By Obi Nwakanma
“Ever a Glutton at another’s cost, but in whose kitchen dwells perpetual frost.”
- John Dryden, “Fourth Satire of Persius.”
In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri lists Gluttony among other deadly sins for which conscious humanity must be wary lest we be mired in Hades. Gula (Gluttony), Superbia (Pride), Avarita (Avarice/Greed), Luxuria (Lust), Invida (Envy), Ira (Wrath) and Acedia (sloth) – the seven deadly sins – have been at the core of moral criticism since Dante.
One of the 19th century’s most notable moral philosophers, the Russian Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov wrote, “Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance.” Gluttony is a deadly sin.
In the introductory epigram to this piece, I invoke the Restoration poet Dryden, poet of the Carolingian courts, who knew a thing or two about gluttony under the excess appetites of Charles II of England. “O gluttony, it is to thee we owe our griefs” laments Geoffrey Chaucer. Gluttony and Greed are Siamese twins.
In the “Pardoner’s Tale,” Chaucer says, “Radix Malorum est cupiditas” – greed is the root of all evils. But why do I speak of these matters today in the “Orbit”? Just this: greed and gluttony seems to be behind the budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly for the funding of the State House in 2013.
Let me confess that I personally have not yet understood the relationship between the Presidency, which once was known as the Cabinet office and which came under the administrative authority of a Cabinet Secretary as its Permanent Secretary in the nation’s administrative services, and the current office of Permanent Secretary for the state house.
Is the State House a full ministry these days, or are we dealing with one of those uniquely Nigerian forms of idiocy, where we duplicate and over burden the administrative system? Aso Rock or the Office of the President, can well be managed by a fully employed Chief of Staff to the President who may also be designated the Permanent secretary in the State House.
Yet the president has a Chief of Staff as well as the Secretary to the Federal Government. It is also quite clear that the current system of asking ministers and permanent secretaries to come to the National Assembly to defend ministerial budgets is flawed.
It is a throw-back to the Parliamentary system of government in which ministers were also Members of Parliament. Each minister was not only political head of his/her ministry but also answered to the parliament rather than to the President or the Prime Minister.
They therefore prepared and defended the budgets of the ministries they headed among their parliamentary peers, and were held individually responsible and accountable for the failures of the ministries within the principle of collective responsibility.
That system is incongruous with the presidential system which Nigeria practices today, which places or invests ultimate executive authority on the president, and not on the ministers, all of whom serve at his pleasure. In other words, the National Assembly, on matters of budget ought not summon ministers or Heads of Non-cabinet agencies to defend their budgets before the Parliament.
It is the job of the president to formulate and present the Nigerian National Budget to the people of Nigeria and their representatives in the National Assembly under the current terms of governance. There must be an office of Budgets under the Executive Office of The president of Nigeria which must prepare the Federal Budget and which must defend this budget on behalf of the State House.
The Federal cabinet more or less comes under the State House. I also do not see in fact, the purpose of the Office of the Secretary to the Federal Government, except in so far as it acts as the General Services Division of the Federal Government under the State House. In which case, it also is a duplication of function that bloats the structure of government. It is at best, in the current reality of Nigeria, unnecessary.
But I’ll leave the issue of structure of state administration alone for the moment, and go to last week’s budget defence by the Permanent secretary, State House, Mr. Emmanuel Ogbile, who came before – not the House’s Ways and Means committee where the issues of government budgets should be dealt with – but the senate committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs – to defend a spending proposal of N1.320 billion “for refreshment, meals and other miscellaneous expenses” for the State House for 2013.
First, the language in which the budget is written is all full of clichés, double entries and tautologies. For one thing “a meal” is in general a form of refreshment. But let us leave that for the moment and go to the more substantive issue. Mr. Ogbile presents a Glutton’s budget and asks the Nigerian tax payer to fund gluttony in the State House. This budget for “ihe-ose” is outrageous!