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Editorial

The mirage of fiscal renewal in Nigeria’s 2024 budget

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The unveiling of Nigeria’s 2024 budget by President Bola Tinubu was anticipated with a mix of hope and skepticism.

The hope was that the new administration would pivot from the fiscal imprudence that has characterised the nation’s budgeting for decades.

The skepticism stemmed from a history of unfulfilled promises and economic plans that have often sounded more impressive on paper than in practice. Unfortunately, the skepticism seems warranted as the N27.5 trillion budget proposal for 2024, dubbed the ‘Budget of Renewed Hope,’ falls short of the transformative fiscal recalibration that was promised.

At first glance, the budget’s title suggests a fresh start, a breakaway from the past. However, a closer examination reveals a continuation of the same old patterns: “envelope” budgeting, precarious funding assumptions, a bloated recurrent expenditure, a modest capital outlay, a substantial deficit, and an increasing debt burden.

This is not the bold overhaul that Nigerians were promised, but rather a reiteration of the uninspiring fiscal practices of the past two decades.

President Tinubu’s speech to the National Assembly painted an optimistic picture, one where the budget would lay the groundwork for macroeconomic stability, reduce the deficit, and increase capital spending in line with the administration’s priorities. Yet, the reality of the figures tells a different story.

The allocation of N9.92 trillion for non-debt recurrent expenses and N8.25 trillion for debt servicing—which alone consumes a staggering 45 percent of the total budget—signals a continuation of the government’s preference for consumption over investment.

This approach does little to inspire confidence in the budget’s potential to stimulate economic growth or alleviate poverty.Moreover, the projected deficit of N9.18 trillion, which represents 3.88 percent of GDP, though a reduction from the previous year’s 6.11 percent, still underscores a reliance on borrowing.

The planned new borrowings of N7.83 trillion, along with the anticipated N1.05 trillion drawdown on multilateral and bilateral loans, further entrench Nigeria’s precarious revenue position. The expected N298.49 billion from privatisation proceeds is not only insignificant in the grand scheme but also highly speculative, given the government’s historical reluctance to privatize.

The budget reiterates lofty goals such as fostering “job-rich” growth, improving investment stability, and enhancing human capital development. Yet, without a significant shift in the allocation towards capital expenditure and a realistic plan for revenue generation, these objectives seem more aspirational than achievable.

The heavy lean on debt servicing casts a long shadow over the prospects of meeting these goals, as it leaves little room for the necessary investments in infrastructure, education, and healthcare that are critical for sustainable development.

The ‘Budget of Renewed Hope’ was an opportunity for President Tinubu’s administration to demonstrate a commitment to changing the narrative of Nigeria’s economic management. It was a chance to present a budget that would not only reflect the current economic realities but also chart a clear path towards fiscal sustainability and inclusive growth.

Unfortunately, the 2024 budget proposal, as it stands, is a missed opportunity. It is a whimper in the face of Nigeria’s economic challenges, not the bang that was needed to jolt the economy towards a new trajectory.

As the National Assembly deliberates on this budget, it is imperative that lawmakers critically assess the proposed allocations and assumptions. They must push for a more balanced budget that prioritizes capital expenditure and addresses the revenue challenges head-on. It is only through such rigorous scrutiny and a willingness to make tough decisions that Nigeria can hope to achieve the macroeconomic stability and growth that the government so optimistically promises..

Nigeria’s recently announced 2022 budget has been met with criticism from experts who have raised concerns over its assumptions and allocation of funds.

The budget assumes an average oil price of $77.96 per barrel, which is precarious given that prices have averaged $74.38 on Friday.

Additionally, the estimated oil production of 1.78 million barrels per day is questionable, with production averaging 1.35mbpd this year. With 400,000bpd stolen and OPEC seeking to cut production to boost prices, the output target appears unrealistic.

Furthermore, the national budget is still overly dependent on oil and gas revenues. Other assumptions, such as inflation at 21.4 per cent and debt servicing, also raise questions. Inflation rose to 27.3 per cent in October, fuelled by high energy prices, rocketing naira exchange rates and runaway food prices.

The government’s spending over 90 per cent of its revenue on debt-servicing, and still borrowing at breakneck pace, means its deficits and borrowings could eventually exceed estimates. Experts describe annual budgets as an “important instrument of national resource mobilisation, allocation and economic management”.

However, this budget is largely more of the same annual fare, sustaining high recurrent spending. The N1.32 trillion or 5.0 per cent infrastructure vote falls short of the $1.5 billion required under the Reviewed Integrated Infrastructure Master Plan.

The social sectors, primarily education and health, which combined are allotted 12.5 per cent, continue to get short thrift.

This contradicts Tinubu’s electoral promise to allocate at least 10 per cent to health, and the 15 per cent combined agreed for health and education by African countries in 2010. Overall, the budget has been criticised for its assumptions and allocation of funds, which could hinder economic development.

