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Stop playing politics with 2018 budget in the national interest – Dele Sobowale

A truth that’s told with bad intent/ beats all the lies you can invent —William Blake, 1757-1827. Agbakoba Gives NASS Seven-Day Ultimatum To Review Budget Presentation Process — News Report, January 4, 2018.

SEVERAL reasons have been adduced for the continuing delay in getting the 2018 budget passed. This is unfortunate because the 2018 budget has been the most professionally prepared document in more than thirty years – dating back to the Babangida regime. IBB had two former World Bank economists working for him at the same time – Dr Kalu Idika Kalu, KIK and Dr Okongwu.

budget

It was a star-studded cabinet. The 2018 budget reflects the broad private sector experience of the Minister of Budget and Planning, with many conglomerates operating like Ministries and agencies. And, it is virtually guaranteed to make padding impossible. If any budget deserves to be passed speedily to enable the country move quickly on its march towards rapid growth, this is it.

Yet, it is once again be-devilled by petty politics from various angles. For now, permit me to leave untouched the obstacles placed in the way of quick passage by some elements in the National Assembly, NASS.

The impediments about to slow down the process from outside the NASS chambers threaten to ensure that the 2018 budget might not see the light of day until December 2018. And they come from a credible source – an eminent lawyer and leader of a new political association.

Chief Olisa Agbakoba, SAN, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, is an extra-ordinary lawyer. He seldom makes threats or promises that he would not carry through. He has promised to take legal action if the Presidency and the NASS don’t start all over again to follow the constitutional process for budget presentation and approval. That is what in boxing would be regarded as a “killer punch”.

If the SAN succeeds in his quest for constitutional righteousness, he would set back the progress towards getting the budget passed before the end of January. Indeed, it would amount to asking that the existing budget be dismantled and each branch of the government – Executive, Legislature and Judiciary – would then be required to prepare its own budget separately and forward them to the NASS for harmonization and final approval. That would set us back months from where we are.

One major reason accounts for the delay that would occur, and Agbakoba knows it. Of the three branches the Judiciary had been the most cheated when it comes to budget preparation. Despite its status as a “co-equal” branch of government, the Executive branch has always dictated to it what it must have every year.

The branch has lost the ability to develop its own budget and will not readily acquire the capacity to do so in such a short time. Co-option of the power of the Judiciary to manage its affairs by the Presidency has resulted in a situation in which despite increases in budgets from N6tn in 2016, N7.2tn in 2017 and now N8.1tn in 2018, the budget for the judiciary had remained fixed at N100bn each year. Agbakoba, citing sections 81-84 of the Constitution of Nigeria, as amended, wants to hand the judiciary the autonomy granted it by the laws of Nigeria.

According to Olisa, “Unfortunately, the executive has failed to comply with this procedure by laying before the National Assembly estimates and revenue expenditures for the judiciary. This is in spite of a subsisting Federal High Court decision in Olisa Agbakoba Vs Attorney General of the Federation & Others Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CS/63/2013 that has declared this practice unconstitutional.”

Unquestionably, Agbakoba has the truth on his side because there was a court judgment in 2013. But, something is wrong with the timing of his threat to act now. That makes the intention suspicious. Budgets were presented from 2014 to 2017 — following the same procedure. Two were presented by Jonathan and the NASS controlled by the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP. Agbakoba did not raise objections.

Indeed, if he was sincere, the first budget which should have been queried by him was that of 2014 by GEJ. Instead, he waited until the fifth budget and the third by Buhari to threaten to go to court. The questions to our senior learned brother are: why now and, in whose interest?

Let me quickly point out that I totally agree with the point he is making. We have bastardized the budget making process at Federal and State levels by allowing Presidents and Governors to determine for the judiciary at each level what their budgets should be. This is contrary to the procedures in the USA – whose constitution we have borrowed liberally; only to violate just as prodigiously.

Americans will never allow a President or state Governor to have such a life and death power over their judges. Otherwise, the independence of judges will be impaired. We have too many judgments that are written in Governors Offices in Nigeria on account of this especially when the cases involving demolition of properties are involved. States’ judiciaries have become a monumental disgrace.

That said; asking that the 2018 budget be dismantled in January 2018 and returned to undergo due process would strike anyone not politically motivated as throwing away the baby with the birth water. Among the reasons we had problems with the 2017 budget was the late passage and approval. The budget was not signed until June and implementation started in July. Twelve months work was compressed into six and we were all losers as a result.

No Nigerian, and especially our brother Agbakoba, will want a repetition of that experience. It will benefit nobody; ruin virtually everybody. Granted, I am not learned; I am not a lawyer; only an economist. My training tells me that this is a national disaster in the making for which we cannot blame the Federal Government. It should be shelved and re-presented for the 2019 budget.

 


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