By Dele Sobowale
For the sins ye do two by two, ye must pay for one by one—Rudyard Kipling, 1865-
IN 2016 and again in 2017, they collectively and individually deceived their Fellow Nigerians. Announcing “the biggest budget ever in the history of Nigeria”, they never told us they were not going to fulfill their promises. We failed to take notice in 2016 when the first budget prepared by this administration was a burst. We were too trusting; or as some of us thought, they lacked experience and would soon learn. But as we crawl to the end of 2017, it is becoming quite clear that these guys really intend to continue to lie to us.
The Chinese have already taught us that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So, forgive me for presenting part of what follows in a table. One Federal Minister, after another, had gone before committees of the National Assembly, NASS, to tell the same tale of woe in different forms. Before one of their comments, see the table below. It represents the percentage of budget released to the identified Ministries by December this year. It was worse last year.
Ministry of Transportation – N31bn out of N192bn or 16.5 per cent.
Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment – N3bn out of N16bn or 16 per cent.
When the budget was announced early this year and for most of the year, it was the Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, my good friend Alhaji Lai Mohammed, who boasted to the entire world that it was a record (at least in naira) and who also promised Nigerians that the budget will usher in great things for the nation. The impression was created that the budget would be implemented as passed.
Dear Lai Mohammed cut a pathetic figure when being drilled by Senator Raji Rasaki, Chairwoman of the Senate Committee interrogating his Ministry’s budget for 2018. The government’s own spokesman, who ordinarily would not allow a negative word about government to cross his lips had this to say.
“Ma, if you look at what was appropriated and what was released, especially in the area of capital, it is always about 22 or 23 per cent, which means that if we needed to buy two new vehicles and the release could only buy one, we need to seek relief in the next budget. That is why it seems as if it is a ritual. It is simply because we never get full release of the capital appropriated or the overheads appropriated.” A better definition of a 419 process would be difficult to find. Let us examine some of the implications of what the Ministers and the federal Government have been doing – to us and themselves.
The first is the deliberate lie. Granted no budget is ever delivered one hundred per cent. But, when people in very high office – President, Vice President, Ministers and Permanent Secretaries, gather together to write a budget filled with all sorts of mouth-watering projects, get acclaimed for it, and then fund only “about 22 or 23 per cent” (Mohammed), it is not human error but deliberate deception of Nigerians. They deliberately set out to make promises which they know will not be fully redeemed.
The second is the timing. It was in late third quarter of last year that the Minister for Finance finally declared that only N770 billion had been released for capital expenditure out of N1.8 trillion. A little bit more was later released by year-end. But, it was too late and too little and the entire dodgy process contributed in no small measure to the recession in 2016. For God’s sake, people presumed to be intelligent don’t repeat the same mistake two years in a row.
But, what we have experienced in Nigeria is a situation in which the same set of Federal Executive Council members have done worse in 2017 than they did in 2016. Where is the demonstration of intelligence in that? Like last year, they wait until it is too late to apply any remedy before the Minister for Finance messes up our year-end celebrations with her revelations.
Third, this government is run like a cult; not a public institution. Cult members are always sworn to secrecy. Unfavourable information and data are kept out of circulation until it suits the cult members or until they are caught in a dilemma like the Senate public hearing. Then each of them facing a panel alone starts singing like those gang members in police net. Everyone of them knew from January that funds were not being released for effective prosecution of their programmes.
None raised alarm – until now. Instead, the public in treated to self-deluding statements like Fashola’s who declared that Nigerian roads are not as bad as people say. “If gold rusts, what then will iron do?” (Geoffrey Chaucer, 1342-1400). The best state Governor of his era has morphed into a Minister of Works who does not know what a road is – because anybody who believes we have roads in Nigeria must suffer from a serious case of Aso Rock disease.
All the Ministers waited from January; watched as things got worse and only now in December are they revealing to us what we should have known all along. By so doing, they have violated their oath of office by switching their loyalty to government, self and party instead of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Henceforth, who in his right senses will ever believe them?