By Femi Aribisala
WHEN the incredible issue of a missing/counterfeited 2016 budget arose some weeks ago, I was expecting to hear from the APC that Goodluck Jonathan was to blame. Surprisingly, that did not happen. Instead, blame was traded between the Presidency and the National Assembly, seemingly forgetting that both organs of government are now controlled by the same APC.
The stock-in-trade of this government is to blame Goodluck Jonathan for everything. If there is petrol shortage: Jonathan is to blame. If there are power cuts, Jonathan is to blame. If there are Boko Haram killings, Jonathan is to blame.
This government has apparently not yet heard the aphorism that: “the buck stops with the president.” Nine months down the road from his inauguration, the president continues to pass the buck to Goodluck Jonathan. Then came the defining issue of the 2016 budget.
Mr. President did not just send the budget to the National Assembly, he presented it himself with great fanfare and bells and whistles. This was supposed to be his signature proposal. With seven months squandered ostensibly trying to get a cabinet of saints and angels who turned out to be the same old , many with corruption allegations hanging over their heads; the budget was expected to provide redemption for the government.
It would provide a bold new start to the government’s much-heralded “change” with a N6 trillion “zero-based” proposal that would defy Nigeria’s austere economic circumstances, and put us firmly on the launch-pad to economic recovery and diversification.
This makes it all the more perplexing that the 2016 budget has turned out to be the biggest blunder of this government in a catalogue of blunders that has now come to define it. I am still waiting for those who voted for APC to admit they blundered royally. In their blunder, they have given us a government that keeps going from one blunder to another.
Denying the budget
We did not need Olisa Metuh, the opposition spokesman conveniently padlocked by the EFCC, to expose the blunders in the 2016 budget proposals. Different government spokesmen have competed to distance themselves from it as much as possible. Charles Dafe, Director of Information, Ministry of National Planning, blamed the blunders in the budget on the government’s insufficient knowledge of the zero-based budgeting. Who is to be held responsible for this ignorance? Surprisingly, Dafe forgot to mention Goodluck Jonathan.
Isaac Adewole, the Minister of Heath, also forgot to blame Goodluck Jonathan. Instead, he maintained: “rats invaded Nigeria Budget documents and smuggled foreign items.” You may well ask who was supposed to buy rat poison. Did Goodluck Jonathan forget to hand it over on his departure?
Lai Mohammed, the past-master at blaming Goodluck Jonathan for everything, could not blame Jonathan for once. The man who promised to hold 365 carnivals in 365 days in 2016, and was awarded a budget allocation bigger than the Ministry of Agriculture, openly disowned the government’s “budget of change.” Apparently, someone had gone ahead to change a number of the item; much in the spirit of the APC’s highfalutin change mantra. Among them, the N5 million proposed for buying computers for the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and the Film and Video Censors Board mysteriously became N398 million.
The Ministry of Education was also unable to scapegoat Goodluck Jonathan. Instead, a fictitious N10 billion that showed up in its figures was attributed to a “typographical error.” That just might qualify as one of the most expensive typos in the history of Nigeria. But how can N10 billion be a typo when it should not even be there at all? Was it N1 billion they were trying to put that mistakenly became N10 billion? Or was it N10 million? What difference does it make when no one can even tell us what the money is meant for?
How come a significant amount of these so-called errors have to do with the presidency itself? What error accounts for the N3.8 billion allocated for capital projects at the State House Clinic meant for the president, vice-president and their families alone; compared to the N2.6 billion allocated for all the 17 government teaching hospitals nationwide. How come the amount budgeted for feeding the president is more than sufficient to feed entire villages for years?
There is really no point in itemizing the anomalies in the budget because they are just too many. But a few examples should exemplify just how ludicrous they are. In the so-called budget for change, N259 million is allocated for buying tyres, batteries, fuses and other whatnots for the cars in the presidency. N27 million is allocated for buying c-caution signs, fire-extinguishers and towing-ropes.
Spurious sums in excess of N100 billion are included repetitively. Bogus costing of N53.7 million is repeated 52 times; while those amounting to N37.8 million appear over 369 times. In some cases, the purchase of the same vehicles, computers and furniture are replicated 24 times to the tune of N46 billion. N795 million is set aside just to update the website of one ministry, putting to shame the amount alleged to have been used for Babatunde Fashola’s infamous website while he was governor of Lagos State.
