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Can these figures and budget illiterates run a government?

By Dele Sobowale

It ain’t the things you don’t know that cause the problem.  It’s things you think you know that ain’t so. Ralph  Waldo Emerson, 1803-1882. VANGUARD BOOK p 117. President Buhari must have entered into the GUINNESS  BOOK OF RECORDS for taking five months to assemble  a cabinet of less than fifty people and about thirty Special Advisers, noise makers as he called them.

File: Buhari during the 2016 budget presentation to the National Assembly.
File: Buhari during the 2016 budget presentation to the National Assembly.

The reason given would have been acceptable if he was going to bring the people from another country or planet. Given they were all going to be Nigerians, the excuse that Buhari wanted to avoid mistakes was unacceptable then; and it is becoming more so now.

To be candid, if what we have seen so far is an indication of what to expect in the three years and three months left, then he waited too long to appoint them.

He had made one glaring error. Some of these fellows don’t understand figures; they know next to nothing about the budget process and so they talk a lot of rubbish. It is alarming to imagine that these are the individuals appointed to high office in this country and for whom we had to wait for ever.
First, the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, went before a National Assembly Committee looking into the Commission’s 2016 budget. Like most other officials appearing before the NASS, Mr Magu lamented that the EFCC is not adequately funded. Few people will dispute that. And part of the reason for his lamentation might be related to the fact that the EFCC has finally discovered that it was established to serve Nigerians by catching high-profile crooks.

Suddenly, the EFCC has an avalanche of cases on its hands and insufficient manpower to handle the flood of cases.
But, the EFCC was in the wrong place to be requesting for budgetary increase commensurate with the work at hand. For instance, it will need to hire more lawyers to prosecute the over 2,000 cases that will result from Dasukigate alone. Mr Magu spoilt his presentation when he announced that the EFCC asked for N500,000 million naira for its operations.

Are we supposed to believe that Mr Magu does not know that he is asking for N500 billion out of a budget of N6 trillion or 8.25% of the budget? However, Magu is not the only person asking the NASS to hand over N500 billion in a hurry. Mr LaoluAkande, Senior Special Assistant to Vice-President Osinbajo is also asking for the same amount. In a report written by Augustine Ehikioya, in the NATION,

February 8, 2015, page 8, and titled ´Why Fed Govt’ll spend N500b on social welfare in 2016, by Presidency´, Mr Akande started to justify the N500b allocated to social welfare in the 2016 budget by making reference to some unnamed economic historians who acclaimed that the half-trillion is unprecedented, and it is the greatest service ever done to the people by the Federal Government”.

Like most purveyors of half-truths, Mr Akande failed to mention one Nigerian economic historian. To be sure, there are economists; and, there are historians in Nigeria. But, economic historian? None. That is only one tenth of the fault with Akande’s submission however.
He proceeded to list five programmes on which the N500b will be spent if delivered right now. They are: N5,000 Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) for one million people; 500,000 jobs for unemployed graduates (no salary attached); 375,000 people to pay under the Youth Employment Plan (no amount attached); N60,000 Micro Credit Scheme for one million people and Education plan for 100,000 students of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics where government will pay tuition (again no amount stated).
Mr Akande has spent a good part of his working life assisting politicians and political office holders. It is doubtful if he ever had to prepare a budget and defend it before a serious Board of Directors. Otherwise he would have known that without knowing how much each unemployed graduate, youth for training and student’s tuition will cost, it is impossible to determine whether N500 billion will be sufficient or excessive.

Again, like most people blissfully ignorant of economics and finance, he left out the administrative costs. Can money be transferred to one million people in the city of Lagos alone without costs? Yet, the one million will reside in all corners of Nigeria – including Sambisa Forest.
After admitting that similar efforts, on a smaller scale have failed in the last, Akande glibly assures Nigerians that this government will avoid such pitfalls. In other words, Just Trust Us. That is not the worst part of the entire exercise. The clincher to all those hilarious trope of words lies in the fact that that the Federal Government has not even finished the implementation plan for any of these programmes for which it is asking for N500b. In short, Akande is asking the NASS to approve N500b and wait for the details later.
If the Managing Director of a well-organised company asks his board to approve N500,000 for a project, promising to provide details later, he would be asked to take a rest in a hospital. Budgeting is not done that way.
The one that should really frighten Nigerians about the calibre of people Buhari appointed is the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN. It is a pity they don’t make Senior Advocates of Nigeria from the brightest and the best anymore.

On Tuesday, February 2, 2016, the Minister of Justice for Nigeria made a press release stating that the EFCC (which he supervises) has recovered $2 trillion in twelve years – from 2003 t0 2015. That amount, $2trn is N400trn at official rates and N600trn at black market rates. For readers to understand the level of absurdity involved in this, we need to draw the attention of people to President Obama’s final budget which is $4trn.
Now, is the AGF of Nigeria saying that the EFCC had stored away half of the annual budget of the United States and Nigerians don’t know it? Are we going cap in hand to beg China for $2bn loan and the African Development Bank for $1bn when we have $2trn sitting in a vault in Tunde Idiagbon House?
President Buhari should either call Adeosun back from China and AfDB or ask his AGF to ‘take a rest’. At a time like this, the last thing we need is an AGF who cannot master primary school arithmetic. $2trn indeed!


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