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Changing gears: the transformation agenda begins ~ Speech by Gov. Soludo during presentation of 2024 Budget

“Changing gears: the transformation agenda begins” ~ An address by Governor Charles Chukwuma Soludo to the Anambra State House of Assembly on the occasion of the presentation of the draft 2024 State Budget on November 21, 2023

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Umu nne m Ndi Anambra!

1. Let me start by once again congratulating all of you, members of the 8th Assembly and the leadership of the House for your elections. Yours is a historic call to serve Ndi Anambra. As I always remind all of us: we have only one state and our development focus is summarized by the mantra, “One State, One People, One Agenda”. I want to thank you for your cooperation and collaboration so far. Together, we shall leave this state far better than we met it.

2. On November 10, 2022, I was here to present the draft 2023 budget, captioned budget of acceleration. It was our first full year budget in office. Over the past 20 months since our swearing-in on March 17, 2022, we have intentionally focused on judiciously implementing the budgets to address several of the foundational challenges and the results are beginning to show. Anambra is today ranked the number one among the 17 southern states on Ease of Doing Business; number two as state with lowest infant mortality rate; best performing students in JAMB and NECO are from Anambra, while BudgIT has recently also ranked Anambra among the top 5 states on fiscal sustainability.

3. During our second-year anniversary on March 17, 2024, we shall present a comprehensive scorecard to our people. Suffice it to say that Anambra is indeed on the march. Our security is getting stronger by the day, and the eight local governments that were in total control by the so-called Unknown Gunmen have been largely liberated. Anambra, by every measure, is certainly one of the safest states in Nigeria today. Over 400 kilometres of roads plus two flyovers are under construction in all the 21 LGAs and in a few weeks we shall embark upon commissioning of the finished ones. Anambra had a severe road crisis, and I promised during the electioneering campaigns to declare a state of emergency on roads. With the state of decay, even if we spend the entire year’s budget on roads in one local government, it would still be a scratch. We are strategic in the choice of game-changing roads that impact on the productivity of our people, especially in connecting hitherto neglected/ abandoned people, LGAs and communities. We are breaking the 32-year-old jinx and Anambra will soon have proper and befitting government house and governor’s lodge at Awka. Power is improving; we are winning the war on waste management/de-silting of drainages, traffic management, anti-touting, law and order.

4. The Oba Open Drug Market (Africa’s biggest open drug market) is under construction, and Pharmaceutical Industrial Park, Ogboji is under development with 15 manufacturers out of expected 100 already signed up. Our regenerative agricultural revolution is on the move, and so far, we have distributed 1,100,000 hybrid coconut and palm seedlings to over 100,000 households in our drive towards zero poverty, neo agro-industrialization, and a green and environmentally sustainable state. We will distribute at least one million seedlings per annum in the coming years as we target 500,000 households with each earning millions of Naira per annum in a few years to come. Some 25,000 diesel powered streetlights have been converted into solar light— saving cost and powering the night economy.

5. Our human capital remains Anambra’s greatest asset and we are very intentional in building a resource that is productive at home and exportable abroad. Basic education is now truly free of all charges and levies in all public schools in Anambra. We are ending the phenomenon of schools without teachers by recruiting 5,000 teachers within the first 9 months in office and ongoing recruitment of an additional 3,000 teachers. The target for our schools is smart education. Our schools, teachers and students won several national and international prizes this year. We are also ending the era of hospitals without doctors and nurses by recruiting almost 1,000 health workers—doctors, consultants, nurses, pharmacists, lab technicians, etc to power our general hospitals and primary health centres. Four new general hospitals are under construction and several others under reconstruction. Pregnant women now have free antennal and delivery services in Anambra.

6. Building the capacity and empowerment of our youths to take care of their future remains our priority. Our pioneering One Youth, Two Skills programme has just graduated its first batch of 5,000 youths and they have been empowered with N2 billion as seed capital to start their own businesses. We have also established the Solution Innovation District for digital skills, startups, research commercialization, and creative talents. Over 20,000 youths have been trained on different digital skills. Earlier this morning, the SID organized the Opening ceremony/ Orientation for 2,500 youths selected out of the over 10,000 applicants for the training programme on coding, tagged “Code Anambra”. We expect tens of thousands of youths to go through our unprecedented menu of youth empowerment programmes each year. Our vision is to teach Anambra youths how to fish and turn them from job seekers to job creators. We are also resourcing the Anambra Small Business Agency (ASBA) to be able to provide required cheap credit to these budding entrepreneurs.