Editorial

Rising human rights violations in Nigeria: Urgent calls for Govt action

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The latest findings unveiled by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) during its monthly dashboard meeting paint a concerning picture of human rights violations in Nigeria, specifically in March 2024.

The alarming figure of 1,580 recorded violations across the nation’s six geopolitical zones is a stark reminder of the challenges faced in upholding fundamental rights.

Of particular concern is the North Central region, which emerged as the hotspot for violations, reporting 468 cases. This revelation underscores the urgent need for targeted interventions and heightened awareness in this area to curb such abuses.

Equally troubling is the revelation that State Actors, including the police, military, and Department of State Service (DSS), were implicated in 94 violations. Among these were distressing incidents such as the killings of security personnel in Delta State, highlighting the gravity of the situation.

The breakdown provided by the NHRC reveals disturbing trends, with 542 cases involving violations of children’s rights and 471 cases of domestic violence, signaling a worrying trend that demands immediate attention and action.

Furthermore, the involvement of non-state and private actors in 32 and 36 violations respectively underscores the need for a comprehensive approach to address human rights abuses across all sectors of society.

It is also disheartening to note that three cases of rights violations were recorded against disabled individuals, emphasising the importance of ensuring the protection and inclusion of all members of society.

Beyond these specific categories, the NHRC’s report also sheds light on violations impacting social, economic, and cultural rights, with 157 cases identified. Additionally, the 24 referred cases highlight the complexities involved in addressing such violations and the importance of collaboration among relevant stakeholders.

In light of these findings, it is imperative that concerted efforts are made to address the root causes of human rights violations and to implement measures aimed at safeguarding the rights and dignity of all individuals in Nigeria. Only through collective action can meaningful progress be achieved in building a society. In a solemn address at the heart of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, the Senior Human Rights Adviser, Hilary Ogbonna, delivered a sobering message. He revealed that a grim tally of 499 lives were lost to violence and abduction, with an additional 71 souls stripped of their fundamental right to life during the reviewed period.

Ogbonna’s words echoed with the chilling reality of 301 schoolchildren vanishing into the night’s grip in Kaduna State alone. Meanwhile, the silent screams of 40 souls extinguished in Benue State, and four lives cruelly cut short in Nasarawa State during the distribution of much-needed palliatives, reverberated through the nation’s consciousness.

These violations, ranging from killings to kidnappings, domestic violence to abductions, and the vulnerable children’s rights trampled upon, cast a shadow over the fabric of society.

As the ink of these harrowing accounts dries on the pages of our collective history, our hearts are heavy with dismay. The sanctity of life, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is under siege in myriad forms, exposing the fragility of peace within our borders.

The sobering revelation that Nigeria languishes among the least peaceful nations on the Global Peace Index further punctuates the urgency of the matter. Despite over two decades of democratic governance and the noble ideals of the UDHR, our nation grapples with the weight of human rights abuses, laid bare for the world to witness.

At its core, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights beckons humanity to embrace freedom from oppression, active participation in decision-making, and the assurance of basic necessities. Yet, these foundational principles remain elusive for many, casting a long shadow over the promise of a just society.

As we confront these challenges head-on, let us not forget the indomitable spirit of resilience that resides within our people.

Together, let us forge a path towards a future where every life is cherished, and every right is upheld with unwavering resolve. Since its declaration, it has become fashionable for most countries of the world, Nigeria inclusive, to entrench the catalogue of rights in their constitutions.

But, regrettably, in Nigeria, and indeed Africa, people are usually subjected to physical and mental torture ranging from cases of accidental discharge and other forms of police brutality, domestic violence, kidnappings as well as detention without trial.

There is no gainsaying it that insecurity has continued to manifest in virtually all parts of the country in the form of banditry, kidnapping, terrorism and communal conflicts, resulting in the loss of lives and property.

We are not unaware that violations of rights that guarantee personal freedom are further worsened by the apparent lack of remedies for the victims, whether in the form of compensation or access to justice for the wrong done. With increasing cases of human rights abuses, citizens’ trust in the Nigerian system has continued to dwindle, making it difficult for victims to come forward and seek justice.

The Nigerian Constitution guarantees the right to personal liberty which implies that human rights are the fundamental features of any true democratic setting. While we recognise the efforts made by nations towards safeguarding these freedoms, it is equally essential to acknowledge the persistent obstacles that hinder their full realisation.

Some of these obstacles may arise from legislative constraints, societal prejudices, or systemic shortcomings. Whatever is the case, justice demands that collective attention and concerted efforts be made to dismantle them.

We feel compelled to highlight the multitude of obstacles facing our nation, ranging from insecurity and separatist tensions to egregious acts such as torture, illegal detention, extortion, and extrajudicial killings perpetrated by law enforcement agencies.

