2016 Budget: What is in it for women



Since President Buhari presented the 2016 national budget to the National Assembly, there have been reactions from women organisations regarding the amount allocated to the ministry of Women Affairs and Social Development. The first salvo was fired by Oluremi Tunubu, Senator representing Lagos Central, who wondered how the budget of N3, 974, 395, 038 could make the desired impact on the lives of women in an era of change. She described the sum as being only enough for the ministry’s capital expenditure and urged the legislature to increase the allocation considerably to enable the ministry meet its obligations to Nigerian women.

Interestingly, there is not much difference between previous allocations for the ministry and that of 2016. This has prompted women-based groups to call for a higher allocation so that the sundry issues affecting Nigerian women can be effectively addressed.

The Ministry of health also claimed that the budget does not capture the needs of women. Health Minister, Isaac Adewole, pointed out that adequate provisions were not made for public and family health in the allocation.

Executive director, Women Advocates Research and Documentation Centre (WARDC) Dr. Abiola Afolabi-Akinyode, says it is good that the current chair of women affairs in the Senate has raised concern over the low budget for women affairs.

“If you trace the history of budgeting in Nigeria since 1999 up till date, you would discover that the budget for women has always been 0.1 per cent of the total budget. And often times, it only covers expenditures around salaries and maintenance, with very little funds going for programmes. In a way, this also shows to an extent why the issue of gender equality has not actually been addressed in the country.

“Nigeria is signatory to the international gender policy and a whole lot of other instruments, but the Nigerian women don’t even have the funds to agitate and support such policies. Look at the issue of IDPs. There are no direct funds to intervene because it is not in their budget. I think this should change. Any country that is aspiring towards development cannot achieve that, when the country excludes issues of women and girls,” she says.

On the health budget, Dr. Akiyode-Afolabi, who lamented the failure of Nigeria in not meeting the pledge made in Abuja by all heads of states in 2001, to put at least 15 per cent of the annual budget towards improving the health sector, noted that since 1999, budgetary allocations for health have never gone beyond six per cent.

“This means that a lot of issues have gone unaddressed, especially on maternal health. Also, the budgetary allocation did not mention the implementation of the national health law that was recently passed, which addressed a lot of issues pertaining to primary health care centres, which are patronised by the majority of women, girls and children. For an effective implementation of that law, the budget would not have been so low. The issue needs to be addressed by technocrats, who make the budget because often times, what they do is to draw up budget by estimation. But I thought with the new change mantra, that attitude would have also changed. This is why some of them are saying that the budget was surcharged and didn’t reflect their aspirations.

“It has been in the practice of technocrats to formulate the budget based on the estimation they got a year before. But I think it is a matter of paying particular attention to budgeting issue and doing so in a manner that Nigerian people will be fulfilled and be a part of; a budget that addresses women, girls, maternal health, socio-economic issues and poverty among others. That budget is not ready to address the issue of sustainable development goals, reflects the needs and face of the people. I feel there is need to look around some key areas in that budget and see how it can be mainstreamed so that Nigerian children will not keep dying before age five and mothers will not keep dying at childbirth. This can be achieved, if we put our money where our mouth is.

“It is just going to be business as usual. The government has not privatised women issues and that is why I think activists and women rights groups should not allow this discussion to just pass by. It is an opportunity for us to ask for a budget that really addresses our needs as women. It is an opportunity to insist that the right thing be done. And we should give kudos to Senator Remi Tinubu for bringing it up, although unfortunately, she was also the chair during the last administration. All organisations should join hands with her to change future allocation for women in Nigeria,” she says.

Child rights advocate and Executive Director, Cee Hope Betty Abah expressed delight in the withdrawal of the Health budget to allow for the adjustment of all loopholes.

Said she: “Just look at the scenario, where the State house clinic is getting N3.8 billion, while Women Affairs gets four billion Naira, which is almost the same amount. We are talking here about the welfare of the entire population of women in the country, which makes up for over half of the population. This is alarming, as it clearly shows the kind of value the people at the helm of affairs place on the lives of women and girls in Nigeria. It shows that we are dispensable humans; we don’t count in their priorities, which is really sad. And if we do not make the noise, we will be treated as non-humans and inconsequential, as if our issues don’t really count.

“The budget as it stands, is a sad commentary on the state of women in Nigeria and the attitude of people who should care for women. From the case of the Chibok girls to the fact that Nigeria has the highest number of girl child marriages in Africa (23 million married off) and the rate of cancer as it affects women and other health issues, the rate of illiteracy (Nigeria has the highest number of out of school children in the world), predominantly girls, the plight of women and girls is sad. We should draw their attention to all these sad realities and ensure they promote women’s welfare. And if care is not taken, women’s plight will get worse. As it is now, the value of naira is depreciating.

So, what can four billion Naira do? Very little indeed. The amount cannot even help women in a state like Lagos. It is like a drop in an ocean compared to when you want to critically address issues of women’s health, education and empowerment.

“I have been very disappointed with the ministry of women affairs and the ministers that have served over the period. They are mostly sycophants, who sing the praises of First Ladies, mobilising women to ask for re-election and singing the praises of people in power. I hope that this time, the dynamics will change and they will be the ones holding our leaders accountable.”

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