By Tonnie Iredia
In November 2009, the Nigerian Senate, speaking through Senator Ayogu Eze, suggested that most of the projects earmarked in the budget were not implemented “because Civil Servants in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) lack the capacity to implement the budgets and appropriations they ask for every year”.
Our argument at the time was that the view did not accurately reflect the problem on ground. The real problem has always been the absence of a proper annual budget in Nigeria. Of course, we are aware that the nation undergoes a yearly ritual which it chooses to describe as budgeting. During the ritual, a public entity in the country prepares a budget proposal which is usually moderated and approved by the legislature after what has become known as budget defence.
Thereafter, the body begins to lobby to get whatever fraction of the supposedly approved budget is to be released as well as approval to award contracts for the execution of proposed projects in the budget. These steps take no less than three quarters of a year leaving the public bodies with exceedingly short period to implement the budget.
What eventually gets to the MDAs, have little or no bearing with their mandates. Indeed, some organisations which are perceived as not belonging to the priority list of government get salaries only. Thus, such entities are just to exist and perhaps to prevent workers’ strike.
Events are beginning to show however that Nigeria has no priority organisations and that our budgets are managed by magicians. Oh yes, that is the only way to rationalise what came to public knowledge of recent that even the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC) is also not properly positioned budget-wise to perform its tedious task.
Luckily, gone are the days when public officers kept mute while their projects were being officially scuttled. These days, the people of Nigeria have been empowered by the Freedom of Information Act to get all the facts of the activities of public bodies.
Therefore, EFFC officials in particular have no option but to draw attention to their challenges. To start with, Nigerians expect so much from the EFCC. Second, everyone remembers that Nuhu Ribadu, the Commission’s pioneer Chairman did a commendable job because he had men like Ibrahim Lamorde to work with.
Fourth, President Jonathan told the nation that it was for that reason that Lamorde was brought back to head the EFFC. It would thus be suicidal for the man to watch in silence the inexplicable decline in the empowerment of the Commission.
Expectedly, EFCC has dropped the ineffectual toga of ‘silence is golden’ for public enlightenment. Lamorde has indeed minced no words in appraising the nation of his Commission’s dilemma. His Director of Planning and Research Dr. David Tukura did a similarly good job on NTA’s weekly interactive programme -Tuesday Live, the week before. In all, the briefings have been consistent and concise.
In January this year,Chairman Lamorde reminded the House of Representatives that “the attention of the whole nation is on the EFCC to rise to the challenge of curbing corrupt practices in our midst. But we need to be funded adequately to do this”.
He specifically called for the intervention of the Committee to correct the zero allocation in respect of Legal services, Forensic Laboratory, Information and Communication Technology and Life Insurance for the staff of the Commission. He also called for better allocation of funds for the construction of the permanent office complex of the EFCC.
In response, the Chairman of the House Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Honourable Jagaba Adams Jagaba expressed support for the work of the EFCC and assured the Commission of the cooperation of his Committee to address the shortfall in the allocation made for the EFCC by the budget office.
“We know your needs. I want to assure you that we will address the problem. Government wants the EFCC to succeed; this is why it gave it a tasking assignment to handle. It is dangerous not to fund the EFCC adequately. To do so is to throw it up to the highest bidders and the corrupt and the end will not be good for all of us” Jagaba was reported to have added.
12 months later, Honourable Jagaba and his committee members were forced to publicly decry the poor funding of the EFCC at its 2013 budget proposal defence. According to Honourable Jagaba “it is even more saddening when funds have been appropriated for the agency in the budget of the federation by the National Assembly and the funds are not released.
The Senate has not been left out in all of this as the Chairman of its own Committee on Drugs, Narcotics, Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption, Senator Victor Lar had also advocated proper funding of the anti-graft agencies if the war against corruption and economic crimes in Nigeria was to be taken seriously.
The Senator argued that there exists a want of harmony between the verbal pronouncements of the government and the financing of the fight against economic and financial crimes. While advocating for proper funding of the Commission, the Senator said more needs to be done with regards to building capacity of staff of the EFCC.
“It is not in doubt that the expectation of Nigerians in the direction, speed, scope, effectiveness in the fight against corruption rests with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission” Senator Lar added.
But how can this be achieved when even the personnel cost appropriated by the budget office for the Commission is short by as much as N710 million? In other words in 2013, EFCC operatives would not be sure of even their salaries! One voice that we cannot but listen to in this matter is that of legislator Sheik Umar Abubakar who had earlier said that the zero budgeting in the areas highlighted by Lamorde could be an error of omission.
According to him, “it couldn’t have been deliberate”. Sheik Umar however hit the nail on the head when he called for an improved relationship between the EFCC and the Budget Office. Well, if that is how to be properly considered in budgeting then it is obvious that some persons are bent on crippling the EFCC. Who are they?