Twenty-four days after the National Assembly transmitted the 2017 budget to the executive, acting President Yemi Osinbajo Monday finally signed the bill into law, with a resolve by the executive and legislature that the former would send a virement request to the National Assembly for the restoration of the budget alterations to the original document presented to the lawmakers by President Muhammadu Buhari last December.
The budget, which was signed in a fully packed auditorium in the Presidential Villa, Abuja, was witnessed by Senate President Bukola Saraki, Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun, and the Chief of Staff to the President Abba Kyari.
Also present were the Senate Leader Ahmad Lawan, House Leader Femi Gbajabiamila, Chairman, Senate Committee on Appropriation Danjuma Goje, Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation Mustapha Bala Dawaki, Minister of Budget and National Planning Udoma Udo Udoma, his counterpart in the Ministry of Finance Kemi Adeosun, and other government officials.
Osinbajo, who signed the budget at about 4.40 pm, had rushed into the conference room in his office from a one-day trip to Awka, Anambra State, where he had delivered a lecture commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Law Teachers’ Association.
In his remarks after the assent, Osinbajo said the decision leading to the budget’s signing was a product of robust negotiations between the executive and the legislature and commended what he described as the collaborative spirit of the National Assembly.
He described the process, which resulted in the presentation of the budget by Buhari last year as a smooth, error-free and a significant improvement over the previous year’s process and presentation.
He also praised the collaborative spirit of the ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) with the National Assembly during the budget process, pointing out that the process was devoid of rancour.
Osinbajo, who observed that the National Assembly’s decision to increase the budget from N7.29 trillion to N7.43 trillion would make its implementation difficult, however, hailed the statesmanlike attitude of members of the National Assembly, which he said resulted in peaceful resolution of the issues generated by the increase.
He said the increase would have adverse effects on the planned implementation of some projects captured in the budget such as the railway projects, Mambila power project, and reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway, among others.
He expressed delight that both arms of government eventually resolved that the issue would be corrected through a subsequent dispatch of a virement request to the National Assembly for the restoration of the alterations in the budget.
He also said both arms resolved that henceforth, the budget for the next fiscal year would be presented to the National Assembly every October to enable the country return to the normal January-December budget cycle.
He noted that the budget was designed to complement the recently launched economic recovery and growth plan (ERGP) with the intention of guaranteeing economic recovery.
He listed the priorities of the budget to include macroeconomic stability, growth in agriculture, guaranteed energy sufficiency, improved transport infrastructure, and industrialisation through support for Medium Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs).
He also said the implementation of the budget would trigger economic activities, which he said would lead to job creation for young Nigerians, adding that the government was working hard to improve revenue collection efficiency through technology.
The acting president pointed out that the Treasury Single Account (TSA) was designed to improve transparency and accountability, observing that recoveries of looted funds had been factored into the budget.
He also stressed that the budget’s implementation would bring added impetus to the country’s economic recovery.
“The final presentation and the signing of the budget has been considerably delayed. This was largely due to disagreements we had about the changes introduced to our 2017 Budget proposals by the National Assembly.
“The executive took the view that the changes fundamentally affected some of our priority programmes and would make implementation extremely difficult and in some cases impossible.
“I must say that the entire leadership of the National Assembly led by the Senate President and the Speaker, adopted a commendably patriotic and statesmanlike approach to our engagements on resolving these critical issues.
“In sum, the engagements yielded acceptable results. The most important being that the leadership of the National Assembly has given us a commitment that the National Assembly will reinstate the budgetary allocations for all the important executive projects such as the railway standard gauge projects, the Mambilla power project, the Second Niger Bridge, the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, etc., which they had been reduced to fund some of the new projects they introduced.
“This reinstatement will be by way of an application for virement by the executive which they have agreed will be expeditiously considered and approved by the National Assembly.
“It is as a result of that understanding and the outcome of our detailed engagements that we feel able to sign the 2017 Appropriation Bill into law today.
“I am also pleased to mention that in our discussions with the leadership of the National Assembly, we have jointly resolved to return to a predictable January to December fiscal year.
“It is a particularly important development because this aligns with the financial year of most private sector companies, underscoring the crucial relationship between government and the private sector.
“Therefore, on the understanding that we will be submitting the 2018 budget to the National Assembly by October 2017, the leadership of the National Assembly has committed to working towards the passage of the 2018 budget into law before the end of 2017.
“I must once more express my appreciation to the leadership of the National Assembly for the collaborative spirit in which these discussions were conducted.
“The 2017 budget, which I have signed into law today, is christened ‘Budget of Economic Recovery and Growth’ and reflects our commitment to ensure a strong linkage between the medium-term Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) recently launched by President Muhammadu Buhari and the annual budget.
“It is designed to bring the Nigerian economy out of recession unto a path of sustainable and inclusive growth. The budget has a revenue projection of N5.08 trillion and an aggregate expenditure of N7.44 trillion. The projected fiscal deficit of N2.36 trillion is to be financed largely by borrowing.
“Let me assure those who have expressed concern about the growing public debt that we are taking several actions to grow government revenues as well as plug revenue leakages.
“This is because notwithstanding the fact that our borrowings are still within sustainability limits, we are determined, in the medium term, to reduce our reliance on borrowing to finance our expenditure,” he stated.
The acting president added that details of the budget, as approved by the National Assembly, would be made available by the Minister of Budget and National Planning.
He also stressed that the economy was already signalling gradual recovery, as growth was heading towards positive territory.
“First quarter GDP at -0.52 per cent compares favourably with -2.06 per cent in the first quarter of 2016. Inflation is declining – down to 17.24 per cent as at May 2017 from 18.74 per cent. Our external reserves are now US$30.28 billion as at June 8, 2017, up from US$26.59 billion as at May 31, 2016.
“We are also gradually instilling confidence in our exchange rate regime. These improvement in GDP growth and other macroeconomic indicators are largely attributable to our strategic implementation of the 2016 budget as well as stronger macroeconomic management and policy coordination.
“I am confident that the 2017 budget will deliver positive economic growth and prosperity – one that is self-sustaining and inclusive. In this regard, the 2017 budget will be implemented in line with our Economic Recovery and Growth Plan,” Osinbajo stated.
Before the budget was signed, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had issued a statement saying Osinbajo had been given the green light by Buhari to sign the Appropriation Bill into law.
“In a letter dated June 10, 2017, which he personally signed and addressed to the Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udoma Udo Udoma, the president also said he was pleased by the joint resolution that the executive would submit next year’s budget proposals by October 2017 and the National Assembly will conclude the Appropriation process by December 2017, so that the country can return to a normal fiscal period from next year onwards,” the statement added.
The N7.43 trillion budget which proposes N2.9 trillion for recurrent (non-debt) expenditure, N2.177 trillion for capital expenditure, N1.84 trillion for debt service and N177.4 billion for the sinking fund, was presented by Buhari in December last year and passed by the National Assembly on May 11 this year.