President of the Senate, Dr. Abubakar Bukola Saraki, has said that the country needs to prioritize human capital development in national spending even as it embarks on various infrastructure projects.
Saraki spoke as his opposite number in the House of Representatives, Speaker Yakubu Dogara, declared that no amount of blackmail from any quarters will force the National Assembly to abandon Zonal Intervention Projects, also known as Constituency projects, because it is the tool with which they ensure equity in project allocation nationwide.
He added that though the instrumentality of zonal intervention projects has been grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned, it does not change the fact that it has brought development across all federal constituencies and federal presence to remote and forgotten areas in the country.
Saraki and Dogara spoke at the opening of a two-day public hearing on the 2018 budget, organized by the Joint National Assembly Committee on Appropriation.
The event is being attended by ministries, department and agencies (MDAs), international development partners, civil society organizations and other critical stakeholders.
Saraki noted that the public hearing on budget which is an initiative of the 8th National Assembly, has come to stay.
He said: “We acknowledge Nigeria’s huge infrastructural deficit, as well as the need to expand planned expenditure.
“However, you will agree with me that, while it is important to achieve equity and balance in the spread of development projects around the country, we must also prioritise human capital development.
“It is in this vein that the National Assembly will prioritize expenditure on critical health and education facilities as well as soft infrastructure,” he said.
He decried a situation where the provision in the National Health Act that 1% of the consolidated revenue fund be set aside to adequately fund national health programmes is yet to be implemented.
“This funding, which amounts to 86 billion naira, has yet to be committed,” Saraki said. “When the Speaker and I met with Bill Gates last week, the emphasis was on health, and it is something we should take very seriously indeed, especially as the 1% resolution would go a long way in boosting basic maternal and child health immunization services as well as local and rural community health in this country.”
He stated that there is the need to ensure real value-for-money in government spending as well as giving priority to spending on locally made goods.
“The Made-in-Nigeria initiative, with particular regard to government procurements, is already the thrust of a significant law passed by the 8th National Assembly – and which has the added advantage of helping to revamp our industrial base.
“This is one sure way of creating opportunities for local entrepreneurs, encouraging private sector partnerships and creating jobs, especially for the youth,” he said.
He noted that as a legislature, tye 8th National Assembly is acutely aware that modern democratic lawmaking requires the deliberate engagement of the people and that issues that matter most to the people should form the core objective of parliament.
He said: “And so, for the first time, the National Assembly is becoming the People’s Parliament – where all shades of opinions are ventilated and experts are also able to have the space to contribute to the fashioning of solutions that will endure.
“It is therefore my firm belief that, with your inputs and contributions at this Public Hearing, the 2018 Budget will deliver the envisioned socio-economic benefits to Nigerians in an all-inclusive manner.
“That is why we strongly encourage stakeholders’ participation in the process, especially as it relates to the provision of public services and equitable distribution of social benefits,” he said.
The Speaker said, “Over the years, the efforts of legislators, especially at the National Assembly to inject equity in budget patronage nationwide through the instrumentality of zonal intervention projects has been grossly misunderstood and terribly maligned mostly by those who are deliberately ignorant and have concocted their own concept of constituency projects which they apply as their yardstick of measurement.
“I make bold to state that, but for Zonal Intervention Projects, many communities in Nigeria would never have enjoyed any form of Federal Government patronage. Put differently, zonal intervention projects represent the only evidence of Federal government presence in most rural communities of Nigeria.
“Consequently, as representatives of the people, no amount of blackmail from any quarters will force us to abandon our resolve to ensure even development across all federal constituencies.”
He implored stakeholders, and indeed all Nigerians who are showing more interest in the budget-making process, to pay greater attention to the implementation of approved budget and not the size because only effective budget implementation determines its quality.
“Demand strict accountability from all elected officials on this matter. Jacob Lew captured the issue succinctly when he said, ‘The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations.’ The citizen must therefore insist on the total realisation of these values and aspirations rather than merely the collection of figures,” he charged.