7. We are driving towards a more transparent E-governance system, with our mantra of “technology everywhere, and everything technology”. Our local government system is being reformed to strengthen its service delivery at the grassroots, while our tax administration is systematically going digital. Our land registry is going digital, and transfer of land titles can now be completed within a week rather than over six months previously. The environment remains Anambra’s number one existential threat. Flooding is a menace, and Anambra remains the gully erosion capital of the world. We have launched the Clean, Green and Sustainable Anambra project, and it will receive greater impetus in the coming years. The list is long!

8. Mr. Speaker, Honorable members, it is important to remind us that the government has implemented a far-reaching, comprehensive set of palliatives to ameliorate the economic hardship on the citizens as a consequence of the inevitable removal of petroleum subsidy. As you are aware, the Federal Government gave each state a loan of N2 billion (with a grant element of 52%) to assist in funding the palliatives.

9. Ours is a government on the foundation of the All-Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). We are progressives, and the welfare of the ordinary Nigerians especially the poor and vulnerable, remains our primary focus. The motto is: “Be your brother’s and sister’s keeper”. For us, there is no better time to rise up to the full essence of our motto and ideological stance on behalf of ordinary people than now.

10. Consequently, even before the removal of subsidy, we had earlier increased the salary of public servants by 10% effective from January 2023, and this translates to over N2 billion in 2023 (excluding local governments and teachers). We also granted all public servants and pensioners (about 59,000 persons) a non-taxable cash award of N12,000 per month spanning September to December 2023. This amounts to about N2.83 billion. Beginning from today, 200,000 bags of 10kg bags of rice will be distributed to vulnerable persons across the 326 wards in Anambra (costing over N2 billion). Upon assumption of office, we met 4-year gratuity arrears for state and local government retirees. We have been systematically clearing the arrears while everyone who retires since our assumption of office is assured of prompt payment of gratuity. Pensions and salaries are paid as at when due. We have also exempted the highly vulnerable persons from all forms of taxation/levies: hawkers, wheelbarrow and truck pushers; vulcanizers; artisans, okada drivers, and petty traders with capital less than N100,000. Furthermore, we reduced by 20% IGR payments by all transporters—keke, minibus, etc. Our free education policy and free medical services programme were also announced during this period. As committed progressives, we are determined to let the poor not only to breath but also to stand up and run. This is the essence of our mission.

11. Hon Speaker, Honourable members, Umu nne m Ndi Anambra!
After 20 months of systematic programmes to take back our state from non-state actors and addressing key aspects of the foundational challenges, it is now time to change gear. I am here to present the draft 2024 budget. With this budget, we are making an announcement that Anambra is Changing Gear, and that the promised Transformation Agenda now begins…! The transformation agenda is one that intentionally executes a new Masterplan of the state designed to turn Anambra into a livable and prosperous smart megacity. We are determined to change Anambra’s narrative from its current status as a “departure lounge” to a “destination of choice”: preferred destination to live, work, invest, learn and relax and enjoy!

12. Evidently, Nigeria’s macroeconomic environment remains challenging due largely to the missteps of the past. Sub-national governments are obviously constrained by the larger macro environment. However, we are determined to maximize the limited headroom available to create value for Ndi Anambra.

13. Consequently, and in spite of the humongous need, we present a modest budget of N410,132,225,272 for fiscal year, 2024, compared to N258,984,875,905 for 2023 (about 57.8% increase). Recurrent expenditure accounts for N96.2 billion (23.46%) while capital expenditure is N313.9 billion (76.54%). Budget deficit is estimated at N120.8 billion. Relative to 2023, some key sectors have significant increases: Administrative sector (50.85%); Economic sector (103.43%); Judiciary Sector (72.9%); Social Sector (60.24%); Education (140.88%); Health (169.55%); Infrastructure investment (119.84%); overhead costs (34.1%); etc.

14. While consolidating and expanding the ongoing programmes and projects, the emphasis on the sectors as indicated above signal new vistas. Three new cities are part of the new Masterplan for Anambra: Awka 2.0; Onitsha 2.0; and a new Industrial City (with Export Emporium and potentials for a possible future airport). An industrial masterplan is being finalized while the railway masterplan/ feasibility study is also being completed. The US$200 million project development, advisory and financing agreement signed recently with Afreximbank is part of this new agenda. We will continue to address the Ease of Doing Business. With the completion of the Fun City, the myriad of infrastructural development as well as the coming of a branded international hotel in Awka, both Awka 1.0 and Awka 2.0 will merge to give Anambra a befitting capital city. Urban regeneration will be aggressively pursued. The environment remains our existential threat, and under the 2024 budget, we will intentionally accelerate our agenda on Clean, Green, Planned and Sustainable Anambra. Smart, Green cities is our goal. Our infrastructural development will deliberately target the provision of transportation system that will serve the next generations by targeting the dualization of key highways and modernizing our mass transport systems. A new electricity market will be created, and our security operations will be upgraded with high technology applications even with barely 4% of the budget for security. The 2024 budget signals a significant investment in urban and semi-urban water schemes, and we expect Ndi Anambra to see taps running again in 2024.

