Contributions of opposition members during the 2024 budget debate suggest that the role expected of them by their parties may be evaporating even before things start to get hot
Barely 24 hours after the President, Bola Tinubu, presented the 2024 budget, the House of Representatives commenced debate on its general principles. The lawmakers say this was to hasten the assessment and approval of the appropriation bill.
OrderPaper observed the submissions of the lawmakers between Thursday and Friday, the days scheduled for debates. Most lawmakers expressed satisfaction with the content of the budget, describing the president’s decision to prioritise education and security and a people-centred policy.
Even lawmakers who are members of the opposition parties rallied to applaud the president for what they described as a “job well-done.”
Opposition parties criticise budget…
This is contrary to the position of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the Labour Party (LP) presidential candidate, Peter Obi. Both opposition described President Tinubu’s proposed N27.5 trillion budget for the 2024 fiscal year as hopeless and a huge disservice. The PDP said that if the proposed budget is passed, it will further asphyxiate Nigerians and plunge the nation into more economic depression and hopelessness.
“It is clear that the 2024 budget as proposed with its heavy provisions for the luxury appetite of the presidency and All Progressives Congress (APC) leaders, which is predicted and expected to be funded from multilateral and bilateral foreign loans and increased taxes on Nigerians,” the party said in a statement.
Like the PDP, Mr. Obi criticised the Tinubu administration for splurging billions on materials not beneficial to the public. He described the allocation of N15 billion for the construction of a new residence for the vice president as both shocking and disheartening. “This is at a time when we are not just the world’s poverty capital, but more people are falling into poverty, with so many Nigerians not knowing where their next meal will come from. Our health facilities have collapsed, and unemployment is skyrocketing,” he said.
What Reps from majority and minority parties said…
Most of the lawmakers who made submissions at the debate were from the ruling party. OrderPaper findings show that a total of 49 lawmakers spoke during the debate between Thursday and Friday. This is only 13.6 per cent of the total population of 360 lawmakers in the House.
15 lawmakers spoke during the budget debate on Thursday. Of this number, 12 were members of the APC, 2 from were of the PDP, and one belonged to the LP. On Friday, the second day of the budget debate, a total of 34 lawmakers spoke; 18 from the APC, 10 from PDP, the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) had 2 lawmakers, LP had 3, and the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) had 1. This puts the number of lawmakers from the APC at 30, and those from the opposition at 19. Calculations show that 61 per cent of the lawmakers who spoke at the debate were members of the APC and only 39 per cent of the lawmakers came from the opposition.
Submissions of opposition lawmakers…
Despite the overwhelming praises given to the provision of the budget, some of the lawmakers from the opposition, like the parties, pointed out what they considered gaps in the budget proposal. For instance, Fredi Agbedi (PDP, Bayelsa) argued that the budget has failed to be adequately inclusive, saying the president has failed to capture the needs of Nigerians living in the riverine areas in the Niger Delta region. “We appear to be the most neglected in the budget. No reference has been made on how to alleviate the situation of people in riverine areas. We keep getting excluded during the distribution of the nation’s revenue,” he said.
A member of the LP and deputy minority whip of the House, George Ibezimako Ozodinobi, questioned the projected revenue estimate for 2023 which is pegged at N18 trillion. The lawmaker observed that there’s the possibility that the high government revenue projected in the budget would translate to high import tariffs which most likely to affect members of the constituency and the country as a whole. According to him, the revenue estimate might be based on heavy taxation at the port, which could affect businesses and the cost of goods in the country.
Another LP lawmaker, Sunday Nnamchi, complained about the neglect of rail transportation in the southeast and the failure of the budget to rectify this.
Sunday (LP, Enugu) supported this position by saying, “there’s no functioning railway in the south east. The one under construction was abandoned, while that of other regions have improved. There’s a neglect of people in the south east, and the people need this for their business.”
Oboku Oforji (PDP, Bayelsa) said the intended public and private partnership in the budget must reduce the economic hardship in the country. He indicated that the partnership must reduce spending, and increase revenue. “When we pass the budget, Nigerians want to feel the impact. When the budget is passed, Nigerians want to see the price of goods come down. They want a robust economy,” he said.
However, Inuwa Bassi (PDP, Yobe), believes that the budget is capable of moving the nation forward, saying it is a people-centred budget which will improve the standard of living in the country if effectively implemented. “As legislators we must scrutinise the budget, for this is the reason we are here. We must go out for oversight to ensure effective implementation of the budget.We also need to ensure equity, fairness, justice without which there won’t be justice, good governance and progress,” he said.