Sunday, August 4, 2019

Budget 2018: Stranger than fiction as presidency accuses legislature of usurpation

Budget 2018: Stranger than fiction as presidency accuses legislature of usurpation
June 22
07:36 2018

Incredibly, after Nigerians have waited with baited breathe for an unprecedented 7 months that seemed like eternity, President Muhammadu Buhari has in the course of signing the 2018 appropriation bill into law on Wednesday 20th of June stated that the document that he signed is radically different from what he submitted to the National Assembly, NASS.

According to Mr President, in addition to the disruptive effect of the long delay in the passage of the appropriation bill on the economy , the National Assembly did not only cannibalize it, but the law makers practically engaged in a bazaar by increasing the allocation to themselves and President Buhari is making heavy weather of it.

Below is what he said at the signing ceremony “The National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira”.

Mr President did not stop there.

For maximum effect, he added that “An example of this increase is the budget of the National Assembly itself which has increased by 14.5 billion Naira, from 125 billion Naira to 139.5 billion Naira without any discussion with the Executive”.

For a NASS that’s presently under heavy criticism for their jumbo pay and other financial excesses as revealed by the outspoken activist senator Shehu Sani, the latest misdemeanor may box them into a tighter corner and could even land them in political hot water with the electorate.

The situation is even more dire as the electorate is also riled by the perceived high handedness of legislators in the manner that they suspend their members who have dissenting views or do not toe corporate lines.

Senators like Ali Ndume and Ovie Omo-Agege as well as Congressman Ahmed Jubril who the courts quashed their suspension have already opened the eyes of Nigerians to what some have referred to as internal tyranny in NASS.

In effect, the second realm of the estate, as it were, has played into the hands of the first realm of the estate by usurping budget making which constitutionally is assigned to the Executive arm, because in the spirit of separation of power and checks and balances, the Legislative arm is supposed to only scrutinize and approve the budget as opposed to fundamentally changing it as President Buhari has alleged.

But if Mr President’s lamentations earlier highlighted is anything to go by, (and he is generally not frivolous) budget 2018 did not just go under the scrutiny and knife of NASS, but it was repackaged by the law makers according to their whims and caprices. And that is a complete negation of the cardinal principle of democracy which is underpinned by separation of power and assignment of distinctive roles to the three main arms of govt.

In an economy where hunger is wrecking havoc on the masses and nearly 40m Nigerian youths (NBS data) are either unemployed or under employed, how can NASS justify adding nearly fifteen billion naira to its already outrageous N125b thereby raising their allocation to N139.5b? They may claim that there are other Nigerians that are not legislators engaged by the National Assembly Service commission who are also benefiting from the huge sum appropriated for NASS, but that argument won’t hold water because the number is infinitesimal and no public office holder in Nigeria receives N36m monthly.

Let’s look at it from the prism of equity and do a simple math to specifically determine the portion of the N9.1 trillion national budget for 2018 that NASS has allocated to itself and what is left for the rest of 200m Nigerians.

The first pertinent question to ask is what’s the total number of members of the National Assembly, NASS?

There are three senators representing each of the 36 states of the federation and that makes them 108 senators . Add that number to 360 members of the House of Representatives and the total number of members of both the Red and Green chambers of NASS would be 468.

When the N9.1 trillion national budget is divided amongst 200m Nigerians, each citizen would be entitled to something like N46.1m. If we multiple that amount, N46.1 by the number of NASS members which is 468, the outcome will be: 468xN46.1=21,574.8.

To be clear, l’m not by any stretch of imagination suggesting that the National budget is meant to be shared amongst citizens(budget is projected expenditures). But just for the purpose of this argument, and in my motor park economics, (apologies to the economist late Ashikiwe Edione-Egon who popularized that term) NASS is entitled to N21,574.8b in our national budget of N9.1 trillion for 2018, if the budget is shared equally amongst all Nigerians.

And Mr President just informed Nigerians that contrary to his proposal of N125b to it, NASS on its own allocated N139.5 to itself.

From my calculations that amounts to a whooping 0.07% of the budgeted N9.1 trillion just for NASS.
What this simple maths reveals is that a tiny fraction of Nigeria’s population, 468 members of NASS which is more or less like an ant (size wise when compared to the rest of us) is consuming a disproportionate or an elephantine size of our national budget.

Hopefully, NASS has a justifiable explanation for such irrational, if not greedy and selfish allocation of a disproportional portion of our common wealth to themselves which looks like a rip-off to the rest of their compatriots.

But before then, let’s just say that they have simply handed the Executive arm of govt a silver bullet to shoot them.

As we are all aware, there has been no love lost between both members of the establishment which have been at daggers drawn since the leadership of NASS emerged against the pre arrangements of the party and by extension the presidency.

As such both arms of govt have been flexing muscle against each other as evidenced by alleged persecution through arraignment of the renegade NASS leadership in court for sundry offenses ranging from over or under declaration of assets, gun running and even armed robbery.