15. Yes, in the 2024, our students and teachers will smile as never before. Our youths and Anambra students in tertiary institutions will smile even more. The poor and the vulnerable persons have their back covered. Another 100,000 households or more will receive 10 or more seedlings of coconut, palm, ukwa, pawpaw, soursop, etc per household. We are mainstreaming the sports economy, and the state football team will debut in 2024. Several creative sectors other than tech will also be promoted. Yes, we will deepen our structural reforms regarding the delivery mechanism that emphasizes public-private-community partnerships (PPCP) especially in service delivery to the grassroots including the zero-pothole programme.

16. Mr. Speaker, Honourable members, I don’t want to bore you with all the deliverables in the budget. The full document is before you now. Suffice it to note that the size of the budget is indeed small — in real terms (purchasing power) or even in US dollars— when compared to some years ago. Prices of critical inputs, especially for infrastructure delivery, are galloping. But in spite of this, we are determined to maximize value for Ndi Anambra as we are currently doing. Recall that the 7th Assembly approved in 2022 for us to borrow N100 billion for infrastructure. We didn’t do so in 2022. For the ongoing 2023 budget, it was assumed that we would borrow N90 billion to fund the budget. Up until now, we have still not borrowed a kobo, and won’t borrow until the end of the year. In the proposed 2024 budget, there is a deficit of N120 billion expected to be funded through a facility from financial institution(s). Be rest assured that we won’t borrow unless it satisfies two stringent criteria we have set: a) it must be a concessionary loan; and b) it must be deployed to projects that we can show how they would pay back the loan in the future. Even with an estimated 66% budget performance for 2023, we insist on not borrowing unless it satisfies our set criteria.

17. Our Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) remains a fundamental challenge. In the 2023 budget, we expected a monthly revenue of N4 billion. So far, we are averaging N2 billion, and we are still projecting N4.2 billion per month in 2024. This is a wake-up call to all residents of Anambra, and all Ndi Anambra wherever they may live. We can’t build the envisioned livable and prosperous homeland with our saliva. With the abundant resources that God has blessed Ndi Anambra with, there is literally nothing that we collectively set our minds to that we cannot achieve for our homeland. We have the Plan and the organization to execute. But we need resources. If each of us pays just 5-10% of our annual income as tax to the State, the Anambra of our dream will be fast-tracked.

18. Many people keep asking how we manage to fund the huge infrastructure projects and other programmes/projects without borrowing over the past 20 months given the state of treasury when we assumed office. The answer is simple: “Doing more with less”! It has involved extreme austerity and cutting cost of governance to bare bones. As can be seen from the proposed 2024 budget, recurrent expenditure is only 23% while capital expenditure is 77%. This makes a bold statement. Yes, we have been in office for 20 months but we have not taken any salary and have not bought any vehicle for the First Lady of Anambra. Before we assumed office, it cost about N137 million to clean public offices per month, but it currently costs N11 million to do the same job, with a monthly savings of N126 million per month. That’s how we do it here.

19. I want to especially appreciate members of the Solution Team, the honourable members, members of the judiciary and all stakeholders for their sacrifice in the service of our homeland. You are the generation of public servants largely paying to serve. We will never take your sacrifices for granted. We appreciate all the stakeholders in the Anambra project: community leaders, traditional rulers, church leaders, the private sector, international community, federal government, the media, NGOs, the youths, women, students, etc for their support. Your continued partnership and support will be critical in the delivery of the 2024 budget outcomes. I want to assure Ndi Anambra that every kobo you entrust in our hands will be judiciously deployed to maximize value for you. You have employed Dr. Onyekachukwu Ibezim and I to serve you, and together with our Solution Team, we will continue to work 24/7 to do just that.

20. Mr. Speaker, Honourable members, Umu nne m Ndi Anambra! Let me end by reiterating that this budget is your budget. The agenda is about your future and the future of the unborn generations. For me, we are not just working for the present and next generation, we are planning for many generations unborn. Say “I will” and great powers will come to your aid. Today, and in 2024, let us agree that it will be done. The journey has only just begun!

May God bless Anambra State!

May God bless the Federal Republic of Nigeria!!

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