President Muhammadu Buhari on Tuesday told anxious Nigerians, local and international investors and businessmen that despite the negative impact of global economic uncertainties and pressure on the country’s economy in recent times, Nigeria was still open for business.
The president was addressing the joint session of the National Assembly after laying before the lawmakers the 2016 fiscal proposals estimated at an unprecedented N6.08 trillion.
In the budget, Mr. Buhari indicated that capital expenditure would take N1.8 trillion, over 300 per cent increment from the 2015 vote of N557 billion, while education would take the largest chunk of the sectoral allocations with N396 billion, followed by the health sector with N296 billion. Defence was allocated N294 billion.
This is the first in three budget cycles a Nigerian president would personally present before the National Assembly.
Throughout the presentation, lawmakers intermittently punctuated the president’s presentation with loud applause, with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, jokingly telling him later in his vote of thanks that based on the experience of the law makers in the past, he had expected budget details to be tweeted or emailed to them.
The last two budgets were presented by a former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, on behalf of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
In his speech, President Buhari acknowledged the challenges faced by Nigerians in all sectors of the economy and assured that government has so far demonstrated a strong will to fight to rebuild a stronger and more virile nation and economy.
“In spite of the global economic uncertainties, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to steer the country back to greatness,” the president said. “The economy needs to move away from dependency on oil. Our growth must be inclusive. Nigerians must be part of the growth story.
“As a government, we shall provide the security, jobs and infrastructure, which are the right of all Nigerians. But, I promised the 2016 budget would address these problems. Nigeria is open for business, but the interest of all Nigerians must be protected. Tough decisions would have to be made. But this does not necessary mean increasing the level of pain already experienced by most Nigerians.”
He said his government and his team was committed to serve Nigeria and indeed Nigerians for them to get the services they have longed for, pointing out that the focus of the budget would ensure reduction in taxes for small businesses to thrive and promote inclusive economic growth.
While reiterating his commitment to economic diversification, he said farming and mining would be given special attention.
He blamed the problems and challenges Nigerians were facing at the moment on monumental corruption, which he said informed the thrust of his administration’s policies.
Some of the policies include the Treasury Single Account (TSA) in the collection of government revenue, and strict enforcement of the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 by ministries, departments and agencies of government.
“What we found on assumption of office prompted government to take decisions being implemented in the budget,” he said.
“The sheer size of corruption and impunity has been behind the current problems and challenges the country is facing today. We have demonstrated a strong will to fight corruption. We will pursue and recover everything that belongs to the Nigerian people; no matter where it is hidden, or how long it will take.”
He said the decision to appropriate 30 per cent of the total budget outlay for capital expenditure, was part of the fulfilment of his government’s promise to align its expenditure to long term objectives and commitment to sustainable development.
The president acknowledged the difficulties users of foreign exchange were facing due to the inadequate supply, saying the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor has given the assurance that the Bank was currently fine-tuning the FX management to introduce some flexibility and encourage additional inflow to help ease the pressures.
To investors, business owners and industrialists, farmers, traders, the President said government was aware of their pains, restating however that “the status quo cannot continue. The rent seeking must stop.
“We must go back to basics. Our actions will speak for us. We are taking the challenge. We will not betray the trust reposed in us. We are here to serve, and Nigerians will indeed get the value that they rightly deserve.”
He called for the support of all Nigerians, particularly civil servants, organised labour, and industrial groups, as government would not be able to do it alone.