In short, Buhari took five months to choose ministers. He had eight months to prepare a budget. Nevertheless, he ended up by presenting one of the most bogus budgets Nigerians have ever seen. That is the change we can surely do without.
Other changes have only entrapped law-abiding Nigerians. The daughter of a friend of mine, C.Y. Ogunseye, was getting married in the United States. He travelled abroad expecting to make use of his Nigerian credit card. After he got to Chicago, government made changes that pulled the rug from under his feet. His credit card had become invalid, to all intents and purposes. Clearly, no one in the presidency put a human face to the changes they made, which might have made them ease Nigerians into the new policy so that people like C.Y. already abroad are not caught in the lurch.
Another friend of mine, Pamela Mommah, has a daughter in university in Belgium. Since Buhari came in it has become near-impossible to pay her school-fees. Now we are told overseas school-fees have been placed on the CBN’s foreign-exchange prohibitive list. The monies for them will now have to be sourced from the parallel market. The president had promised to make the naira equal to the dollar while asking for our votes. Now that he is president, the naira is in free fall. It has depreciated by over 50% since the inception of his presidency; from N225 to N335 to the dollar.
The same president who recently went outside the country on a five-day sabbatical which possibly included a medical check-up, has also included buying foreign-exchange officially for overseas medical treatment on the prohibitive list.
As if these blunders were not enough, the vice-chancellors in 12 of the universities established by Goodluck Jonathan were summarily dismissed by the government, replaced by new government appointees. This has become another example of the government becoming a law unto itself.
Vice-chancellors are tenured. That means they cannot be removed before the expiration of their term without a prima facie case of incompetence or dereliction of duty, and even then only on the recommendation of the board of the university’s governing council. But the government not only sacked the VCs without board approval, it sacked the boards before sacking the VCs.
Having done this, it then replaced the VCs in a manner completely contemptuous yet again of Nigeria’s federal structure. Four out of the twelve newly-appointed VCs are from Kano University alone; an action clearly in violation of Nigeria’s federal character principle.
Since the inception of the Buhari administration, all we have been hearing is corruption, corruption, corruption. The president insisted he would kill corruption before it killed Nigeria. Therefore, we all expected the government to come up with steps designed to kill corruption; something no nation on earth has ever done before. However, instead of even attempting to kill corruption, the government has merely been determined to kill the PDP.
So what is the state of corruption in Nigeria today? By all account, it is hale and hearty, thank you very much. All that has happened is that the baton of corruption has been passed from the PDP to the APC. One example here should suffice.
A lot of song and dance has been made by the government since its inception of cleaning up the NNPC. The former petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, has been excoriated to the position of “public enemy number one.” The president has refused to appoint a Minister of Petroleum Resources, deciding to oversee that portfolio himself and, thereby, keep a tight rein on the oil industry. But he has given us a Minister of State for Petroleum Resources in the person of Ibe Kachikwu.
So is corruption now being choked to death in the Nigerian ol industry? If reports are to be believed, that is far from the case. According to Bako Abdullahi Yelwa, a former official of the Kaduna chapter of the Independent Petroleum Products Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN), the change that has happened is merely that a new cabal of thieves and robbers are now controlling the NNPC and its affiliate, the Petroleum Product Marketing Company (PPMC).
Yelwa maintains this is responsible for the never-ending cycle of fuel scarcity that remains prevalent all around the country. The new cabal is said to insist on extorting money before issuing the allocation of petroleum products. Yelwa insists the kerosene allocations promised IPMAN members have been diverted to the “relations, friends and cronies”.
He said, “I challenge anybody to ask any marketer if they have gotten allocations. PPMC staff are frustrating independent marketers. Why will they ask for a percentage of our profit before giving us allocation? And when we refuse, they frustrate the process of getting our allocation. They only give product allocation to marketers that have given them a share of their profit upfront.”
The president needs to address the issues raised here expeditiously. Since he is now the de facto Minister of Petroleum Resources, one need hardly point out that these kinds of sharp practices, nine months after his election, cannot continue to be attributed to Goodluck Jonathan. Mr. President, the buck now stops with you.