By Joseph Ifeakandu
Almost every state is almost at the preliminary stage of preparing its 2021 budget estimates. Yet, Anambra Governor Willie Obiano had by Tuesday, November 3 presented the state’s N143.65 billion budget proposals to the state legislature. In fact, the presentation was originally scheduled to hold a week earlier but was affected by the nationwide attacks on policemen and their facilities following the shootings at the Lekki Tollgate in Lagos on Tuesday, October 20, against #EndSARS protesters who were demanding the abolition of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the Nigeria Police Force. The early presentation is to ensure that the budget cycle starts truly in January and ends in December.
Anambra State has in the last few years constantly been reminding observers of one of the most revealing books on President Bill Clinton, whose brilliance at Georgetown University in Washington took him to Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, entitled “First in His Class”. The state has been leading the whole federation in such areas as education, security, social harmony, support for scale and medium enterprises, efficient economic management, etc. On August 13, the National Bureau of Statistics published its latest survey of unemployment rates which shows that Anambra, with 13.1 per cent unemployment rate in a working population of 2.225m, has the lowest in the country. The national average is 27.1 per cent, meaning that even if the state’s rate is doubled, it will be less than the national average.
On August 31, Budgit, the highly respected nongovernmental organization supported by such organizations as the Bill and Melinda Foundation, published a report showing Anambra has the best fiscal responsibility index after petroleum-rich Rivers State. In September, WellNewMe, a leading health technology firm, published a report ranking Anambra the most efficient utilizer of health resources in Nigeria. Needless to add, Anambra’s campaign against the coronavirus remains the best in the nation. This is a story for another day.
In the 2021 budget proposal, the state plans to spend N86.8b on capital projects while devoting N56.7bn to recurrent expenditure. In other words, 60.5% of the budget will go to capital expenditure and 39.5% to recurrent. This is significant because in the last couple of decades in Nigeria, the lion’s share of annual budgetary expenditures by both state governments and the Federal Government is on recurrent expenditure. Yet, it is not recurrent expenditure which drives economic growth anywhere in the world but capital expenditure. This is one major reason for the perennial underperformance of the economy. By skewing its planned expenditure in 2021 heavily in favour of capital projects, Anambra State has decidedly chosen to tread on the growth trajectory. Hence, the theme of next year’s budget is “Economic Recovery and Consolidation”. As the nation looks forward to a post COVID-19 era, other governments in Nigeria need to borrow a leaf from Anambra State.
One other lesson from the 2021 Anambra budget is the need for state governments to understand that though budgets are done on an annual basis, they are not stand-alone economic measures; they are rather part of a strategic development plan. Each government should have a vision of how it wants the larger society to be within a given period of, say, between three and five years, and so ensure that each budget synchronizes with the vision or plan.
The Anambra State government, for instance, is committed to make the state the first place investors will consider in decision making. But it is acutely aware that the state cannot be a proper economic hub without critical facilities like an airport. No wonder, there is a provision of N5.8bn in the 2021 budget to enable the ongoing development of Anambra International cargo Airport to get a level where it can be commissioned in the first part of next year. The same goes for the provision of N500mn in the 2021 budget for the completion of the 10,000-sitting capacity International Conference Centre in Awka, the biggest conference centre in Africa. It is noteworthy that both the International Cargo Airport and the International Conference Centre are among the legacy projects which the Governor Willie Obiano administration is building without borrowing money from anywhere. Prudent economic management is the way to go for the nation to make a headway in rapid economic development.
Much as the state is building legacy projects, attention is happily not taken away from what may be called routine projects and programmes like roads development and roads maintenance. Thirty two billion naira (N32bn) has been aside for roads and bridges in the 2021 budget while N19.4bn will be spent on new roads. There are currently 50 roads at various levels of completion in the three senatorial zones in the state. The amounts mentioned above are different from the NI.2bn to be given to the Anambra Roads Maintenance Agency (ARMA) for road patching and road rehabilitation.
It is gratifying there are reasonable provisions in the 2021 Anambra State Government budget estimates for public utilities, youth empowerment and, of course, education. Education expenditure is like youth expenditure: investment in our future. Anambra’s impressive performance in several critical areas is an eloquent illustration of the truism that what makes a nation truly great is not so much capital or money as the quality of its human resources, including its leadership. Anambra has in recent times lived up to its reputation as the Light of the Nation. Senator Ben Murray-Bruce from Bayelsa State is right to state publicly that Anambra is a state to watch out.
Ifeakandu is an accountant and management consultant in Onitsha, Anambra State.