Additionally, the pervasive challenges of limited access to justice, manipulation of the court system, and the alarming disregard for court orders compound the hardships faced by citizens. Coupled with the escalating cost of living and deteriorating living conditions, these factors undermine the ability of individuals to lead secure and fulfilling lives.

It is crucial to emphasise the pivotal role that safeguarding human rights plays in nurturing vibrant democracies, fostering social cohesion, and celebrating diversity.

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Editorial

EFCC and the war against Naira abuse

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The war against Naira abuse by the Economic and Financial Crime commission (EFCC) seems selective but it is a good omen and stakeholders must rise to support the anti-corruption agency in its task. A few weeks ago two popular celebrities Bobrisky and the Chief Priest of Cubana were brought to book for spraying money in public events against the laws regarding it.

The six months sentence slammed on controversial cross-dresser, Idris Okuneye popularly known as Bobrisky, and the ongoing prosecution of socialite, Pascal Okechukwu, also known as Obi Cubana, clearly demonstrates the seriousness with which the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is willing to prosecute the war on naira abuse.

A Federal High Court sentenced Bobrisky to six months jail without an option of fine. Also, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos granted Obi Cubana N10 million bail after he pleaded not guilty to charges of naira abuse. EFCC’s decision to begin the war with these socialites is plausible and that will send a strong signal to their ilk.

Arguably, the naira is one of the most abused currencies in the world as it is very common to see Nigerians, especially the well-to-do, spraying this legal tender with reckless abandon at social events. This is a clear contravention of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN’s) Act which frowns at the abuse of the country’s legal tender.

Section 21(3) of the Central Bank of Nigeria Act 2007 (as amended) explicitly provides for penalties for those caught abusing the naira. Specifically, the law stipulates that “spraying of, dancing or matching on the Naira or any note issued by the Bank during social occasions or otherwise howsoever shall constitute an abuse and defacing of the Naira or such note and shall be punishable under the law by fines or imprisonment or both.”

The law also prohibits hawking of the country’s legal tender when it provides in Section 21(4) that, “It shall also be an offence punishable under Sub-section (1) of this section for any person to hawk, sell or otherwise trade in the Naira notes, coins or any other note issued by the Bank.”

However, in spite of this copious provisions, Nigerians still indulge in outright abuse of the naira by spraying the banknotes at events, tearing and writing on the banknotes, and selling the banknotes among other clear instances of abuse including selling and mutilation.

As should be expected, these practices have continued to make a mess of the CBNs Clean Notes Policy which was implemented with the aim of enhancing the visual appeal and durability of the banknotes in circulation.

From 2007 when the Act was enacted to date, there have been no deliberate efforts to punish those who indulge in sheer abuse of the naira in contravention of the law. As a matter of fact, until recently, most Nigerians were unaware of the law.

It is clear that the respective authorities have finally woken from their slumber and are set to go after unpatriotic Nigerians who have turned naira abuse into a hobby. Beginning with the so-called socialites who are the worst culprits as far as abusing the naira is concerned, the government appears bent on ending this menace.

We applaud the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and other relevant agencies of the government for this all-out war and urge them to sustain the tempo. Nigerians who have made it a habit to disrespect the naira by either spraying it with reckless abandon at social functions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals, or selling it at the roadside, must be made to face the full wrath of the law.

While the EFCC’s prosecution of Bobrisky is commendable, the agency must ensure that it sees to its logical end the ongoing prosecution of Obi Cubana. For this renewed war to make a meaningful impact, there must be no sacred cow. All those guilty of this abuse, regardless of their social standing, should be brought to book.

The EFCC and other agencies must resist the temptation to indulge in preferential treatment especially as one class of persons who are guilty of naira abuse is the political class. The political elites see spraying the naira at social gatherings as a status symbol. Even though it is a long held one, the culture of spraying money during celebrations is a national embarrassment that must be confronted using all the available legal instruments. There has to be an end to this sheer act of flamboyance and extravagance which is counterproductive.

In addition, while we commend the EFCC for its effort to protect the integrity of the national currency, we are persuaded to appeal to the government to apply the same zeal in ensuring that Nigerians, so hard pressed, have the Naira in their pockets in the first place.

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Editorial

Addressing the socioeconomic factors contributing to suicide rates in Nigeria

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The tragic incident that unfolded in the Magboro area of Ogun State, where Victoria Idowu, a 49-year-old woman, took her own life by hanging herself on a ceiling fan, is a poignant reminder of the deep-rooted issues surrounding mental health in our society.

The discovery of her lifeless body by her son upon his return from a church service emphasises the devastating impact of such actions on loved ones and communities at large.

