his vote of thanks at the 2024  budget presentation, had promised that  the parliament would stop at nothing to ensure that the Appropriation Act meets the needs of the citizens.

“We will give this bill the utmost priority it deserves. While we would give it accelerated consideration, we will diligently scrutinise it alongside Nigerians to ensure that when it is passed, it will be a budget that best addresses the most critical needs of our people, “ Abbas had assured. 

However, beyond the rhetorics, the question is will the House rise to the task of ensuring a diligent and effective oversight. Only time will tell if the House will  be able to match action with words, as regards the 2024 Appreciation Act.