Let me begin by appreciating the chairman and members of the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance for inviting me to participate in this Pre-Budget Briefing/Public Hearing on the 2017 Appropriation Bill 2017.
I must say that we cherish this courtesy, knowing that you have taken cognizance of the fact that the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) is the embodiment of the Fourth Estate of the Realm and the society’s watchdog of which I am privileged to be the Chairman in the state.
What is more, the media stand as the information disseminator in the society. The public and the three arms of government namely; the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary therefore depend on the Press for news feeds. It is incumbent on the Press to effectively relay the feelings and expectations of the public. Also, the extent to which information flows on the general conduct of these arms and their agencies accounts for the good health of the society.
In the light of this, the Pre-Budget Briefing/Public Hearing on the 2017 Appropriation Bill 2017 is very congruent to the dynamics of information delivery. The dictum is, inform the media, you enlighten the society. It is an established fact that an enlightened citizenry, easily makes for better appreciation of government programmes, policies and development efforts. And the organ to effect this, is the Media.
Little wonder that the 1999 Nigerian Constitution clearly amplified the importance of the Press. In Chapter II, under the Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy, section 22, the constitution, empowers the Press to hold public officers accountable to the people.
It states thus “The press, radio, television and other agencies of the mass media shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives contained in this Chapter and uphold the responsibility and accountability of the Government to the people.”
And as a further strength to its watchdog status, the Freedom of Information Act 2011, reinforces the power of the Press to access information for the purposes of keeping the public adequately informed, educated, enlightened and guided on the activities of the three arms of government.
The FOI Act states in Section 1(1) thus, “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other Act, law or regulation, the right of any person to access or request information, whether or not contained in any written form, which is in the custody or possession of any public official, agency or institution howsoever described, is established.”
Mr. Chairman and members of this esteemed Committee, indicatively, I decided to first of all begin with an introductory preview of the sacred role of the Press in the society, so as to enable us understand and appreciate better our views and contributions towards the Appropriation Bill 2017.
It will be recalled that on Thursday, December 22, 2016, the Executive Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Udom Gabriel Emmanuel, presented the 2017 Budget proposal, christened as “Budget of Consolidation” which is characteristically structured “to make our people happy, prosperous, healthy, through the improvement, sustenance and continuity of the already actualized and on-going socio-economic programmes in Health, Education, Good Roads, Electricity, Water Supply, Agriculture, Information Technology, Capacity Building, Infrastructure, Housing, Commerce and Industry, General Administration, Political Posterity and Security, Industrialization, Legislature and Judiciary.”
The 2017 budget coming on the heels of the 2016 Appropriation Act, which was tagged “Budget of Sustainable Development” is commendable. As the Executive Governor did highlight, the 2016 Budget of Sustainable Development achieved “many developmental projects, some of which have been actualized and others are on-going with industrialization”.
Let me therefore express appreciation for the deep insight exhibited by His Excellency, Governor Udom Emmanuel in the formulation of policies, and being able to drive the implementation despite the economic challenges encountered in the outgone year, 2016.
It can be deducted that his development pursuit is not just to build on the foundation he inherited in 2015, but to completely transform the State into a model city nay industrialized entity, in line with his five-point agenda of; Job Creation, Poverty Alleviation, Wealth Creation, Economic and Political Inclusion, and Infrastructural Consolidation and Expansion.”
The 2017 Budget is predicated on an oil benchmark of $35:00 per barrel at a production rate of 1.0 million barrels per day. The 2017 Appropriation Bill has a total budgetary outlay of N365.251 billion as against N423.000 billion of 2016. The budget sum of N365.251 billion is made up of: Recurrent Expenditure – N 88.425 billion; Capital Expenditure – N193.956 billion; and Consolidated Revenue Fund Charges – N 82.870 billion.
What is more, budget in a layman’s understanding is government’s earmarked plans. This Pre-Budget Briefing/Public Hearing is therefore to look at the plans and where necessary offer inputs for its effective impact and delivery.
