Budget presentations may be annual rituals. But every one of them evokes a sense of anticipation, hope, even anxieties.
Perfectly in order.
Business people search breathlessly for numbers and statements that would impact their businesses. Students wander what changes would be made in education. Regular people wait eagerly for social programmes. More discerning observers examine how the current Budget is being implemented for some hints on how the proposed one would be managed.
Such was the collective state of mind of Akwaibomites and indeed Nigerians, given the strategic importance of the State as the nation’s cash cow, when Gov Udom Emmanuel mounted the podium in the State House of Assembly on November 14 to present the 2019 Budget Address.
By the time the governor read his last sentence, and the members of the House responded with a roaring applause, it was clear that it was merely a refrain of the same old song. All hype and little substance. No reformative elements, just clichés that are as old as Emmanuel’s administration. No new, life changing ideas; no concrete plans to improve the lot of the people. Worse, nothing in the kitty for the common man in Akwa Ibom. Just falsehood after falsehood.
What a missed opportunity.
The governor called his presentation “Budget of Industrialization and Poverty Alleviation.”
On the surface, that tag seems like a calculated provocation. Here is why: even though Udom Emmanuel has staked his entire administration on industrialization, this where he has recorded his most woeful and scandalous failures. His so called “industries” are a collection of cottage enterprises that can hardly employ up to 100 Akwaibomites. The fertilizer ‘blending’ plant and rice mill are scams, conduit pipes to drain the state.
But on second thought, and if we are to cut the governor some slack, was he emphasizing “Industrialization” to buy himself another chance to make up for the failures? But Udom Emmanuel is not that kind of man; he has no capacity to cognize an opportunity even if it is starring him in the face.
Perhaps just as well. Because there will be no second chance. This is Udom Emmanuel’s last Budget Address as a governor.
So in his Budget Address, with no concrete achievements or plans to showcase, he repeated the same old lies and spread further misery across the State.
It is a measure of Emmanuel’s character that he could state with such rancid brazenness, and in a document as sacred as the State Budget, that the workers of Akwa Ibom have been “smiling to the bank at the end of the month.”
To put it in context, the governor told the House, people’s representatives, “Elsewhere, while, workers were owed salaries and pensions here, our workers smile to the bank at the end of every month.”
In a situation where some of the states in the federation could not muster enough to pay salaries, it would appear that Emmanuel is entitled to some bragging right just for paying salaries. But that quickly dissipates as soon as you realise that the state earns at least N25 billion monthly from the Federation Account and poorly-managed IGR. And besides, paying salaries in an oil and gas-rich state should no longer be listed as a success story if there were concrete achievements to showcase.
If he is shamelessly bragging about paying salaries, what about promotion arrears? What about the suspension of payment of imprests to departmental heads, which has amounted to the suspension of the smooth running of the establishment?
But what really rankles is the blatant lie about paying pensions.
Throughout Emmanuel’s underperforming tenure, the 22, 000 pensioners in the state have been denied their pensions and gratuities. This is an indisputable fact. It is no longer news that senior citizens who devoted the best years of their lives to the service of the state have had to beg and borrow to survive. Many have had to withdraw their wards from colleges because they could no longer afford the fees. There are well documented cases of some who have succumbed because they could not afford exorbitant medical fees.
It is therefore an affront on the collective integrity of Akwaibomites for Udom Emmanuel to stand before the people and claim that “workers smile to the bank.” Not even the insincere, last-minute, election-induced attempt to pay pensions can excuse this degree of callousness and dishonesty from an “elected” official.
On infrastructure, Gov Emmanuel chose the path of caution. He said: “Over 1700km of roads, including 35 bridges, have either been commissioned or at various stages of work all through the three Senatorial districts and the ten Federal Constituencies in the state.” Please note the “have either been .. .. or…” which has given him a cover to lie to the people of Akwa Ibom.
Gov Emmanuel was cautious, choosing not to be categorical. It was a clever move, and there was a reason for that. His claim of constructing 1,700km of road network across the state has been severally punctured and proven to be a lie. It was thought the governor should by now have given it a rest.
But the fact that he repeated it in his Budget address shows a certain desperation, an eagerness to inject propaganda into the affairs of state. It is a time-honored tactic: invent a story, repeat it consistently, push it, stick to it; with time it will be believed. It is with this mindset that Udom Emmanuel repeated that lie, and again he has been caught.
