By Dele Sobowale
“History never repeats itself; man does.”—Professor Barbara Tuchman, Harvard University Professor of History.
Nigerian politicians in the All Progressives Congress, APC, might be getting set to repeat the corrupt practices of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, by openly padding budgets with billions of naira; in the hope that nobody would notice. They might have taken the first step with the 2019 Budget – with a suspicious and a deliberate attempt to steal N42 billion this year. One of the oldest tricks of dishonest people is to start pointing accusing fingers at one’s antagonists in the hope that nobody would pay attention when you start dipping your hands into the till illegally. I honestly believe that some people in Buhari’s government have embarked on massive fraud – of which Buhari might not be aware. So, I want to join the original whistle-blowers to raise alarm before we are robbed once again.
“Show me your friends and I’ll tell you who you are.”
However, before providing the evidence, let me remind the reader that I am the author of the book PDP: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. It provided readers with details of corrupt practices perpetrated by PDP officials and their “cabals” when Nigeria was ruled by Obasanjo’s government. I also want to point out that Chapter 8 of that book titled “Pots of gold for the Godson” was devoted to the corrupt practices involving an individual who is now an APC leader.
If President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo ever develop the guts to read that write-up they would be forced to admit that they also have in their midst individuals whose records in office, under PDP were just as disgraceful as those of any PDP member today.
Furthermore, there is now sufficient evidence for me to start writing APC: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED. Buhari, if indeed he has integrity, will very quickly, out of shame, take steps to distance himself from the shady characters in the APC.
That should tell Buhari something about some of his associates. I also hope that Vice President Osinbajo will be sufficiently educated to stop making people laugh each time he opens his mouth to exonerate APC politicians of corruption. He will be shocked to the marrows when APC: CORRUPTION INCORPORATED is launched. Just wait for it.
“Oh! What a tangled web we weave/ When first we practise to deceive.”—Sir Walter Scott, 1771-1832. VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, p 35.
All the preamble above brings us to the next item on today’s agenda. That is my suspicion that some elements within the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investments, MITI, have embarked on an attempt to pad the 2019 Budget to the tune of N41 billion as a prelude to diverting the funds if approved by a careless National Assembly, NASS. Fortunately, not all members of the NASS have fallen asleep or left their brains at home before arriving at Abuja for duty. The vigilant lawmakers probably saved Nigeria from being mercilessly fleeced by MITI.
Things are not always what they seem to be. Most of us even in the social setting suffer from optical illusions. The APC led by Buhari, Osinbajo and others known to us who campaigned by pointing accusing fingers (I must add well-deserved) at the PDP and touting their self-proclaimed integrity might not be so clean after all. One curious inclusion in the 2019 Budget, now before the NASS, has exposed possible padding emanating from the Executive branch – specifically MITI. Admittedly, it is still not clear whether or not Buhari was tricked into signing a padded Budget or he was fully aware of the entry and still endorsed the Budget anyway. But, the inclusion of N41 billion in favour of a mostly private company is again casting doubts regarding the President’s claim.
“Facts are sacred.” Journalists’ motto.
From the facts available, and which had not been disputed, N42 billion was inserted into the 2019 Budget by the Ministry in favour of a new company – the Nigeria SEZ Investment Company Limited (NSEZCO). NSEZCO, it has again been established beyond reasonable doubt, is owned jointly by the Federal Government and private investors. The FG holds 25 per cent of the shares while three individuals, never before known to Nigerians, hold 75 per cent. After diligent investigation by the members of the NASS, who deserve gold medals for patriotism, it was discovered that the three individuals holding the lion’s share of the company are Dr Bakari Wadinga, Mr Olufemi Edun and Ms Oluwadara Owoyemi. Whether or not such individuals really exist is still to be determined. They are certainly obscure. Nobody has ever heard any of those names mentioned among Nigeria’s top billionaires – the sort of people who could float multi-billion companies. And, if no alarm had been raised they will repeat it in 2020, 2021….
“Truth is a cow that will yield such people [FG officials] no more milk; and so they have gone to milk the bull.” Dr Samuel Johnson, 1709-1784.
VANGUARD BOOK OF QUOTATIONS, VBQ, p 254.
Indeed, in their desperate attempt to defend the indefensible, Buhari’s men have not only attempted to milk a bull; they have ended with a lot of bull sh*t as explanation for why they are requesting for N42 billion for that company. Pressed into service was Pastor Femi Adesina, Presidential Special Adviser on Media and Publicity. The former President of the Guild of Editors, in a report published by a national newspaper on Thursday, April 4, 2019, took five paragraphs to tell Nigerians about the “good intentions” of the government in establishing the questionable company and the objectives expected to be achieved. But, like any ordinary citizen bearing false witness, despite Biblical injunctions, did not even mention the name of the possibly bogus company. Not even once did he refer to the company by name or give any details that are more important.
