Of Today’s Budgets and Tomorrow’s Mortgages

Of Today’s Budgets and Tomorrow’s Mortgages

Penny Wisdom

By Emeka Uzoatu

It took just a jaded picture depicting two contrary traders to set me off on yet another odd trajectory of thought. While the one that sold on credit waxed refulgent in his well-stocked shop, the other all scraggy and ruffled in an empty shop had purportedly sold on credit.

By now, you’d have wrong-guessed the yet unrevealed source of my headache with the said picture. Well, guess no more for it happens to be as it concerns this our immediate commonwealth of a nation. 

O yes, the very one we cannot but brandish its passport to venture out of its territory. And whose anthem we must perforce intone before any of our national teams engages in a sporting tussle with a team from another country.

Late on, this impromptu rumination of mine assumed a disturbing monomaniacal trend. Yes, steered wherever else, it ended up zeroing in on the dubious trend our yearly budgets have assumed for some time now.

Anyway, this latest ambience to the train of my thought wasn’t actually triggered ex nihilo. And what else performed the magic than the recent hullabaloo about the type of budget that’ll best get us out of this hole we are all ensconced in. 

What with all the recent efforts ending up so ineffectual that most times the citizens end up feeling hoodwinked. Years in and out, they are forever clothed in the peculiar uniforms of expectation sold to them by the budget office.

This, I must explain, goes against the grain of what the founding fathers of our great nation wished. What with the nobility of their intentions being easily decipherable from the anthem and all the other mnemonics they bequeathed us. Like the Green-White-Green! Intriguingly, there was no hint in it of the present blood-spattered nation we are hugging.

Any wonder that they had structured the country in that win-win regional demarcation of yore. Thus, well before the oil boom that became our doom, each segment jolly well took care of its assets and liabilities without drawing the ire of the others.

And like it or no, this saw development spreading its wings far and near. 

Talk about a peer review strategy born before its Expected Delivery Death (EDD).

Way back then, there were no free meals, though. One and all laboured to make ends meet. There was wealth to be harnessed from everywhere but only you had to go for it. That way, agriculture easily came in handy as a veritable source of state and personal income. East, West, North and South, mother earth literally fed us gooddies. Oil palm, cocoa, groundnut and what have stood up for the count.

And what’s more, the accruing surpluses were traded locally and internationally for income. In no time, agro-based industries sprang up hither and thither as value-chain enhancement joined the queue. What could not be consumed locally ended up exported for foreign exchange. And so the story went.

Till came oil – after a mere scratch of the topsoil of Oloibiri, like overheard in a song – and pop went the weasel. Suddenly a product arrived that wasn’t seasonal like crops. You just kept digging it up day by day and the money kept rolling in. And suddenly, the country’s problem morphed from the sourcing of money to its spending.

Nigeria’s first oil well at Oloibiri

And what did we do? We spent it like mad; like there was no tomorrow. As though in earnest hearken to one of the highlife tunes the time spawned, we resorted to living life unwary of tomorrow. 

Projects were either embarked on sans projection, or contracts awarded and abandoned outright. An unforgettable instance remains the cement armada that blocked all our seaports upon the time.

Since there was money at the government’s beck and call, all that needed be done was aportion it to as many projects as possible. And a budget is born! At least it won’t be for the want of a resounding demonym to colour them with. 

Thus were budgets of varying nomenclatures birthed. Yet none was ever tailored for the much needed consolidation that would have saved us in the rainy days ahead. And now that it’s pouring, we are caught without umbrellas!

Yes, much as decade-long development plans were enacted, they often never breathed an air again outside the broadcasts announcing them. The monies earmarked were often only saved in the government tills till the end of the budget year, if at all. 

After that, your guess about where they end up speaks volumes about the mortal combat we are currently engaged in. And with only a broom at hand for self defense!

Yet this very act of knowing what your needs are and sourcing where and how you’ll meet them has been with us since ‘Adam’. Before we became sedentary beings, Man the Wanderer  had their interminable strolls controlled by their appetites. And they never moved without their siblings in tow.

What gets my goats most, though, is why we are so unblest presently.  In spite of all the developments the human being has undergone since the evolution of the homo sapiens, I dare add. How, despite all the oil money we have earned as a nation, we have managed to become so hopeless.

Now what are we beholden with? Budgets buoyed on credit. When  this year’s budget was promoted as being 26% higher than that of previous year, it was almost taken as a positive development. Not until closer observation revealed that it was mostly so on account of being laden with a higher debt-service burden. 

In fact, thus far into the year, a source maintains that it has gulped more than 90% of the budget! And, if all things end up bonding like economists speculate, a repeat is apparently in the offing. 

Already the Federal Government has submitted a proposal to the National Assembly for permission to borrow a whopping 5.6 trillion Naira to finance the deficit embedded in next year’s.

Emeka Uzoatu, a seasoned journalist and writer, is the editor of Nairaweb.ng. He writes the occasional column, Penny Wisdom.