For the umpteenth time, Emmanuel has not constructed 1, 700km road network in Akwa Ibom. There is no such thing. If there is, only Emmanuel and his Commissioner for Works know for sure. The roads exist only in their imagination.
Despite setting aside N211.423 billion in the 2018 budget for roads and works, the state is littered with only a few kilometres of poorly constructed and abandoned roads. The street and traffic lights that once adorned the state and made driving safer have now vanished.
To be sure, a 1700-km road is the equivalence of the distance between Uyo and Lagos and back, and then to Port Harcourt. If indeed, Gov Emmanuel did all this, surely Akwaibomites should have noticed and applauded him for it.
And the socio-economic impact of constructing 1700 km of roads would have been all too glaring, generating 1,500 direct and indirect jobs across the state. Sales of cement, sand and other building materials would have picked up considerably. Food vendors would have been doing brisk business around the various construction sites that would have sprung up. Akwaibomites would have felt it.
But do you know the real tragedy? Udom Emmanuel plans to spend N157.311 on roads and works in 2019. Apart from being a 25 % drop from 2018 allocation, Emmanuel’s characteristically abysmal record in managing infrastructures means that the roads in the state are in for a raw deal. The phantom 1, 700km road network will remain just that – a phantom.
If the spend on roads and infrastructure has dropped so considerably, and the governor woefully failed to initiate key projects, it simply means he is clueless about the role of construction in job creation. It simply means Akwa Ibom’s unemployment rate of 36.58 %, which is the second highest in the country, is set to get worse.
What is even more troubling is that in the 2019 Budget, Udom Emmanuel has absolutely no concrete plan to create jobs, one of the areas a government impacts people’s lives.
Perhaps, the most resounding evidence that Udom Emmanuel does not give a damn about employment is that in the entire 9, 200-word Budget address, the words jobs and employment feature only thrice each; once during a vague reference to job creation and at another point while attempting to justify the government’s failed industrialization programme. He said: “The Industrialization drive of this Administration has yielded fruits in the number of jobs and amount of wealth created….”
If a man is gainfully employed, it means his family of four or five has a certain guarantee of decent existence including good health, education for his children, and, most of all, hope for the future. This should not be too difficult for Udom Emmanuel and his economic team, if he has any, to understand.
A budget that fails to address this most important socio-economic need has failed, and is dead on arrival. Udom Emmanuel’s budget has made no pretense to lift the hope of Akwaibomites; it has only delivered misery.
Like most sectors in the Budget, Housing and Urban Development is all hype and talk, no substance. This is the central theme that runs through Udom Emmanuel’s address. In the 2019 Budget, he plans to spend N53.625 on this sector, not much different from the N54.631 billion he allocated in 2018. Like the 2018 Budget, there is a ritual listing and expression of desire to complete the Ibom International Airport, Ibom Tropicana Entertainment Centre, 4 Point by Sheraton, New Governor’s Lodge, Lagos, International Worship Centre: construction of 21-storey building to provide office space for high target investors and multi-national companies. Call it copy and paste, and you would not be too far off the truth.
It is noteworthy that all these were listed last year with no visible results. If there is nothing to show, it means N54.631 allocated for last year went down the drain. And with Udom Emmanuel not noted as a paragon of accountability, Akwaibomites may never know. Yes, they may never know.
Since 2015, Udom Emmanuel has never presented workable housing plan for the people. So much was expected in that regard in next year’s Budget. But alas, it wasn’t to be. “Government will partner with high level housing development experts and through Public-Private-Partnership (PPP), construct low and very low density houses and estates for the low and middle income group as well as a Unity Luxury Estate for the high income group,” he said.
This is a wish list, not a plan. It is vague. Worse, it is not even a sincere proposal. Udom Emmanuel has been known to repeatedly frustrate prospective developers for the simple reason that deals were not favorable to him or his cohorts. Developers have been known to back out at the last minute because Udom Emmanuel insisted on diverting housing projects to his Onna hometown. Such bouts of selfishness and dishonesty have resulted in stagnation in the housing sector. It means that in the matter of housing, Akwaibomites would have to continue to fend for themselves.
The 2019 Budget Address was a waste of a golden opportunity to redeem Emmanuel’s battered image, sooth the hurt he has inflicted on the people and reverse three years of misgovernance, incompetence, nepotism.
But on all counts, Governor Udom Emmanuel failed woefully.