budget
budget

The media have been awash with the budget padding in the lower chambers of the national assembly. Is budget padding a novelty in Nigeria? And lo, the statesman, Obasanjo is vindicated once again. For more than once, former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo has doubted the integrity of the occupants of the hallowed chambers of the national assembly. If only man learns from the realities of life, the world would have been a better place.

One, there is nothing hidden under the sun. Secondly, whatever the ears hear or the eyes see is no more a secret. Thirdly, in life no one can live independently – everyman needs others to live. Whatever two people, two individuals even of nuclear relation engage in secretly has an expiry date, not to talk of dirty deals involving many people of diverse interests, as well as physical and psychological disparities.

Stories abound where gangs operate successfully for many times until their cup is full. By the time, either they quarrel over sharing formula or they are lured to a very insignificant operation through which they will regret the failure. Here is a house of people entrusted to represent their people from all nooks and crannies of the Nigerian territory. Here is a house of personalities believed to be honourable and who took oath to put Nigeria first and to put their people first. This is a people described be former President Obasanjo as “armed robbers and rogues”, from revelations that emerged from the padding of the 2016 budget. He repeated this assertion in 2012 in Lagos at an event attended by two former Nigerian leaders, Yakubu Gowon and Ernest Shonekan.

Although a lot has been revealed, there may still be some twists that can open more windows for the recovery of our misplaced or stolen commonwealth. The ruling party, thus, may have acted too fast to stop the revelations. It is still in the interest of the party, representing the national that those involved in the shady deals be allowed to expose themselves for the public to be aware and be more informed. Once this matter is treated secretly by the party and anti-graft agencies, there are some assurances that it will be covered up like the past or the law will be twisted.

The unfolding events may jeopardize proper investigations. The Presidency has denied that the signed into law was padded. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator Ita Enang; and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House), Mr. Ismail Kawu, made the Presidency’s position when they appeared before the leadership of the ruling All Progressives Congress at the party’s headquarters. However, let us keep trust in our press that they will do the needful in this war against corruption.

Nonetheless, one continues to admire the audacity of former President Obasanjo, who spoke with the press after meeting with President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja who declared that the best way out of the current mess was to ensure that only men of integrity are elected into the National Assembly. But how do Nigerian electorates differentiate between men of integrity or even “men of God”, from men of greed, utmost selfishness and dishonesty in the face of abject poverty and ignorance pervading the society?

In this situation when shame and remorse should freeze these “honourable” members, some of them are proud to take on the bribery scandal of the third term saga in 2007. Even if some claimed to be “honourable” to refuse the huge-enticing bribe advanced to them, why was it not exposed at that time? Was it to cover up the “dishonourable” ones who could not resist the temptation of getting richer from the peoples’ commonwealth? Apart from these revelations involving the leadership of the house, who monitors the constituency project funds granted every member. Most of these funds ended up with audio-visual reports in the purchase of few “okada” or drilling of few boreholes or purchase of few wrappers for the political women folk. That is all and the press carries out the rest of the job.

Budget padding and financial recklessness in the system are as old as our memory can recount. The great news about them is that there is now the political will by the leadership to confront them headlong. The military regimes operated with absolute authority and had no check and balance organ. The Shehu Shagri regime recorded a high level of financial misappropriation, though the president himself was a “little saint”. Former President Obasanjo in 2000 refused to sign the budget passed by the National Assembly on the accounts that it was padded with about N2 billion when the lawmakers raised their allocation from N22.7bn to N24 billion. Obasanjo sought for clarification on the added amount in a letter he wrote on May 3, 2000 to the then Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo, and Speaker Ghali Na’Abba.

In 2005, some senators and the “honourable” members were accused of padding the budget of Ministry of Education. It is of no significance to debate if anyone was prosecuted for these fiscal abuses, though Obasanjo made broadcast that the accused lawmakers would be reported to ICPC for prosecution. Surely, there was no political will. And for eight years – 1999 to 2007 – budgets were passed, whether padded or unpadded.

Mr. Rule of Law and late former President Umaru Yar’Adua signed budgets from 2007 to 2010 and had cases with the national assembly over budget padding. When he presented his first budget of N2.94 trillion in 2008, the legislators raised the allocation for some items. Money for meal and refreshment were increased. The Senate alone added N120 million for non-regular allowances, resulting to president refusing to sign the budget. However, the president was forced to sign it as the nation was almost shut down. Both parties agreed on a budget amendment bill and a Supplementary Budget as it became a soft landing.

The 2011 budget of Goodluck Jonathan raised a heavy dust. The lawmakers jerked up their salaries and allowances. A budget of N4.48 billion was badly padded that the budget of both chambers was inflated from N120 billion to N232.74 billion. Jonathan refused to sign the budget until both parties agreed to peg it at N150 billion which they got till 2015 when it crashed a bit to N115 billion. This was due to public outcry that the legislature was becoming too expensive to maintain. The National Assembly from that year refused to publicize details of its allocations in the budgets. There was no political will to face the padding cabals in the public service and the national chambers. That is how the budgets had been infested with impunity and nothing was done to combat it.

Though the records may still remain in abandoned shelves, who is there to recall and deal with them when the present effort is being undermined and castigated? Despite the energy exerted by President Buhari and his vice Osinbajo to scrutinize the budget page by page, these revelations from the sacked chairman of appropriation committee are shocking. Is it because the God of Nigeria is now alive because the leadership is now sincere? Is it because the cup of enemies of Nigeria is full and God wants to cleanse the land? Or it is because the commonwealth is revolting against its continuous diversion into uncommon causes.

These exposures have caught the interests of Nigerians and the world. The pad-mafias have been fished out in the civil service. How they were dealt with is yet to be completely publicized by disclosing their names and their exact punishment. Merely sacking anyone guilty of this gross criminality is insufficient retribution. After all, most or all those who have defrauded the national or state treasuries have secured their freedom through plea bargaining. That is one who stole billions of naira belong to Nigerians end up hiring the service of as many senior advocates as possible to defend him; then the justice asks him to return few millions of naira back to the treasury. This is if the returned money ever hit the treasury accounts.

For the purpose of record and to prove the sincerely of the government in the fight against financial lawlessness across all the sectors in the country, let the fight concentrate in the leadership: the executive, the legislature and the judiciary at the national and state level. Let justice be enforced not only on goat stealers or pick-pocketters but more on every Nigerian that abuses public trust. Assurances are there that once the national assembly is sanitized, every public office holder cannot be otherwise. The great tussle for the leadership of committees in the national assembly reveals more of personal interests than selfless responsibility to serve.

Just of recent, the twist of events in the senate concurs with the postulation. A segment of the senate which claimed to have been fighting a noble cause suddenly swallows itself after getting the chairmanships of “juicy committees”. This is unbecoming of the “distinguished” and “honourable” members of our hallowed chambers. Let there be a redirection, a rethink, a refocus and a rebuilding of personalities in our public offices.

Recent padding scenarios reveal that the trend is not new. It shows that it had been a recurring phenomenon. Former presidents Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan tackled the Nigerian lawmakers on it, but the political will was deficient to nail it down. Can it end with this first budget of President Buhari, with the assertion by a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ghali Na’Abba, that it was impossible for the budget to be padded without the connivance of some members of the executive arm of government?

By Muhammad Ajah
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]

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