Ben Ezechime, Enugu
Critical Stakeholders in Enugu State have expressed mixed reactions over Governor Peter Mbah’s 2024 appropriation bill of N521.6 billion.
In his analysis of the budget a politician and legal practitioner, Barrister John Nwobodo, said that the 2024-2026 Multi-Year budget is envisioned to set the pace for the achievement of the governor’s objectives.
He said: “Christened the Budget of Disruptive Economic Growth, the budget is primed to achieve two broad objectives of ranking top 3 states in Nigeria in GDP from $4.4b to $30b before 2031 and achieving a zero percent rate in poverty headcount.
“The private sector holds the key to realising the objectives. Consequently, the budget will take care of investments in factors critical for private sector involvement such as basic infrastructure and amenities (roads and water supply), transport services and digitalisation of public services and its associated processes.”
According to him, the Governor posited that one of the surest ways of ensuring sustainable eradication of poverty was through the aggressive enhancement of education and public health systems.
He said that the budget funding thrust of the government was the maximisation of internal revenue generation efforts by improving the efficiency of collections, enhancing the efficacy of government services to the populace and evolving creative new revenue generation sources particularly by optimising natural resources through improved oversight and regulation of mining activities and landed assets.
Nwobodo added that some of the standout projects in the budget were, the dualisation of the 22km Enugu Airport Flyover-Eke Obinagu-Ebonyi State border, and the construction of Owo-Ubahu-Amankanu-Neke-Ikem Road.
Expansion of National Cash Transfer Register of the Federal Government from 43,000 to 260,000 beneficiaries. Accumulation of 300,000 hectares of land as land bank to be made available to corporate farmers for massive cultivation of agro produce, and an ongoing conversations with key development agencies for the development of Special Agro Processing Zones (SAPZs) in the 3 senatorial zones of the state. The hosting of the Enugu State Investment Roundtable (6) Completion of the pilot Smart Model Basic School in Owo, Nkanu East Local Government Area. Expressed intention to construct 260 Type-2 Primary Health Centres across the 260 wards in the state to cater for the health needs of rural communities. Discontinuation of the ignoble Monday sit-at-home campaign and boosting of the security framework with the introduction of the Distress Response Squad, including ongoing installation of a CCTV surveillance network around the state.
According to him, in an unmistakable locution, the Governor spotlights the major areas of positive disruption including the development of 260 model schools and transition to e-governance.
“The Governor proposed a total budget size of N521,561,386,000.00, over half a trillion Naira, representing 132% increase from the 2023 revised budget of N224,697,889,063. This is the highest in the budget history of Enugu State.” Nwobodo, who was the governorship candidate of Accord Party in Enugu for the 2023 election said that from every indication, the project thrust of the budget was in five key areas namely:
(1) Construction of 260 Smart Schools in each of the 260 wards in Enugu State and its associated backup spending in education – N134,587,982,647.78.
(2) Construction of 260 Type-2 Primary Health Centres across the 260 wards in the State – N21,777,421,000
(3) Construction of road and maintenance of public building – N82,535,147,361.03
(4) Water sector – N28,970,250,000
(5) Agricultural Sector – N25,184,154,671.81
“These 5 key areas will gulp the sum of N293,054,955,680.62 out of the N414,334,120,000 capital expenditure while other projects will take N121,279,164,319.38,” he said.
He said that the budget funding thrust was the maximisation of internal revenue generation efforts by improving the efficiency of collections, enhancing the efficacy of government services to the populace and evolving creative new revenue generation sources particularly by optimising natural resources through improved oversight and regulation of mining activities and landed assets.
He further said: “With IGR projected to yield N252,789,000,000.00 in the overall projected recurrent revenue of N383,789,000,000.00, it is crystal clear to the blind that the government intends to burden the citizens with tax.
“It can be foretold that the government may be heading into a collision with the masses because the economic and financial conditions of the people have remained static for awhile.
“The business environment is hostile for small businesses to thrive. It is happening already with the introduction of daily ticketing in the transport sector where hapless poor drivers of keke and buses many of whom are hirers are subjected to daily tax, a phenomenon that is alien to taxing principles.