In retaliation, NASS has also refused to grant approval to some appointees of the Executive arm as required by the constitution. Although critically important appointments like cabinet ministers and Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN board members as well as ambassadorial appointments were processed promptly, however approval was not granted for the confirmation of Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC who has been acting in that capacity since 2015.

The EFCC boss was denied approval twice, as the Senate capitalized on a damning report by the Directorate of State Security Services, DSS indicting Magu.

So invariably he has been caught up in the crossfire.

The irony of the situation described above is that all these shenanigans are going on between the Executive and Legislative arms of govt despite the fact that the ruling party APC controls both chambers of the National Assembly and the presidency.

With a wimpish opposition which should have been led by PDP, the immediate past ruling party, now badly emasculated after its unprecedented and calamitous defeat in 2015, APC is compelled to be its own enemy. This is basically because by its very nature, politics is about the struggle for power via subscription of politicians to the ideologies and agendas of the multifarious interest groups contending against each other for superiority or alliance in a given society or community.

Having silenced the main opposition party, PDP members through arrests, incarceration or public humiliation ostensibly on corruption charges, and since nature abhors vacuum, internal strife amongst members of the ruling party became inevitable.

For obvious reasons, it is very easy for schism to thrive and fester in the APC because it is a child of circumstance having been birthed by five parties with diametrically opposing philosophies/agendas but having the common goal of ousting the PDP that had held sway in Aso Rock seat of govt since Nigeria returned to party democracy in 1999.

When, not if, Adams Oshiomhole (who has already been endorsed by critical stakeholders) emerges as the new chairman of the ruling party after its convention scheduled for the 23rd of this month, he will have the job of conflict resolution within his party we’ll cut out for him.

Fortuitously , Oshiomhole has cut his teeth in Labour Union leadership before metamorphosing into the political arena as a governor.

Finally, l’m reminded of the popular axiom-when two elephants fight, the grass suffers and l’m appalled that while the Executive and Legislative arms of govt are enjoying their costly ‘War Games’ whereby they shuffle billions of naira generated through the sweat of our brows via multiple taxes cavalierly, most of the people who elected them are spending the night without food or shelter over their heads owing to the financial imprudence or recklessness of the elected public office holders.

Certainly, the hapless and long suffering Nigerian masses that have been bearing the brunt of the destructive fight by establishment people would like to be relieved of such burden.

It is galling that no real development that could improve the lives of Nigerians in significant ways can happen if we continue to operate the same old system that sap our treasury and transfer badly needed funds to consumption such as hefty emoluments of Legislators and the entire establishment as opposed to investing same in capital ventures that could boost the economy by creating job opportunities etc.

Imagine the number of Nigerian poorest of the poor currently receiving N5,000 stipends (according to the presidency) that could have been added to the loop, if the N14.5b that NASS just cornered was made available for social security purposes?

As things stand now, it’s been three years into an administration that promised Nigerians change, yet there has not been very little or no visible positive change but negative changes all around.

The National budget has been increased year-on-year without commensurate improvements in the standard of living of an average Nigerian; under the watch of this govt petroleum pump price has gone up from N47 to N145; fuel subsidy has tripled to N1.4t; naira exchange rate has shot up from N160/$1 to N360/$1; and through out this period, the emoluments of legislators has ballooned and misery has quadrupled amongst the masses who are now more than ever before taking the option of suicide.

Hopefully, the revelations about the humongous allocation of funds to NASS by president Buhari may stir up a debate on whether full time parliament is preferable in the light of its debilitating effect on the treasury of Nigeria.

What’s wrong with a part time parliament? Do boards of directors of private sector businesses operate on full time basis or part time? If on part time, Why?

Those are the sort of changes that most Nigerians expected when this govt was elected into office in 2015. Without further equivocation, let change begin with the ruling party, APC. The ruling party should change by telling the truth as opposed to lying to Nigerians.

After ruling for three years through lies, a style made popular by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Germany propagandist, its time to summon the courage and be remorseful and toe the path of truth and honor.

I’m not unaware that truth and honesty are not qualities ordinarily associated with politics or politicians, but that does not mean those qualities can’t be creatively and efficaciously deployed in politics.

Having been lied to for too long by politicians, Nigerians are weary of lies.

The APC was simply not prepared for leadership but had it trust on it as a result of a freaky and unprecedented defeat of an incumbent who lost his bearing.

As a result, the ruling party has been grappling with the very complex web of leadership in the past three years and it is just getting a good grip of it.

If given another chance in 2019 to build on its cognate experience garnered in the past three years , it would excel.

That’s the simple truth and the correct message.

Nigerians are not stupid or as politically naive as they used to be.

They see through subterfuge and can reward truth and honesty with their votes as they now believe that votes can count owing to the use of PVC and quasi electronic voting.

If in doubt, consider the goodwill generated by granting MKO Abiola his deserved place in history 25 years after he was robbed of his mandate by a military cabal.

What further evidence is needed to prove that truth matters?

Onyibe a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts,USA and former commissioner in Delta state government sent this piece from Lagos.


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