By Josef Omorotionmwan
IF it is true that morning shows the day, it is also true that our approach to governance must be a strong determinant of what we get out of government. There can be no better time than now for proper introspection with a view to moving forward.
Government is a serious business and must be treated as such. Unfortunately, Nigeria has not always taken government business seriously; hence we keep running round in circles; doing the same old things; and expecting different results.
Our leaders have a knack for trivializing otherwise serious issues. For some decades now, we have heard so much of the goodness of the Petroleum Industry Bill, PIB, which we are told is intended to bring a measure of sanity into the operations of our petroleum industry.
This all-important Bill is so relevant that our lawmakers now go to the extent of tantalizing us with it. In just the same way that a father would promise his weeping child, “I will buy you biscuit”, our lawmakers tell us at the beginning of each legislative session, “We shall soon pass the PIB”. But the passage remains a mirage. Elsewhere, the PIB would have been passed in the first week of the First National Assembly.
Why are we unprepared for the office we seek? There is no explanation why we constructively reduce four-year tenure into two-years – the first year is spent, or rather squandered, on preparing to hit the ground running; while the fourth year is squandered on campaigning for re-election. When a man seeks election into an office, it is expected that he is prepared for the responsibilities of that office. For such a man to spend the first nine telling months of his tenure putting together a ramshackle cabinet is the very first pointer to failure.
In the US, a President is elected in the first week of November. He is sworn-in on January 20. In the interim, the President-elect submits the list of cabinet nominees, together with their portfolios, to the Senate for confirmation. The confirmation hearing is open and transparent; and nothing is left to chance. At inauguration on January 20, the President assumes office with his team. He, therefore, has no opportunity to create a façade of first test-running the country as a sole administrator as our leaders do.
Elsewhere, right from the campaign period, the candidate and his party assemble a shadow Cabinet of sorts. If the party is successful, the candidate and his team migrate into government; and if unsuccessful, they would retreat and form the nucleus of their next campaign.
Here, we leave virtually everything to chance. With our fire-brigade approach, life begins only post inauguration. In the Second Republic, Governor Balarabe Musa (PRP-Kaduna) ran the State from October 1979 to June 1981, when he was impeached, without Commissioners because he was unable to secure the confirmation of his nominees from an NPN-dominated House of Assembly.
In the current dispensation, Governor Rauf Aregbesola (APC-Osun State) ran the government of his State for almost two years without commissioners, citing the paucity of funds as the reason for his action. Many governors moved to Government House, leaving their political parties and their manifestos behind. The moment they got to Government House, they became leaders of their parties. They jettisoned party manifestos and implemented whatever programmes they wanted. To some, that was the beginning of failure.
Time was, when party discipline reigned supreme. For instance, the defunct NPN stood for housing along with the sing-song about green revolution; while the defunct UPN had education as its cardinal programme. When you came into any State, you did not need to be told which party was in power. Project execution spoke for itself. But today, everything has gone haywire.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. Our budgetary system is one sure area where we deliberately plan to fail. By an Act of the National Assembly our Financial Year is from the 1st of January to the 31st of December each year.
Truly, Section 81(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, stipulates, “The President shall cause to be prepared and laid before each House of the National Assembly at any time in each financial year estimates of the revenue and expenditure of the Federation for the next following financial year”.
What the framers of the Constitution had in mind here was that the Federal Government should have an approved budget at the beginning of each financial year. All other provisions to the contrary were merely intended to accommodate the very rare occasions where the budget might not be approved by the beginning of the financial year.
However, the aforementioned Section 81(1) has since become an open general license for the Executive to tardily throw the Appropriation Bill into the Legislature on the eve of the New Year. The Legislature considers the Bill and passes it sometimes as late as July of the following year, thus giving the Budget an operational life of just five months.
No one should be carried away by the illusion that an Appropriation Act can be implemented for 12 months from the date of presidential accent, when indeed every financial year has its own appropriation. A system that plans to succeed would invariably have a Budget Cycle – a procedure that runs for some 30 months, compelling certain actions to be taken on the budget at specific dates; and culminating in the President’s accent by October preceding the financial year for which it is intended.
President-elect of the US, Donald Trump, will be inaugurated in the next 24 hours but the 2017 Appropriation Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama since last October. That’s planning for success. The budget cycle is apolitical. It does not matter which political party is in power. After all, government is like a radio – it does not know if the owner is dead. The people’s interest must be served with all diligence. That’s the total essence of government.