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2016 Budget: The price of rigidity

•Why APC leaders should engage Buhari more

By Jide Ajani  

 In the evening of August 26, 1985, Muhammadu Buhari’s pain was not because he lost out in the power game; his pain was, according to insiders in that high-wire military politics, that those who made him Head of State did not have the courtesy to tell him it was time to step aside.

He was  simply  booted out of Dodan Barracks. And for good humiliating measure, he was locked up and the keys kept away for about two years.

According to Ibrahim Babangida who took over, one of the reasons for the coup was that: “It turned out that Major-General Muhammadu Buhari was too rigid and uncompromising in his attitudes to issues of national significance. Efforts to make him understand that a diverse polity like Nigeria required recognition and appreciation of differences in both cultural and individual perceptions, only served to aggravate these attitudes….”

Today, and as recent and unfolding events are showing, President Buhari is in danger of being labelled as repeating the same mistakes of the mid-1980s.

Sunday Vanguard discovered, from Aso Rock insiders, that whereas the President has not been known to pooh-pooh suggestions from top-ranking members of his administration, the real tragedy is that  “many people are reluctant in coming forward to respectfully engage the President and, therefore, send the wrong message that President Buhari is too rigid”.

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

Worse still, those who appear upright and who  hold court with Buhari do him more harm because themselves, not imbued with broad knowledge of governance, merely sop to and ape him in conversations and engagements.

It was (and is) this  singular modus operandi that allowed Buhari the embarrassing luxury of five months  without a cabinet, after being sworn-in by end of May, 2015.   The consequence  is the scandalous document passed off as Budget 2016.   To think the President, on Tuesday, December 22, 2015, was sheepishly led to present it to Nigerians as his  ‘BUDGET OF CHANGE’, boasting that  “we are determined to ensure that our resources are managed prudently and utilized solely for the public good” and that “one of our early decisions was the adoption of a zero based budgeting approach, which ensures that resources are aligned with government’s priorities and allocated efficiently”,  simply related to a classic example of how not to lead a nation.

And belatedly sensing the embarrassment the budget was bound to cause, the government attempted to put a spin on the document by  declaring that  Buhari had ordered that it be published online so that  Nigerians can critique it.   Perhaps, had the President  known the quantum of crookedness embedded in the document, he may have declared differently.   In the next piece, Dele Sobowale brings into sharp focus the outcome that was expected of a budget that was shoddily prepared.   Even discoveries at the budget defence sessions in the National Assembly – embarrassing discoveries – are also presented in the subsequent pages.

For instance, the House of Representatives Committee on the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, discovered that in this same troubled budget, a mosque to be built in the residence of the Vice President would cost N96m, a chapel, N86, a gate house for N55m, and ADC’s residence to be built for a whopping N288m.

Apart from the many dark spots noted by many observers, perhaps the most profound analysis of the budget has been that prepared by PREMIUM TIMES.

The online publication went to great lengths not just to pour invectives on the document but painstakingly, with a fine toothbrush, exposed the fraud that Buhari was caused to present to Nigerians.   (See box)

Mind you, it is not that Buhari has been bitten by the bug of corruption and, therefore, knows about this. But this is what you get when an individual proposes to micro-manage a system as complex and diverse as Nigeria’s.   For the senior members of the Buhari administration, it is time to constantly engage the President in the art of fine governance.

Anti-corruption propaganda and media trial of alleged crooks, serial disobedience to court orders and a disposition to conduct the affairs of state as and when convenient to Buhari, do not fine governance make.   Neither does pure misguided latching on the stoic uprightness of one man, the President – and his deputy – translate into good governance.   The budget debacle could have been avoided had leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC, summoned enough courage to make the  President  understand that allowing for seven months before forming a cabinet (his cabinet was formed by late October), after having been elected and declared winner by the end of March 2015, was nothing more than stockpiling of wood for the bonfire that has now consumed the 2016 Budget.   APC and Buhari should not let Nigerians run away with the impression that they were never ready for governance.

Interestingly – and this is a topic for another day – there appears to be a chasm, contrary to denials, between the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, wing of the ruling party, and the Buhari presidency, which some uncharitable observers have pointed to, as being responsible for the shambolic approach to governance that is emerging.



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