By Ochereome Nnanna
THE President Muhammadu Buhari Federal Government has carved a niche for itself for making the act of denial a strategic component of it governing process. It started almost from Day One.
Soon after Buhari climbed into the seat of power in Aso Villa Abuja, expectant Nigerians who were swayed by the litany of campaign promises asked him to start delivering on My Covenant With Nigerians and One Hundred Things Buhari Will Do In 100 Days. One after the other, presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, and the then National Publicity Secretary of the All Progressives Congress, APC, Lai Mohammed, issued statements distancing the President and the APC Federal Government from many of the campaign promises, some of which were deleted from the Party’s website.
Adesina even said the President did not promise to declare his assets publicly. Eventually, Buhari reluctantly made public his declared assets, but he refused to disclose their financial value, which is as good as non-declaration. They said the President did not believe in the 100 Days convention, and that the campaign promises listed on the APC website did not emanate from Buhari’s campaign secretariat. But these were the promises used in seducing the electorate to vote in favour of Change rather than stay with former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Transformation Agenda. This was one of the things critics saw and started referring to the APC Federal Government as a regime of “Baba One Chance”.
The regime has systematically combined barefaced denials with blaming “the immediate past administration” for its failure to define a strong template to drive its agenda and correct the perceived wrongs of the past. The net effect of this is that nothing has really changed. We are still rooted in the cesspool of official corruption imported from the past. The various drainpipes and leakage points that watered the garden of corruption are still leaking. A government that is pursuing an anti-graft agenda (usually targeted against officials and acolytes of the immediate past regime) has frequently been caught pants down. They are either protected by the powers that be, or have formed the habit of refusing to own up.
One of the most telling recent episodes is the discovery by the Senate of a two billion Naira vote for “regional housing scheme” by the Federal Ministry of Finance, FMF, in the 2017 budget of the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. When the Minister of Power, Babatunde Fashola, appeared before the Senator Barnabas Gemade Committee on Land, Housing and Urban Development to defend his ministry’s budget, he alleged that the amount was “planted” in the budget by the FMF. The Senate has since written the Finance Minister to come and explain what she knows about the issue. What manner of budgetary practice would justify putting an item of that magnitude in another ministry’s budget behind its back and expecting its minister to defend it? It is widely believed that this strange “planting” of two billion naira could well be an attempt to defraud the Federal Government. Nigerians are waiting to hear more about it.
Even more baffling is the N250 million budgeted for the construction of a “gatehouse” for the official residence of the Vice President. This time, it was Dino Melaye, the Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory who also represents the APC in Kogi West in the Senate that blew the lid off the issue. PDP’s Senator Ben Bruce later made a video broadcast on the issue on his radio and television networks, and it trended wildly over the social media. He bemoaned squandermania in high governmental places in the midst of economic recession, hunger and unemployment. Meanwhile, the Federal Government is going cap in hand looking for loans from every corner of the world. Bruce wonders why creditors would give us their money knowing we would spend it on frivolous luxurious living and corrupt self-enrichment.
This pushed the office of the Vice President to issue a statement which even worsened the confusion. I quote part of the statement: “The project which started in 2010, was initiated and funded by the immediate past administration but had never featured in the two budget proposals of the Buhari administration: neither in the 2016 nor the 2017 spending plans. Any suggestion therefore that this project benefits our administration or that it reflects our spending style or preferences is not only misleading but blatantly false”.
The questions we want answered are: how did the item find its way into the 2017 budget? Is it another “plant”, and who did it? Or is Senator Melaye lying against the Federal Government? One thing that strikes me as odd, though, is that the Buhari government, for once, concedes that a project was conceived and completed by the Jonathan administration, perhaps only because there is a corruption question-mark on it? Certainly, nothing will ever justify such a mindless waste of public funds, irrespective of which regime did it.
One of the good things about democracy, especially our presidential system, is that it provides for separation of powers and the principle of checks and balances. Nigerians must learn to hold very tightly to, and guard, these safeguards to tyranny and corruption in governance. Because of these principles, the Executive and the Legislature, especially at the Federal level, have done much to reduce the rape of our public treasury and other abuses of governance, by watchdogging each other.
If not for these checks, a lot of these public funds being discovered as quaintly allocated would simply be appropriated and diverted to private pockets. We must encourage brave and patriotic lawmakers like Senators Shehu Sani and Melaye to keep their eyes open and fight on for the good of the Nigerian people without fear of political victimisation by their political party, the ruling APC, which has shown obvious displeasure at their whistle-blowing legislative services to the nation.
Let them keep on denying. The day of reckoning is here soon.