A look at the sectoral allocations, shows Government emphasis on development through the allocation of – N193.956 billion for Capital expenditure in the year, 2017 which takes priority, as it should be, over Recurrent expenditure of N88.425 billion and Consolidated Revenue Fund Charges of N 82.870 billion, respectively.
From the analysis on sectoral allocations above, it is seen that government is committed to stepping up its impact to touch lives and turn-around the fortunes of our dear State.
Sincerely, from our view point, i.e. the Media, cum the public, the 2017 Budget is well thought out. The demanding and crucial aspect of the budget proposal, which usually raises the anxiety of the public, is the implementation.
The question therefore is, to what extent will the 2017 Budget be implemented for its objectives to be maximized? However, should we really lose sleep on this issue?
On the face of it, we shouldn’t, considering the fact that the Governor and some key operatives of his administration are well experienced economic and financial experts as well as technocrats.
However, considering the vagaries of development, we must not take away our eyes from performing the needed oversight on Budget implementation strategies in line with global best practices.
However, while we seek inputs for the 2017 budget estimates, we have to take a cursory overview on how the 2016 Budget was implemented vis-à-vis the successes, challenges and lessons.
From all standards, seeking to know the results or otherwise of a preceding budget, is not a probe but a necessary preview to look at the implementation and the derivable benefits. This is so because every government acts on behalf of the people.
Governance is people-centered. Democracy by its definition as“Government of the people, by the people and for the people” promotes collective involvement. Democracy is not like a metaphysical setting whereby adherents merely listen to their sacred masters for their commands. Perhaps this is what informed Mayor Edward Koch to say that “We’re in the hands of the state legislature and God, but at the moment, the state legislature has more to say than God.”
This administration, it must be admitted has made feasible achievements within the last twenty (20) months despite the economic recession. This background accounts for the expectations of the people on the administration for more dividends.
Our charge therefore is for Ministries/MDAs as the expected receivers of allocations to preview their activities before the public through the Media for better public perception and appreciation.
The media in the State will do much more for the administration if the information mill flows effectively through regular Press conferences/briefings by ministries/departments/agencies.
This is why we have floated the NUJ Podium – to offer public officers opportunity to highlight on their performances and issues of public discourse. Let me restate that strengthening the checks and balances in the political structure of presidential system, is what thickens democracy as the best form of government.
Finally, the media in the state needs collaboration to achieve the training and retraining needed to check ethical challenges. The media strength in the State in terms of the number of practitioners and media houses put the State after Lagos and Abuja.
We can utilize this to boost information dissemination and enlightenment. Presently, we have 600 journalists in the State drawn from government-owned Media establishments and privately established media houses, with local tabloids in the lead.
Considering the enormous responsibility expected of the Media and the concern expressed on the quality of reportage especially on local tabloids, government needs to strengthen the operative capacity of NUJ in the State to effectively address issues of ethical standards, through training and retraining of journalists, general administration and the completion of the ongoing Model Press Centre Complex.
We sincerely request this eminent Committee on Appropriation and Finance to review the allocation on the information sub-sector for an input in the budget for the NUJ for training and re-training. A vibrant press is the promoter of the government and the strength of the people.
Warren Buffett states thus, “The smarter the journalists are, the better off a society is. For to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves – and the better the teacher, the better the student body.”
Before ending my contributions, let me again say that the media community benefitted from the 2016 Budget through the construction of the Information Drive. Happily, Governor Udom Emmanuel has indicated strong interest on the construction of a corporate headquarters for the Akwa Ibom Broadcasting Corporation (AKBC Radio/TV). Government should also facilitate the commencement of operations of the Goss Community Web Press for the Akwa Ibom Newspaper Corporation, publishers of The Pioneer Newspapers.
Thank you for your kind attention and God bless us all.
Being the remarks by Elder Patrick Albert, chairman of Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Akwa Ibom State Council, at the Pre-Budget Briefing/Public Hearing by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly Committee on Appropriation and Finance, on Wednesday, January 11, 2017.