By Nkechi Obiagor
Imo State government has begun the implementation of the 2022 budget of N381.4 billion. It is tagged “Budget of Wealth Consolidation and Recovery (the People’s Budget).” The governor, Senator Hope Uzodimma, says the budget is unique for many reasons. According to him, it is a budget intentionally targeted at development.
Here is how: Among the 36 states of the federation, Imo makes the club of 26 states whose budgets are skewed in favour of capital projects than recurrent expenditure. The other 10 states have projected to spend more on recurrent than on capital. This is contrary to budgetary recommendations and prescriptions for developing nations by the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other development institutions.
That of Imo has attracted more positive reviews because the ratio of capital to recurrent expenditure, relative to budget size, is quite high, compared to others. Budget analysts and development economists have continued to commend the governor for his focus on capital projects at a time most parts of the country including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) are stuck in the mud of infrastructure deficit. They are urging the governor to ensure implementation of the budget.
During a stakeholders’ meeting/luncheon in Owerri on Tuesday, January 4, 2022, the governor explained the motive behind the budget, outlining many ongoing infrastructure projects and hinting on many more to come. The heavy leaning on capital projects is interpreted to mean a determination by the government to remodel the state once famed for its progressiveness and for being the torchbearer for development in the South East in the days of the legendary Dee Sam Mbakwe of blessed memory.
The governor explained it thus: “The 2022 budget has the broad objective to ensure that our efforts to deliver our programme of shared prosperity through wealth creation and recovery come into full force this year. This budget of N381.4 billion is made up of recurrent expenditure of N96.7 billion and capital expenditure of N284.7 billion. In essence, the capital budget provision is over 74 per cent. This is the first time in recent history that there is a clear budgetary emphasis on capital projects.”
He continued: “The huge outlay for the capital expenditure underscores the determination of my administration to build upon critical infrastructure, especially roads that would transform the economic landscape of our dear state in 2022. The budget also presents a clear signal that we are going to pay more attention to the welfare of the citizens of the state in core value chain areas of health, education, agriculture, industry, youth empowerment and job creation. I anticipate that, by the end of this year, Imo State would have witnessed a tremendous infrastructural transformation that will set it on an irreversible path to economic growth, which will make all of us very proud.”
Uzodimma told the audience, made up of net worth sons and daughters of the state from across various callings and political divides, that his government was preparing a 10-year economic development plan that would further define the economic road map for the state.
Political watchers and socio-economic analysts familiar with Imo insist that the state deserves the type of capital expenditure-heavy budget being implemented by the governor. They argue that, within most of the last decade, the state had been subjected to unprecedented abuse defined by reckless plunder of the state’s coffers, negligence of infrastructure, a broken school system, brazen stealing of public property and funds, and unworkable healthcare. Imo, once the toast of all the southeasterners, was reduced to a family estate, existing just to satiate the ego of one family and enrich a few political mandarins and cronies of the ‘privileged’ family.
During this period of annexation of a whole state by one family, Imo became the poster child of asinine corrupt enrichment of a few public officials; state wealth was amassed and converted to private estate. Institutions and corporates that used to belong to the state ‘miraculously’ and mysteriously changed ownership and ended up as private equities. The people’s commonwealth became a family’s sudden wealth. During this period also, public infrastructure was left to decay and deteriorate to the knowledge of one and all, including the tricycle riders, artisans, commercial motorists, traders, all of whom were left to bear the brunt of eight years of a failed leadership.
Uzodimma says it’s the overriding need to build infrastructure, turn around the sliding healthcare system and restore the state’s lost glory in education that has necessitated the uniqueness of his budget. Already, he has begun the implementation and the state is assuming the picturesque ambience of a huge workshop.
The World Bank and global development specialists have always prescribed increased public spending, especially in areas related to human capital development, as a way of building safety nets against runaway inflation and other headwinds that stunt economic growth in developing nations. They argue that increases in health, agriculture, infrastructure and education spending over time for any developing community (state, province or country) often result in improved quality of life, improvement in life expectancy and general reflation of the economy.
Uzodimma is doing just that: building infrastructure, from roads to education to healthcare among others. Both President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have visited Imo to inaugurate multiple projects and on both occasions they spared no words to commend the development focus of Uzodimma.
During his historic visit to Imo in September 2021, President Buhari, obviously pleased with the quantum of projects the governor had executed in less than two years, gushed: “I think I have to go back to the old saying that seeing is believing. I have seen enough that justifies his integrity in making sure that he is working very hard to make sure you get the structure necessary. I’m very impressed by what he had done because I have gone through the same problem at the centre to make sure that infrastructure is what will enable the people to mind their own businesses.”
President Buhari is not known to be flippant. He is taciturn and chooses his words anytime he speaks. Commending Uzodimma for committedly building infrastructure in just the same manner the President is doing in different parts of the country is, therefore, an endorsement of Uzodimma’s politics of development. Constructing over 90 roads, some completed while some ongoing, is evidential of a governor who believes that, though politics is partisan, it must address the key issue of development.
Uzodimma assured President Buhari last year and reassured Imo people this year of his commitment to develop the state and turn it to a socio-economically viable entity where inclusive development is the order of the day. He should stay true to his promise. And just like Vice President Osinbajo pointed out during his visit last year, the governor has started well. He should strive to end well to justify the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Recovery (3Rs) philosophy that define his government.
•Mrs. Obiagor writes from Owerri