N1.3 Trillion Budget : Time For C'River Assembly To Wake Up From Slumber By Inyali Peter

Rt Hon John Gaul Lebo, Speaker, Cross River State House of Assembly 
In the Holy Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1, the Bible says "For everything under the heavens, there's a time and season". In verse seven of the same chapter, the Holy Book says, "there's time to talk and time to keep silence". These biblical provisions highlight the reality that life is designed generally in times and seasons therefore to grab every opportunity to make impact in life, every creature needs to identify with the time and season for every opportunity.

Observably, Cross River State is going through one of its worst leadership crisis in recent times. This is due largely to the complete absence of leadership exhibited by both the executive and legislative arms of government. The judiciary in the other hand is like an extension of the other two arms. In fact, the utterances and body language of the Chief law officer of the State, the Attorney General has left little to be admired of the judiciary. So, in practice, the three arms of government have offered Cross Riverians absolutely little or nothing in terms of quality and responsible leadership.

The height of the leadership failure facing the state was demonstrated recently by the State Governor, Senator Ben Ayade who entered the Guinness Book of record yet again for another bad reason. This time, he presented the highest budget ever by a state government in the history of the geographical construct called Nigeria; N1.3 trillion was quoted in the media as the budget presented by Governor to the state assembly for consideration for the next fiscal year.

The only state that has come close to this proposed budget is Lagos State that had about N800 billion budget last year. Lagos can be excused for the sum considering that apart from the huge monthly allocation from the federation account, the state generates in a month what the Ayade administration has not generated in his two and half messy years. In fact, at some point last year, Lagos State generated in a month what about nine states put together could not generate. So leading the charts in budget is not a surprise as the state has proven over time that it's able and capable.

However, same cannot be said of Cross River State which earn the second least allocation from the federation coffers and generate about the least revenue in the entire South South geopolitical zone.

But recall that before the current administration, the state was only behind Lagos and Kano states in terms of revenue generation. Coincidentally,  these three states also top the charts of the most indebted state in Nigeria.

Regrettably, while the leadership of the other two states (Lagos and Kano) have inspired their revenue generation agencies to increase revenue to reduce debt, the Cross River State story is different. The revenue generation under the Ayade administration has take a geometric turn. While the state was generating in access of N1.2 billion monthly according statistics released by Debt Management Agency under the Liyel Imoke administration, the figures have reduced drastically under the current "digital" administration that everything is planned and executed in the cyberspace.

Recently, the entire state was thrown into shock and discombobulation when the report that the biggest market in the state, Watt Market which hitherto was generating millions under Imoke in a month generated an embarrassing N21,000 in one year. This is the sad story of how the Ayade administration has put Cross River in a reverse gear.

Despite all these misfortunes that have befallen the state under this administration, the 8 state Assembly seems to be sleeping. Sleeping in all forms and practice or better put, they seem to be enjoying the drama and comedy coming out of the government house that they can't act. This inglorious silence, actions and inactions have led many to question their loyalty and commitment to the Cross River dream.

The assembly which literally should ensure check and balances and accountability of the executive arm has shamefully reduced the highly respected legislative arm to nothing but a very small insignificant, irrelevant and minute unit of the very executive it was supposed to keep watch over. To say it's a rubber stamp is an understatement. We have never had it this bad!

The leadership of the house is the worst in recent times. The Speaker, Rt. Hon. John Gaul Lebo though very intelligent has surprising acted in a way that he has become a manual on how not to be a speaker. He has abused and reduced the exalted office of the Speaker to a powerless and nonfunctional office that only exist to retire state funds. Remember how he insulted Cross Riverians that the state was dirty because the Governor was paying salaries regularly? This is one of many examples of the 'Unspeakerly' statements which has continued to reign supreme.

Last year, the Governor presented a budget of over N300 billion which was the highest in the history of the state. The unrealistic budget attracted public outcry but the assembly championed by John Gaul unceremoniously passed the budget with just a little fraction of deduction. Till date, Cross Riverians are yet to hear or see the legislators embark on oversight function to determine the extent to which the budget has been implemented. In fact, the document despite several requests by concerned Cross Riverians is still kept away from public domain.

However, now that the worst is about to happen, the lawmakers have been presented with the golden opportunity to redeem their battered image and rewrite their names in gold. To achieve this, the N1.3 trillion budget should not get smooth passage like the previous ones because they need to wake up from their slumber in the interest of the state.

Unless and except they become more serious in the cause of discharging their duties, unless they think Cross River (but not the Ayade brand), the state will not only end as a laughing stock nationally but globally.

The consequences of the over ambitious budget will be very enormous if nothing is done. For instance, no reasonable investor will want to invest in a state that has a budget of over a trillion naira but generate less than twenty billion in a year to fund the budget.

Contrary to what people may say, the Governor has performed his statutory duty by submitting his proposed budget to the state assembly although with a ridiculous figure. The job to ensure the budget is streamlined to the realities on ground rest on the legislators not the Governor. So, the onus is now on the lawmakers to rise above pecuniary and personal gains and work for the interest of the people they represent.

Edo and Kano states receive higher federal allocation than Cross River but their Governors presented budgets of about N148 billion and N288 billion respectively. Remember, even in internally generated revenue, Edo has overtaken Cross River and Kano is second to Lagos. So if these states have prepared budgets to reflect their financial realities then there's no justification whatsoever for the ridiculous figure put up by Governor Ayade.

Even in the next four years, Cross River allocation and revenue will not get to N1 trillion if we judge by the records of the last two years. This means that should the assembly play to the gallery as usual, the state will depend heavily on external borrowing. As the third most indebted state in Nigeria, we're indebted enough to allow this burden again.

The legislators should know that posterity will hold them to account if they support this plan of destroying the present and future of the state more than what it is now by letting the budget see the light of the day. This proposal should die on arrival like the 31 bills the Governor sponsored while in the red chambers. The Governor has a record of dead bills, this shouldn't be an exemption.

There's no crime in dreaming big. Cross Riverians are aware that the Governor has urged them to dream big; this dream should fall within the scope of what our economy can accommodate. Dreams are reflects of reality therefore, the assembly should dream dreams but their dreams should be feasible and reflect the true position of our financial situation.

This is not the time to dream big about what enter their pockets or bank accounts. Already, money have exchanged hands which is a normal legislative practice. In fact, lobbying is an effective public relations tool but they should not allow their consciences to be lobbied. A better Cross River where our debt profile will reduce drastically is bigger and better than any other dream.

The time to act is now or never! This is not the right time to sleep but to stay awake and let the state interest override personal, political and any other interest.The assembly should and must save the state from the looming embarrassment and disgrace in the name of budget by waking up from slumber.

NOTE : The opinions expressed here are exclusively that of the author, Inyali Peter and do not in any way or form represent the position of Fearless Reports.
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