By Douglas Anele
Last week, I stated that the money allocated to Aso Rock clinic was 3.4 billion naira. I later discovered that 4.8 billion naira was actually set aside for both capital projects and recurrent expenditure for it, the clinic used by the President, Vice-President, their families and close associates. That amount competes favourably with the total allocation usually earmarked by the Federal Ministry of Health for tertiary health institutions nationwide which serve thousands of Nigerians annually, while only about N2.66 billion is to be spent on building new hospitals all over the country.
Keep in mind that over N700 million was set aside for the international travels of Mr. President. Meanwhile, whereas N4.906 million would be spent this year for books for the Vice-President, most of which, I am sure, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo would not have time to read, N3.932 million is budgeted for the purchase of books for eleven out of the twenty-two federal polytechnics in the country.
Meals and refreshments in the presidential mansion would cost N436.054 million, and N193.513m is for recreational facilities for Head of Service of the Federation. In my opinion, the figures cited above do not really give the impression of a leadership that is serious about making personal sacrifices in this period of economic leukaemia as an example for other Nigerians to emulate. Indeed, the budget as a whole is an Animal Farm budget, because it would actually widen the yawning gap between the sybaritic lifestyle of obscenely wealthy public office holders and the existential condition of those Frantz Fanon described as “the wretched of the earth” by confirming that all animals are equal but some are “more equal” than the others.
My friend I referred to earlier, after analysing the fiscal appropriations for financing the loathsome bulimic appetite of the presidency, retorted cynically that since Buhari, as military head of state, did not enjoy the bounties of his office before he was overthrown, this time around he has learnt his lessons. He really wants to maximise the benefits of being President as quickly as possible in case of any eventuality. I did not quite agree with my friend’s Machiavellian interpretation; still I am perplexed by the fact that a President who promised our people positive attitudinal change through leadership by personal example allowed so much public money to be set aside for his own personal comfort.
In this connection, it is not surprising that President Buhari is gradually wasting the goodwill which he had on assumption of office; there is also the possibility that he might also have lost some of the moral authority derived from his hyperbolic reputation as an austere disciplinarian who cannot stand corruption, indiscipline and bulimic materialism.
The story that the budget is missing, that it contains bloated figures in sectoral allocations and avoidable errors, coupled with discordant pronouncements by top government officials concerning the platform on which it is based, present the APC federal administration in an unfavourable light. Several months ago, the Vice-President asserted that the federal government was considering an N8 trillion budget for 2016, about 85% more than the budget for last year. But due to the unrelenting fall in the price of petroleum, which is the oxygen of Nigeria’s economy, even a freshman student of Economics at the University of Lagos knows that that projection was unrealistic.
Therefore, when President Buhari eventually announced the budget on Tuesday, December 22, 2015, no one was surprised that the figure was scaled down to N6 trillion. Osinbajo later reiterated the President’s claim that the budget was based on a zero sum model, a claim that was debunked recently by the Accountant-General of the federation. It is disconcerting, given the enormity of the economic problems facing the country now, that nine months after he assumed office, President Buhari has yet to put together a small patriotic group of experts, what some have called an Economic Management Team, led by a seasoned economist with sound academic background and solid practical experience in the public or private sector, to take charge of all matters relating to the economy.
There is very little the legendry “body language” of Mr. President can do to repair our tottering economy, and those latching tenaciously on his anti-corruption reputation, as if that is synonymous with good governance, are living in a cloud cuckoo land. To be candid, both Buhari and Osinbajo are not knowledgeable in the scientific management of a depressed economy at a time of uncertainty. The situation is made more challenging by the fact that the President did not appoint a single thoroughbred economist to head at least one of the ministries critical to economic management, namely, finance, budget and national planning, and trade and investment. I am not an economist, but I know it is advantageous to have someone with at least a postgraduate degree in economics, enriched and deepened with cognate practical experience at the managerial level in the private or public sector, lead one of the ministries mentioned above or chair the economic team that should have been set up by Buhari immediately after his inauguration.
Of course, the academic content of economics covers a broad spectrum of sub-disciplines germane to public sector economic management and, when combined with cognate practical experience, enhances the performance of a minister with such qualifications. On this issue of managing the economy, anybody can excoriate the past administration as much as he or she pleases. But one thing is certain: Jonathan displayed better judgment than Buhari by appointing quickly a group of people to formulate an economic blueprint and manage the economy on his behalf.
Knowing the gravity of challenges the new administration would face, when Buharimaniacs defended the President for delaying unduly the constitution of his cabinet on the ground that he was taking his time to avoid mistakes, I suspected that Buhari has walked into the booby trap of sycophants. My suspicion was confirmed when the ministerial list was released. President Buhari actually disappointed those who thought that the cabinet would be a radical departure from tradition, from business as usual. The list of nominees reads like a roster of compensation for politicians who worked for his victory at the polls, including those yet to clear themselves from allegations of corruption. It follows that the five months delay by the President before constituting the Federal Executive Council was in vain. To some extent, that waste of time and the absence of an economic management team were responsible for the fraudulent shambolic document Buhari presented to Nigerians as the 2016 budget.
According to experts, preparation of a national budget is a challenging task that requires painstaking dissection of the income and expenditure profiles of government, with the overarching goal of employment generation, economic growth and enhanced security. Very likely, President Buhari intended to use the 2016 budget to kick-start his change agenda for our people. Unfortunately, he did not reckon with what Prof. Ben Nwabueze described as the “invisible government,” that is, the close-knit cabal of extremely wealthy and powerful Nigerians who surreptitiously control the inner workings of government up to the highest levels of decision-making for their own selfish interests. This largely explains the embarrassing discoveries at the budget defence sessions in the National Assembly.
Now, the question is, can President Buhari dismantle the cancerous invisible government? Of course, he can; the 1999 Constitution invests him with enormous powers, in concert with the National Assembly, which he can deploy to deal with any situation. But would he be willing to do so? Would the President implement drastic measures to render the cabal impotent? To answer these questions, we must go beyond Buhari’s famous (or infamous?) “body language” and focus on the scope of his anti-corruption programme. At the outset, President Buhari made it clear that he would beam his anti-corruption searchlight on Jonathan’s administration only, despite being aware of very serious, yet-to-be properly investigated allegations of monumental corruption against the administrations of retired generals Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalami Abubakar and Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. To be continued.