This unfortunate event, coupled with the recent case of Deputy Commissioner of Police Gbolaha Oyedemi, who also tragically ended his own life, sends shockwaves across the nation. Oyedemi’s untimely demise, particularly given his position within the Force Criminal and Investigation Department in Lagos State, raises questions about the unseen burdens individuals may carry, even in seemingly successful and accomplished lives.

These incidents compel us to confront the pressing need for enhanced mental health awareness, support systems, and destigmatisation efforts within our society.

While the reasons behind such tragic decisions may remain elusive, it is imperative that we foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to seek help without fear of judgment or ostracisation.

As a nation, we must prioritise mental health initiatives, invest in accessible counseling services, and promote open dialogue about mental well-being in homes, workplaces, and communities. Only through collective action and compassion can we hope to prevent further loss and support those struggling with mental health challenges.

The intertwined tales of Victoria Idowu and Deputy Commissioner Gbolaha Oyedemi paint a harrowing portrait of despair echoing across Nigeria’s landscape.

Idowu’s final act, discovered by her son amidst the echoes of church hymns, and Oyedemi’s perplexing departure, once the trusted aide to a former governor, unveil a somber truth: suicide’s haunting grip knows no bounds.

Their stories, etched with the weight of societal expectations and personal demons, illuminate a troubling trend veiling Nigeria in sorrow.

From the seasoned to the youthful, lives are lost to the silent whispers of despair, leaving behind unanswered questions and shattered hearts.

In the shadows of these tragedies, Nigeria grapples with a growing epidemic, where the specter of suicide looms larger with each passing day. The reasons, as diverse as the nation itself, intertwine threads of societal strain, economic woes, mental anguish, and a dearth of solace in the face of adversity.

Yet, amid this darkness, one truth shines unwaveringly: suicide, however tempting, is not an adequate solution. It is a plea for help lost in the silence, a cry for understanding drowned in the noise. In the face of despair, let us extend hands of compassion, build bridges of support, and shatter the silence with voices of hope. For in unity, in empathy, lies the beacon of light guiding us through the darkest of nights.

In 2019, the tragic loss of a university student in Lagos to suicide, amid the weight of academic pressures and depression, stirred conversations about mental health awareness within educational institutions.

The following year, the untimely demise of a renowned Nigerian musician, who was discovered dead by suicide in his Lagos home, cast a spotlight on the silent struggles faced by celebrities and public figures battling mental health issues.

Similarly, in 2020, the distressing case of a young woman in Abuja, who took her own life after sharing troubling messages on social media, underscored the crucial need for accessible support systems for individuals grappling with mental health crises.

Then, in 2021, the heartbreaking loss of a teenager in Kano, driven to suicide by the torment of bullying and harassment at school, sparked urgent calls for concerted action to address both bullying and mental health concerns among students.

These poignant examples serve as reminders of the pressing imperative for heightened awareness, robust support networks, and adequate resources to combat mental health challenges and stem the tide of suicide across Nigeria.

Nigeria faces a sobering reality according to the World Health Organization, grappling with one of Africa’s highest suicide rates, with a notable portion of victims being young people. Worse, the ratio of psychiatrists to population is 1:800,000.

However, there’s a beacon of hope: fostering mental health awareness and education emerges as one of the most potent tools in combating this crisis. Despite prevailing stigmas branding mental health issues as taboo or indicative of weakness, dispelling these misconceptions can pave the way for a more compassionate and supportive society. By shedding light on mental health challenges, we can dismantle barriers to seeking help and foster understanding for those battling depression and suicidal thoughts.

Moreover, addressing the recurring tide of suicides demands an overhaul of mental health services accessibility nationwide. Presently, many Nigerians, particularly in rural areas, face insurmountable hurdles in accessing vital care and support. By bridging this gap and ensuring equitable access to mental health services, we can extend a lifeline to those in dire need, fostering a nation where every individual’s well-being is prioritized and safeguarded.

Governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations could work together to expand mental health services, train healthcare professionals, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

To effectively combat the pervasive issue of suicide in Nigeria, collaboration between governments, healthcare providers, and non-governmental organisations is paramount. Together, they can expand mental health services, equip healthcare professionals with necessary training, and integrate mental health into primary healthcare systems.

Establishing robust support networks is crucial for individuals grappling with mental health challenges and suicidal ideation. This entails offering accessible avenues for seeking help, such as helplines, support groups, and online forums. Education initiatives should empower friends, family, and communities to recognize signs of depression and suicidal behavior, fostering environments of support and understanding.

Furthermore, advocating self-care practices like exercise, mindfulness, and relaxation techniques equips individuals with tools to manage their mental well-being and mitigate the risk of suicidal tendencies.

Addressing the persistent scourge of suicide demands a holistic approach that delves into its root causes while providing effective interventions and support for those in crisis. Through concerted efforts to promote mental health awareness, improve access to services, foster support networks, and empower individuals, Nigeria can forge a path towards suicide prevention and cultivate a healthier society for all.

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