By Philip Yatai

Some civil society groups in Kaduna State presented their concerns and recommendations on the 2023 budget to the House of Assembly for consideration on Wednesday

The groups made the presentations at a public hearing by the Assembly on the 2023 proposed budget of N370.3 billion.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Assembly organised the public hearing as part of the state’s commitment to open governance.

The event was supported by the Partnership to Engage, Reform and Learn (PERL), a governance programme of the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

One of the groups, the Kaduna Civil Society Agriculture Cohort, urged the lawmakers to increase the allocation to the agriculture sector from the proposed 0.4 per cent of the total budget to at least 3 per cent.

Mr Yusuf Goje, who spoke on behalf of the group, said the proposed allocation of N1.5 billion to the sector was grossly inadequate.

He noted that trend analysis of allocation to the sector had shown consistent decline in the allocation to capital expenditure from 3.5 per cent of total budget in 2017 to 0.3 per cent in the 2023 proposal.

He called for increased allocation to agriculture considering its contribution to the state’s GDP and the fact that it is at the centre of economic activities of the majority of the people.

Also, the disability community, represented by Mr Rilwan Mohammed, President, National Association of Persons with Physical Disabilities urged the lawmakers to make provisions for a Disability Trust Fund.

Mohammed also appealed to the lawmakers to consider making allocation for braille materials in schools and in public offices for visually-impaired persons.

On her part, Ms Jessica Bartholomew, Chairperson, Kaduna Social Protection Accountability Coalition, lauded the increased allocation to the social protection sector from N15.3 billion in 2022 to N19.5 billion in 2023.

Bartholomew, however, expressed concern that the need-based scholarship scheme was not budgeted for in the proposed budget.

According to her, the foreign and local scholarships that were provided for in the budget will not address the plight of students from vulnerable households.

She urged the Assembly to consider allocating funds for need-based scholarships that would specifically target students from poor and vulnerable households.

She also urged the lawmakers to reallocate the N4 billion allocated in the 2022 budget for pro-poor programmes which was removed in the proposed 2023 budget.

“We equally appeal to the Assembly to allocate 1 per cent of Internally Generated Revenue for social protection programmes as provided for in the state’s social protection policy,’’ she said.

Responding, the Deputy speaker, Mr Isaac Auta, who presided over the hearing, commended the civil society groups for engaging the budgeting process to add quality to governance.

Auta also commended PERL for the continued facilitation of fruitful discussions between the government and the governed with a view to improving the quality of service delivery.

“We are here to listen to your concerns and find ways to incorporate valuable contributions into the budget,’’ he said.

Earlier, Citizens Co-Chair, Open Government Partnership, Mrs Hadiza Umar commended the Assembly for consistently holding public hearings on budgets for citizens to make inputs.

Umar called on the lawmakers to consider the institutionalisation of the budget town hall meetings to ensure sustainability of citizens’ engagement of the budgeting process.