By Emeka Nwosu, PhD.
On Tuesday, 12th December, 2023, the Governor of Abia State, Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, presented a Draft of the 2024 Budget of the State to the Abia State House of Assembly. The presentation which was christened the Budget of New Beginning is a refreshing departure from a past that was lacking in focus, innovativeness and creativity. It was a bold statement on the commitment of the Labour Party and the Otti-led administration to the agenda of rebuilding Abia State.
The total outlay of the Budget is Five Hundred and Sixty Seven Billion Two Hundred and Forty Million Ninety Five Thousand Nine Hundred and Seventy Kobo (N567, 340, 095, 970.00). It is an ambitious budget which underlines the audacity of the Dr. Alex Otti administration to leapfrog Abia into a new era of economic development.
The 2023 budget which Otti inherited was only N160.5 billon with 47 percent of the amount devoted to Recurrent Expenditures and only 53 percent for Capital Projects. Even at that, the performance of that budget was only 60 percent. It is, therefore, no wonder that the Ikpeazu administration had nothing to show in terms of infrastructural development of the State.
The Budget of New Beginning presented by Otti showed an increase of more than N400 Billion from the 2023 estimates. In it, 84 percent is devoted to Capital Expenditures with only 16 percent meant for Recurrent Expenditures. The implication is that under this maiden budget by Otti, Abia State would be turned into a huge construction site with great implications for job creations for our teeming unemployed youths, including women.
The forward looking Otti administration had planned to finance the over N400 billion deficit from new borrowings in addition to Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) which is expected to post impressive figures in 2024. The good news, however, is that the Government is not borrowing to finance recurrent expenditures. That would be disastrous.
On the contrary, the Otti administration is proposing to spend a whopping 44.76 percent of the entire budget on the economic sector with the larger chunks going into works (16.9 percent), lands and housing (9.9 percent), agriculture (5.12 percent) and finance (5.23 percent).
It is heartwarming to note that critical roads infrastructure were identified with enough provisions for their funding under the 2024 budget. They include Umuahia-Uzuakoli-Abiriba-Ohafia road, Ozuabam-Ndi Okereke-Arochukwu road, dualization of Umuikaa-Umuene-Omoba road, Nunya-Eluama-Isuikwuato road, dualization of Owerrinta-Umuikaa road, and dualization of Onuimo-Abia Tower road amongst others.
It is also important to note that a total of 40.07 percent of the budget is for the social sector with education receiving 20 percent, healthcare 15.04 percent and youth and sports development 3.17 percent. Particularly significant is the decision of the Otti administration to turn around the Nsulu Games Village that was criminally abandoned by the previous PDP administrations. The Government is now upgrading the sprawling centre into a Sports and Entertainment Complex which promises to be a breeding ground for next generation of sports champions and Nollywood stars.
The Otti administration deserves accolades for thinking outside the box. It is my personal belief that when the complex is rebuilt and becomes functional, a lot of our creative and hardworking youths are going to be taken out of the streets and be gainfully engaged. This has consequential implication for the security of the State.
The impressive thing about the budget is that projects are spread across the three Senatorial Zones of the State, with no section left behind. So, we are seeing an administration that is equitable and evenhanded in the allocation of the scarce economic resources of the State. The Federal Government should, indeed, take a cue from Abia State in this respect. With such evenhandedness, it would be difficult for any section to talk about marginalization.
A careful reading and analysis of the budget clearly shows that Governor Otti and his team have come to rewrite the unpalatable story of backwardness and underdevelopment that has been the lot of our beloved State in the last 24 years of the locust.
The assumptions and priorities of the budget are well articulated. It is not difficult to see the imprimatur of a first class Economist who understands the importance of budget in retooling a comatose economy. If the budget is religiously implemented, it is going to stimulate the economy while creating massive jobs for the teeming unemployed in Abia, particularly the youths.
It needs to be stated clearly here that it is always important for any government to get its priorities right and remove any identified areas of waste. This is what this budget of new beginning has done by focusing essentially on roads infrastructure, human capital development, health and human services, social support services and digitalization of service delivery.
It is important to note that budget is a statement of intent on revenue generation and expenditures. It only becomes impactful when the intent is translated into reality through implementation. A budget can be so beautiful with good propositions, but it would be of no meaning to the ordinary man on the street if the impact is not felt.
It is, therefore, suggested that the government should put in place a monitoring and evaluation team to constantly monitor and appraise the implementation of the budget so as to ensure that the good intentions of the government are largely realized.
Objective political analysts and critics alike are of the view that if the budget is scrupulously implemented, Abia would have been launched on the path of irreversible economic and infrastructural development. Indeed, help has come to Abia State!
Dr. Nwosu, a Political Economist, writes from Umuahia.