By Josef Omorotionmwan
THERE was an African folklore involving an ant that wanted to get rich quick. The ant went to a native doctor to prepare a charm for big luck for it. Having paid the native doctor’s charge, the ant was given the charm.
Just around the corner on its way home from the consulting clinic, the ant found a dead elephant. That’s big luck quite alright, but from where was the ant going to start eating? That was a challenge borne out of big success.
At the inception of the current administration, big luck was the portion of Babatunde Raji Fashola, when at inauguration, he was assigned to three big Ministries as Minister of Power, Works and Housing. Many questioned the rationale for packing three gigantic Ministries that ordinarily required at least six Ministers into the hands of a single man. From Day One, it was clear that Fashola has to work six times as hard as other Ministers to be one-sixth as good as them.
Understandably, the world around Fashola soon started crumbing when total darkness replaced the faint candle light that the nation had when he assumed office; these days, no one talks of the government providing houses for the people – the deficit in our housing stock rises astronomically by the day; and our highways are death-traps, with potholes at first now graduating to pigholes across the country. Meanwhile the hawks are asking for Fashola’s head.
He is currently at war with them. It is a war of attrition; and no matter how hard Fashola fights, he cannot win. In every direction, Fashola is oppressed, compressed and depressed. He is crying in the wilderness and nobody is listening.
Shall we proceed to examine a few instance of how this man has been entangled all over? Fashola may not be right in saying that the National Assembly cannot tamper with the Budget Estimates submitted by the Executive. The process of appropriation is a process of lawmaking; and nowhere is it required that Executive Bills must be passed as submitted.
Indeed, the National Assembly can tear the Budget Estimates apart and rearrange it. But in doing so, they must remember that this is a document that has been carefully put together over time after a deep consideration of available resources.
Therefore, there are two imperatives that must be observed: first, the legislators cannot escape the need to indicate the source of funding for whatever increases they bring about; and secondly, they cannot disorganise a project that has been duly authorised by truncating the funds allocated for its execution.
This is where the National Assembly attempted to be clever by half. In terms of source of revenue for the budget, the National Assembly upped the benchmark of our crude oil to $44 from $42 per barrel originally suggested by the Executive. Thereafter, they jettisoned all other rules of budgeting.
In fact, a close look at the budget shows that Fashola was asked to go and perform wonders with his two hands tied to his back. There was a deliberate attempt to cripple the Minister in all areas.
The Administration came with a burning desire to do the Second Niger Budget. Yet, of the N10 billion provided in the 2016 Fiscal Year, not even one Kobo was released.
Admittedly, this is the first bold attempt to start work on this all-important bridge. What a crying shame that our legislators from the South in general, and the South East in particular, could preside over the scuttling of the effort to build this bridge just for their personal interest, after successive administrations had used it as votes-catcher that was only talked about immediately before general elections.
There was a provision of N15 billion in the 2017 budget, which the National Assembly has arbitrarily reduced to N10 billion – even after the cost had been successfully defended and agreed upon.
Again, the Contractor, Julius Berger, had mobilised to site, awaiting the green light to commerce work. Hear Fashola: “…The National Assembly has reduced the budgets of critical projects of the Ministry and inserted projects that have nothing to do with the Ministry… They inserted projects outside the purview of the Ministry in the 2017. Appropriation, such as Primary Healthcare Centres and boreholes”.
Fashola speaks further: “We were asked to complete those abandoned projects. The budget for Lagos-Ibadan Expressway was reduced by the National Assembly from N31 billion to N10 billion. We are owing Contractors about N15 billion and they have written to us that they are going to shut down”. The budget for the Okene Lokoja-Abuja Highway has virtually been reduced to zero.
All these cuts were just to mop up funds for their so-called Constituency Projects, which are domiciled mainly in Fashola’s ministries.
Apart from the 200 uncompleted roads inherited from the previous administration, the Minister laments, “the lawmakers added 100 roads. These roads are not federal roads and some of them do not have designs….” What a disaster?
Incidentally, the best time to talk of insufficient funding is during the budgetary process, not after the Appropriation Bill has been signed into law. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had enough reason not to assent to that bad appropriation. If possible, let the spoilt world spoil! After all, things would normally get worse before they get better.
Nigeria’s problems cannot be solved by a fiat or a single stroke of the Statesman’s pen; but by millions of separate steps by all of us, an inch at a time. In this process big luck has no place. Essentially, the time has come to unbundle the Fashola Sector so that each of those three Ministries can stand on its own. And indeed, the Federal Executive Council should immediately be rearranged for maximum efficiency and productivity.
We must save Fashola to save Nigeria. The National Assembly must stand to be counted. Everything is not really about Fashola. The question is whether we shall develop our country or let it die. All those who desire the former must eschew the path of immediate gratification; and choose the path of lasting progress.