by Alabi Usman
States and their secret data would also not be bad. Isn’t it amazing that states in Nigeria in this age still feel it is necessary that they keep the details of their spending secret? It is even more amazing that they can comfortably do this without regards for their people’s right to know or freedom of information. And then they make caricature of the governed by releasing this information in tidbits whenever they want to announce a project or in a town hall meeting. Most times, what most states in Nigeria do is to blackmail their people with the budget.
The question is why do states keep their budgets secret? Why do they run a close budget/government system especially when it has to do with spending or government expenditure?
There is no doubting the fact that we run a federal system that is not entirely federal, but the various state governments are actually contented with the status quo, the reason is not far fetched, the present structure encourages systemic corruption and creates a covering to diversify funds meant for the commonwealth.
The states in Nigeria support the percolation of that idea that the Federal government is all powerful and monopolizes revenue with just little squeezed down to the them, the idea is that they are then not asked what they receive, what they spend and how it’s spent; and then the attention is focused on the centre rather than the component unit. But amazingly, states receive huge amount of revenue and have comparatively fair control over their economy.
Hence that culture and belief that shifts our attention from the component units to the centre is being exploited by the states to jeopardize accountability and transparency. So when it comes to the budget, they do not deem it necessary to make it known to all and we also are either lukewarm about it or do not it consider it necessary.
It is a political decision and a wicked and insensitive one at that not to release the budget or make it public. It is nothing more than a deliberate attempt by states to thwart accountability and transparency.
How do these states expect the citizens to engage them? How do you engage a government in the absence of data? How do you track and monitor government spending and projects, how do you reconcile a project with the amount slated for it if you do not even know the amount in the first place? Keeping the budget secret rules out any form of evaluation or assessment from the citizens, as a matter of fact, that has been ruled out.
States keep their budget secret and make laughter of their citizen at the end of the year with their stupendous figures of budget performance, how do I know if what the governor is saying is true if I do not have the budget prior to that time. I do not have the budget and my Governor comes to tell me that he achieved more than 70% budget performance, how do I confirm that.
This act of budget secrecy puts the citizens in a perpetual intellectual position because eventually the level of political and social engagement of the people is a function of the openness and availability of government data. Hence the people are as good as their government and vice versa.
It is amazing that what the governors do is to blackmail their people with their budgets, they make known the total amount to be spent at the beginning of the year, announce the recurrent and capital expenditure, they then occasionally announce projects which are just mere PR strategies and at the end of the year when they want to present another budget, they give stupendous budget performance figures.
Yet no one holds them responsible for this, it is high time we took responsibility and began to demand proper accountability, we must ask that the budgets of our states be made open for us to justify budget performance, it is the right of the people to know what is contained in the budget not a privilege.