By Emammnuel Aziken
One cliché that has lately drawn interest among Nigerian newsmakers and observers is the controversial phenomenon of “Budget Padding.” Given the way Nigerians are wont to glamourise crimes, or take for granted issues thrown at them by the political class, it is not surprising that very few Nigerians have been able to interrogate the phrase to give a definitive meaning to it.
Ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo and the just sacked Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriation, Rep. Abdulmumin Jibrin recently refocused attention on the issue.
Jibrin had drawn the first blood a week ago after he was removed as chairman of the appropriation committee when he accused Speaker Yakubu Dogara and three other principal officers of padding the 2016 budget. According to him, his opposition to the alleged padding and other supposed malfeasances of the Speaker and his allies was the reason for his forced resignation as chairman of the appropriation committee.
His assertion, however, quickly drew the attention of critics who queried why he had to wait till he was removed from office before spilling the beans.
Taking a cue from the assertions of Rep. Jibrin, President Obasanjo upon a visit with President Muhammadu Buhari again took a direct hit at the National Assembly when he said that the Jibrin incident had again confirmed his past assertions that there were rogues and armed robbers in the National Assembly.
Obasanjo’s assertions undoubtedly drew from his experience of dealing with the National Assembly during his period in the Presidential Villa. In one case, he had an incumbent President of the Senate investigated and charged to court after he and some other members of the committees on education of the two chambers were indicted for soliciting for bribes to pass the budget of the Federal Ministry of Education.
However, what has shaken many friends and foes of the former president is the claim that the most brazen act of corruption in recent Nigeria history involving the legislature did not emanate from the National Assembly, but from the executive branch of government.
The Third Term fiasco during which members of the House of Representatives supportive of the constitution amendment for a third term for the president and governors were offered N50 million apiece till date continues to be cited as the most repugnant act of corruption ever in the Fourth Republic of Nigeria.
It was an irony of sorts for someone like Senator Adolphus Wabara who was himself allegedly offered double the amount to support the amendment. Wabara claimed he was offered double the normal N50 million even after he was indicted by the executive branch of government in the N54 million bribe for budget scam in the Federal Ministry of Education.
A number of other principled legislators also refused the bribe and were to shine like stars in that dark period of licentious legislative lampoonery supposedly crafted by the executive branch. For their principled stances, they were denied return tickets and many others like Temi Harriman, the only House member from the ruling party from the South-South who fought third term, simply walked away from the ruling party.
Senator Joy Emodi for her opposition was made to confront the political treachery that has been symptomatic of politics in Anambra State in her bid for a return ticket on the platform of the PDP.
The Third Term project and the seeming acquiesce of the Obasanjo presidency to the fiasco remains in the view of many, including this correspondent, the major failure of the Obasanjo administration.
Otherwise, President Obasanjo has remained almost head and shoulder above his successors.
Whether President Obasanjo or Jibrin or whoever, no one has been able to give a classic definition of the phrase, budget padding.
The seeming determination of the executive branch to force the term into the consciousness of Nigerians remains deceptive.
Given the provisions of Sections 80, 81 and 82 of the Constitution, the National Assembly cannot be said to have padded a budget that it has a right to work on. Stopping the National Assembly from padding, adjusting or shrinking the budget would inevitably make the legislature a rubber stamp. It would mean taking away its most important duty of controlling the purse and turning the executive branch into a dictatorship.