Budget Padding: A Stark Reminder of the Structural Weaknesses of the 1999 Constitution.

SP Godswill Akpabio

Budget Padding: A Stark Reminder of the Structural Weaknesses of the 1999 Constitution.

By Abdullahi Shuaibu
March 20, 2024

Senator Abdul Ningi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) recently raised alarm about unilateral insertions of projects in the 2024 budget by the leadership of the National Assembly. On Tuesday, March 12, 2024, the Senate in a plenary session suspended him for three months effective immediately.

Since then many analysts and institutions have reported unprecedented insertions of projects in the budget proposals for the benefit of members of the National Assembly.

According to Budgit, a civic tech non-governmental organisation, the National Assembly allegedly inserted 7,447 projects, amounting to N2.24tn in the 2024 budget.

To provide context. The inserted amount is equal to or higher than the total state budgets of these geopolitical zones (South East: N2.29 trillion, North Central: N1.89tn, and North East: N1.60 trillion).

The 2.24 trillion inserted in constituencies is 28% of the total capital vote (7.72 trillion) of the federal government in 2024. It is also higher than the combined capital vote of the top four ministries at 1.66 Trillion: Works (N523.02 bn), Finance (N454.98 bn), Health and Social Welfare (N377.39 bn), Defence (N308.24 bn)

The total insertion represents an amount higher than the combined budget of the Ministry of Defence (1.3tn) and Police Affairs (869.1bn) – an exclusive function of the federal government.

Budgit also listed the categories (project type) of projects inserted:
1,150 streetlights worth N212bn,
427 boreholes worth N82.5bn,
170 ICT projects worth N30.95bn and N7.61bn for the empowerment of traditional rulers. These categories have no direct bearing on the core exclusive functions of the federal government.

As egregious as the above insertions sound, they are only emblematic of a fundamental constitutional problem. This problem was caused by the thoughtless codification of the military-imposed unitary system in the concurrent legislative list of the 1999 constitution.

The concurrent legislative list, as currently enacted, is a prime source of the problems of Nigeria’s federal arrangement. It provided too much latitude for the federal government to engage in both regulation and provision of services best left to the states and local governments.

The power granted to the National Assembly by the concurrent list to legislate on the items on the list beyond the powers to regulate and set standards created the unwieldy and intrusive federal bureaucracy we have today.

The wide-ranging federal bureaucracy on non-exclusive legislative items derived legitimacy from the concurrent legislative list, leading to exponential growth in federal agencies, first under the military after the Civil War and later under the 2nd and 4th Republics. This unchecked growth, citing state government failures as rationale, entrenched the muscling out of the states, further stifling local autonomy and growth.

Predictably, the federal government has spread itself thinly across all functions emanating from the concurrent list. In contrast, its core functions in the exclusive legislative list have suffered a consistent decline in funding and deliverables.

The concurrent list created the basis of the National Assembly’s power to appropriate federal funds for solar street lights and boreholes in communities, repair of schools owned by state governments, so-called ICT and sundry training programs, and construction of state and rural roads while federal roads remain impassable, and security agencies incapable of providing work tools for service delivery due to poor funding.

It is time to rethink the role, reach, and involvement of the federal government in local issues in the concurrent list. The federal government can no longer afford to divert funding from core federal functions like the security of lives and properties to local matters best left to state and local governments.

This unplanned and continuing expansion of the federal bureaucracy has led to the loss of social capital and reduced trust in the national government amongst citizens whose critical gaze is only focused on the federal government and its institutions. This absurd situation in a federal system has given the states a free pass as the nation’s social capital is progressively depleted.

To reverse this growing decline of state capacity, and social capital and halt the inordinate expansion of the federal bureaucracy there is an urgent need for constitutional amendments. The amendment must redefine the balance of power and responsibilities within Nigeria’s federal system. This can be achieved by rewriting the concurrent legislative list to limit the federal government to regulation and setting minimum national standards on all items not listed in the exclusive legislative list.

In the short term, the President should engage the National Assembly to reverse this diversion of much-needed funds to opaque, poorly executed, and difficult-to-track local projects of doubtful value with little or no alignment with the objectives of the 2024 budget.

There is a need to redefine the concept of constituency projects if it must remain a permanent feature of our budgeting process.

The President should also direct federal agencies to refrain from implementing projects not under their mandate and end the unholy alliance with legislators over the budget.

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