“It is important to state that some of the revenue components of the recurrent revenue are cast in probability and therefore a fantasy. For example, the IGR component alone is N252,789,000,000.00. If this amount is subtracted from the total sum of the recurrent revenue of N383,789,000,000.00, it becomes manifest that only about N131,000,000,000 being combined value of sources other than IGR seems realistic.
“It is also a matter of concern that the aggregate of domestic and international loans/borrowing receipts stand at N103,000,000,000. It means that the bulk of the capital receipts will come from borrowing.”
He said that the rage about government borrowing in the last quarters of this year from Fidelity Bank and Globus bank of humongous loan sums are yet to abate.
According to him, the government was unrelenting in its penchant for loans which not only impoverishes the state but also mortgages the future of the State.
“The Governor having identified that one of the surest ways of ensuring sustainable eradication of poverty is through the aggressive enhancement of education…gives a lead-in into the proposed construction of 260 Smart Schools in each of the 260 wards in Enugu State and its associated backup spending in education expected to gulp N134,587,982,647.78.
“As smart as the idea sounds and as interesting and captivating as it appears, save for being vogue, the project is a white elephant. Yes, it is good to provide serene learning environment equipped with modern facilities and equipment and integrating technology, AI and Robotics into the basic education curriculum but of what relevance when there is no corresponding provision at the Upper Secondary education level including the tertiary education level.
“The absence of similar and upward sophistication post-basic level is a recipe for knowledge atrophy.
“Again, what becomes of the existing public secondary schools? Would they be closed down or co-exist with the Smart Model Schools?
“Who and who will be admitted into the Smart Schools? If the shanties called schools are to exist side by side with the Smart Model Schools, the issue of discrimination will rear up.”
According to him: “What sense does the Smart Model Schools make when the Enugu State Government is charging students of basic education level fees in breach of the free education law of the State? What if there are fine school buildings which poor parents cannot afford?
“Most public school buildings are dilapidated with no school desks, chalk board and so on.
“It is completely an antithesis to correlate education at the basic level as a means of eradicating poverty and achieving zero poverty headcount.
“It seems the mantra of achieving zero poverty headcount is a slogan.
“The minutest thing to do is to ascertain the number of citizens below the poverty line but it has not been done.”
Nwobodo also picked hole in the 260 Type-2 Primary Health Centres to be constructed in the 260 electoral wards in the state proposed to gulp N21,777,421,000.
“What is the Government plan for the existing PHCs? How do new hospital buildings scattered all over the State factor to reduce poverty?
“Good health may in a way correlate with wealth in the sense that it is a healthy man that can work but the statement may be true only in a limited sense.
“Currently, most PHCs in rural communities have no drug supplies, no medical personnel and no staff accommodation. So, why is the government not investing in, rehabilitating the existing ones and providing necessary support for full operationalisation of the PHCs and maximisation of existing facilities, he said.
The legal luminary concluded that the key projects were not fittingly or properly aligned to the budget objectives.
“The indicated means of achieving the budget objectives are misaligned.
“The proposed projects are not likely to lead to eradication of poverty and achieving zero percent poverty headcount. It does not also demonstrate a promise of a significant leap in the GDP rate.
Also speaking, a banker and a current affairs analyst, Mr Steve Ofili, said the budget proposal had all the traces of ambitious projects.
He said that the governor had shown that he is a man with vision, giving his projects outline but how he goes about his ambition through the budget remains to be seen.
“Though his vision, plans are okay but to me, I am not too optimistic about its actualisation,” Ofili said.
However, a teacher, Mrs Ngozi Ugwueze, was full of joy for the budget.
She told Ikengaonline that, the government of Mbah was the only government that remembered that “the reward of teachers is not in heaven but here on Earth.”
Also, Mr Daniel Ukwu, founder of Daniel Ukwu Foundation for Leadership lauded the governor over the budget.
He said that the budget if fully implemented would lay the foundation for full industrialisation of the state.
“Looking at the budget it is very bulky and the figures look unrealisable but my area of concern is education where he allocated 33 per cent.
“This would take care of teachers, building model schools, training and retraining of teachers which is a departure from what we were used to in the past,” he said.
According to him, it is a progressive measure and a way of industrialising the state.
“It is a very commendable Budget. It is proactive, if he implements all projects therein including roads construction and rehabilitation, schools, water and so on.
“It is foundational budget but the amount I don’t know how he’s going to realise it,” Ukwu said.