May that which made you cry in 2023 make you smile in 2024….
As we welcome the dawn of a new year 2024, I extend my heartfelt wishes to you and your loved ones. May the upcoming year bring prosperity, happiness, and the realization of dreams to my ever great and vibrant people of God’s own state.
Reflecting on the past year’s journey, I am grateful for the collective resilience and unity that define us as a people. Together, we have faced challenges, celebrated triumphs, and strengthened the bonds that make our State special.
In the spirit of new beginnings, let us seize the opportunities that await. May innovation be our guide, collaboration be our strength, and determination be the driving force behind our progress. May we “belong to everybody and yet for everyone”. In so doing, I am very confident that our shared commitment will pave the way for continued growth and success.
I thank you for your unwavering dedication to our most cherished State. I thank you for the undying love and solidarity these past years. I pray they continue as we embrace the new year with hope and a shared vision for a brighter future. Let us begin to ask critical questions. Questions that ordinarily put leaders on check. Most times, optics, perceptions and reality are never thesame.
Our future and survival as a people rests squarely on our ability to interrogate and constructively criticise our leaders. This includes the use of our income which FAAC accounts for a lion share of 75% and the rest 25% through IGR, local and external borrowings. This is, and should form the baseline for all implementable annual budgets of our dear God’s own state.
Great Abians, I have carefully interrogated the 2024 budget of N567.2billion as presented and signed into law, and upon which our survival hinges. I have no issue with highfalutin numbers. However, I have with one predicated majorly on the absurd external borrowing of over 70% with few underlying assumptions already caving in: inflation has risen to 28.2%, official exchange rate is close to N1000/$, and N1,300/$ at the parallel market as against the N750/$, Brent price is down to $76/barrel, combined debt is N87.38 trillion or US$113.42billion, projected income is put at N166billion, while the external borrowing component of the balance N401billion is through “unlending” by the federal government subject to approval by the DMO office, Federal Ministry of Finance, and the FEC. Out of the N166billion actual projected income, a whopping N30billion will be paid to Julius Berger alone in an unprecedented 500% contract inflation compared to a 28.2% national inflation figure. This is absurd. In reality, our 2024 budget is 55% capital (N91,228,778,070.01) and 45% recurrent (N74,848,938,987.99). As gloomy as this may look, I applaud the priority accorded Education, but curious that such was not extended to the PPP office, Trade and Investment which ordinarily should be the driver of a vibrant commerce-centric socioeconomic state like Abia under an extensive youth unemployment rate of over 50.07% with attendant festering insecurity in austere times as this. I have therefore come to the conclusion that the 2024 budget of the state is ambitious and doubtful.
With each government comes it’s unique challenges. And ours is not an exception. In my modest opinion, our focus should tilt in favour of security, investment, youth employment, citizens welfare, payment of pensions, salaries, wages, emoluments, and human capital development generally.
As we bid farewell to the year 2023, may the challenges that brought tears transform into smiles in 2024. I wish you a Happy New Year filled with cautious optimism, resilience, good health, and moments of joy.
Ochiagha Reagan Ufomba
Abia, 31st, December 2023