By Owei Lakemfa
PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari, the Apostle of Change in the country while signing the 2018 Budget in the sixth month of the year, told fellow countrymen that he was siging what amounted to a fraudulent bill.
He claimed that: “The National Assembly made cuts amounting to N347 billion in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to N578 billion.”
In his critical analysis, he reached the conclusion that: “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.” He claimed: “Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed and will, therefore, be difficult to execute.” Among these poorly conceptualised, badly designed and arbitrarily costed project insertions he claimed, are about 70 new road projects inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
These indeed are serious claims that should have been thoroughly investigated in the interest of the Nigerian people. This would have been further necessitated by his other claims that: “many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.”
As President of the Federal Republic, he avers that some of these newly inserted projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the States and Local Governments and not the Federal Government.
I was particularly touched by cuts he said were made in areas that are a matter of life or death such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables which he said, were cut by an aggregate amount of 7.45 billion Naira.
To cap its unpatriotic run on the 2018 Budget, the President accused the National Assembly of arbitrarily increasing its own budget by N14.5 billion ; from N125 billion to N139.5 billion. Under the blatantly corrupt People’s Democratic Party, PDP, government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the National Assembly in 2005, ballooned its budget to N44 billion, now, without any increase in its membership or better service to the people, the Assembly’s budget under the anti-corruption All Progressives Congress, APC, stands at N139.5 billion. An over 300 per cent increase.
The President promised to seek remedy to restore the cuts in some of the most critical areas through supplementary budget, but how does he hope to fund this when the N9.12 trillion Budget he has signed, is itself a deficit one?
Our principled, unbending and anti-corruption President announces to the good people of Nigeria that the National Assembly has transformed the 2018 Budget into a fraudulent document which is injurious to the good health of the country and the anti-corruption programme of the ruling party. But rather than decline assent and send back the bill, he signs it into law. So what was all the drama for? Why did he sign when there was no apparent gun held to his head? Is he a whistle- blower or an accessory after the fact of corruption? Does his speech show he is an uncompromising fighter against corruption and sleaze, or a Pontius Pilate who washes off his hands? Or are his claims and accusations, a disguised blackmail against the National Assembly with whose leadership his administration is at loggerheads?
In any case, what does our revered President Buhari want Nigerians to do; march against the National Assembly and kick the Honourable Representatives and the Distinguished Senators out of the hallowed chambers?
The Finance Minister under the defunct PDP government, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala in her self-serving 2018 book, Fighting Corruption is Dangerous, wrote that during the Jonathan administration, the National Assembly included an additional N20 billion in the country’s 2015 Budget “as election expenses for National Assembly members… but (the Executive) managed to reduce the N20 billion figure by only N3 billion to N17 billion. This became the price to pay to have the 2015 budget passed.”
Her revelation was greeted with derision. The self-righteous apologists of the Buhari administration held this out as blatant bribery of the National Assembly and corruption of the Budget process by the corruption-ridden PDP. They did not know that within five weeks, President Buhari will be making a similar confession. Like the musician, Omawumi Megbele sang: “If you ask me, na who I go ask?”
On Thursday, June 21, President Buhari while declaring open the World Congress of the International Press Institute, IPI, in Abuja, spoke admirably against fake news. But who will protect Nigerians against fake news? As a veteran journalist, I am not even sure how to detect fake news, and I know many in the media are in this dilemma. For instance, the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo told Nigerians that the Buhari administration had saved N1.4 trillion by not paying fuel subsidy, a fraud the PDP government was noted for. Then, Petroleum Minister, Ibe Kachikwu announced that fuel subsidy under the same Buhari administration has hit N1.4 trillion. So which news is fake, which is authentic or are both correct? Is it a case of eating your cake and having it?
We cannot say a lie is being told, or even have the temerity to fact- check who is telling the truth, and who is far from it. If anything, there is a common truth or denominator in both claims; the figure, N1.4 trillion. That is enough truth for us to digest.
In October 2017, I was in a similar dilemma when Minister Kachikwu wrote a letter to President Buhari informing him that the Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, Maikanti Baru had without due process, reference to him as the supervising Minister or to the Board of the agency, awarded contracts totaling $25 million. He also accused Mr. Baru of insubordination and arbitrary appointments. Of course, Mr. Baru denied all the allegations. Today, eight months later, both men remain in office as if this never happened.
Rather than worry ourselves about such matters or trying to decipher fake from genuine news, I think our duty as patriotic citizens is to nod our heads to all we are told. Otherwise, we can be labelled “Wailers” of the PDP loss of government or “Hailers” of the APC Change administration. As for corruption, we respectfully lay prostrate.