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The year when a padded budget got missing

By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor
The outgoing year was one that saw high-drama in the processing of the budget of the Federal Government. It was the year that padding was introduced into the political phraseology of the land

The high drama that attended the processing of the 2016 budget of the Federal Government shook the foundations of  a country that was already perplexed by the crisis between the administration and the legislature.

The news in January of the disappearance of the budget document first presented by President Muhammadu Buhari the month before was the opening scene of a crisis that would eventually cascade to the arraignment of the two presiding officers of the Senate on charges of alleged forgery.

After President Buhari presented the budget to the two chambers of the National Assembly in December 2015, the legislators went on the Yuletide break with a promise to resume in early January.

However, as the senators returned, there were speculations over the circulation of a fake budget in the National Assembly.

The controversy arose after it was discovered that the initial proposal submitted by the president contained errors given that it was hurriedly supervised by the ministers who had to endorse spending proposals for their ministries barely two months after their inauguration.

Besides, there were typographical and grammatical errors, a development that was said to have led to a quiet agreement between officials of the two chambers of the National Assembly and the presidency that a corrected version be circulated to the legislators as the working document for the budget.

In the House of Representatives, that was of little problem. However, in the Senate, underlining issues arising from the leadership contest and the alleged inclination of special assistant to the president (Senate), Senator Ita Enang on the issue, seemed to muddle up issues.

Muddling up of issues

Senator Enang had been lined up as a prosecution witness in the forgery case instituted against Senate President Bukola Saraki and his deputy Senator Ike Ekweremadu.

So while the issue did not initially cause much fuss in the House, it, however, became an opportunity for the Senate and its leadership to hit back at Enang.

When the Senate resumed on January 12 , word  spread round that senators had discovered copies of the 2016 budget that were different from what was supposed submitted by the president.

On the first day of resumption, the senators resorted into a closed-door session during which time it was agreed that the issue of the fake budget be referred to the Senate Committee on Ethics.

Two days later, on January 14, the committee presented its report in which it blamed Senator Enang over the issue.

In an unprecedented indictment of the agent of the executive, Senator Saraki on that day said: “We have received the report of the Committee on Ethics, Privileges and Public Petitions on investigations surrounding 2016 Appropriation Bill. Our finding is that Senator Ita Enang, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Ita Enang printed copies of the 2016 Appropriation Bill and brought to the Senate.

“We have discovered that what he brought is different from the version presented by Mr. President. We have resolved to consider only the version presented by Mr. President as soon as we receive soft copy of the original document from the executive.”

The matter of the missing or fake budget was to cascade about three weeks later with the news that even what was finally agreed to be used as the working document between the National Assembly and the presidency was itself also inflated in certain areas, and hence the introduction of padding into the political phraseology of budget making.

In the first week of February, speculations emerged in the Senate about a strange N10 billion that had been smuggled into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Education. It was, however, the minister of health, Prof. Isaac Adewole who brought the issue to public consciousness when he appeared before the Senate Committee on Health on February 8 to defend the ministry’s proposals.

Both the minister and the senators were shocked when Adewole alleged that the presentations laid before the senators were not those articulated by his ministry to the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

“We have to look into the details of the budget and re-submit it to the committee,” he said. “This was not what we submitted. We’ll submit another one. We don’t want anything foreign to creep into that budget. What we submitted is not there.” The controversy was to escalate as it emerged that subheads and figures earmarked in the budget were distorted.

President Buhari was to lend his voice to the controversy when he admitted that the budget he presented had been padded.

Speaking when he addressed the Nigerian community during a visit to Saudi Arabia in February, he said: “Never had I heard the words “budget padding”. Our Minister of Budget and National Planning did a great job with his team. The min­ ister became almost half his size during the time, working night and day to get the bud­ get ready, only for some peo­ ple to pad it. What he gave us was not what was finally being debated. It is very em­ barrassing and disappointing. We will not allow those who did it to go unpunished,” Buhari vowed.

Whether it was the proposal that he submitted or in the National Assembly that the documents were adjusted, padding became a new lexicon for an administration fully engaged in the war against corruption.

War against  corruption

The controversy was to consume the chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin who was forced out of his position as the House prepared to go on vacation on July 20. He was removed upon pressures from House members who expressed lack of confidence in his management of the committee and over his alleged role in the padding controversy.

Jibrin, who played a major role in the election of Yakubu Dogara as speaker and got the chairmanship of the committee of Appropriation as a payback, however, fought back spewing several allegations of malfeasance against Dogara and key principal officers of the House. Jibrin who had been fingered as having been key to the padding turned to accuse Dogara and some key principal officers of the House of having masterminded the padding.

Jibrin who after his removal confessed to have become a born-again, however, failed to get traction in his agitation to indict Dogara as the majority of the House saw his campaign against the House leadership as a result of his sack.

Jibrin’s continued attack on the House and its leadership culminated in his suspension for one session from the House last September.

 

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