Pastor Adesina did not explain why a company mainly owned by other people should appear on the Federal Budget. NSEZCO is not the only company in Nigeria in which the FG is involved in Public-Private-Partnership, PPP, agreement. Which of the others is specifically listed for budgetary allocations and why this one is special was not explained. The reason is simple.
Pastor Adesina, like all those before him who took sterling reputations to Aso Rock, has fallen victim of the Aso Rock Disease, ARD. Those afflicted with ARD invariably turn out to be totally different characters from the ones Nigerians admired on the pages of newspapers. As Reuben Abati has told us, while pleading for our understanding, there are demons and wizards inside the Rock which turn formerly honest media practitioners into something else. Only late Tunji Oseni and Mrs Remi Oyo, had gone in and re-emerged with their reputation intact. The rest just leave former colleagues shaking their heads and wondering if we really knew the fellow at all. Femi Adesina uttered a lot of words but he failed to tell us why Nigerian money must be given to a mostly private company. That shows the quality of information officers Buhari has employed.
That still leaves the issue of who to blame for this case of “Executive padding”.
Four officers of the FG suggest themselves. The first is the Minister who presented the proposal. Mr Enelamah’s handling of that affair raises a lot of doubts about his motives. Apparently, the funds for this spurious venture were first tucked under the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority, NEPZA, headed by a no-nonsense Managing Director Obong Umana O Umana from Akwa Ibom. It was because the NEPZA refused to move funds in its budgets in violation of official guidelines as directed by the Minister that funds were moved elsewhere. Perhaps, that was how the hoax was revealed to the Senate Committee and the whole world.
Second in line for indictment is the Director General of Budget and Planning, Mr Ben Akabueze. To the best of my knowledge, the Manager of the national budget is not expected to just receive proposals from all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs; he should be on the look out for entries which are suspicious. Even in an N8 trillion aggregate budget, an entry for N42 billion for a private company, hitherto unknown to the Budget Office, should raise alarm. It should not have been the NASS raising objections.
The third accused is the Vice President who is also the Chairman of the Economic Management Team. If he had not, he should have empowered the Budget Office to refer to him any questionable entry and he should have called the official responsible to explain the allocation. The reason is simple. Once the Budget is passed to the President for his signature, the VP has become an accomplice to all the shady entries it contains.
“The buck stops here.” US President Harry Truman, 1884-1972.
Finally, because the buck stops on his table, President Buhari has been implicated in this fiasco whether he was aware of it or not. This is a likely case of padding emanating from the Executive branch of government. To begin with, Buhari should have his own Budget Adviser who also should read the budget and take note of the huge allocations in MDAs. If he did, N42 billion budgeted for a company by MITI would have attracted attention and the President should have sent queries out. The entry would have had to be removed or better explanation than the drivel Adesina handed reporters would have followed.
At any rate, my own experience working in the Budget and Financial Analysis section of a US conglomerate multi-national in Boston tells me that every good budget process calls for explanatory notes for all entries above a certain level. Nigeria is not a rich country and our budget has never been as large as that of my former company in the US. An entry for N42 billion or $117m or even $11.7 million could not possibly enter the budget without prior approval of the Board of Directors. In the case of Nigeria, the Federal Executive Council must have discussed it and approved of it even before the preparation of the Ministry’s budget starts. This is a lot of money tossed in as if it is “chicken change”. Buhari must take responsibility for this mess and then deal with those responsible.
Otherwise, it would be safe to assume that he was part of the plot to pad the 2019 Budget with N42 billion. Nigerians should, of course remember that nobody got punished for padding 2016 and 2017 budgets despite threats by Buhari.
NIGERIAN POVERTY WATCH STARTS TODAY — 1.
“I am the most unhappy President.” President Buhari in Jordan.
“Nigeria needs growth to defuse poverty time bomb.”
Bloomberg, a national newspaper, Monday April 8, 2019, p 34.
And, I am the most unhappy citizen of Nigeria under Buhari because during the first four years of his administration Nigeria has emerged as the poverty capital of the world. Unfortunately, that is not the worst news. Worse than being presently the poorest nation on earth is the fact that this nation will retain that unwanted title for several years after Buhari has finished his second term in office. It is four years sentence for Nigerians. By the time he is through, the average Nigerian will be poorer than in 2006. In other words, Nigeria’s politicians, including Buhari and all the leaders of the APC and PDP would have taken us for a ride ending in economic catastrophe for seventeen years.
I am unhappy because the young people who are going to be victims of their parents’ lack of foresight and patriotism are not even aware yet of the bleak future the politicians plan for them. Bloomberg is right on the mark when in their report they “described President Muhammadu Buhari’s record over the last four years as discouraging, and wondered whether he “is up to the task” of reviving the economy.” Nothing we have observed indicates that a new Buhari will lead Nigeria in the next four years. Poverty time bomb is on the way…..
To be continued.