Budget Blues, By Dele Agekameh
To so drastically cut down a budget that could possibly accelerate the completion of the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway…is the greatest disservice a group of people who call themselves lawmakers can do to their people and their fatherland.
We are at it again! Since the return of democratic rule to the country in 1999, one nagging issue has continued to rear its ugly head in our national history. It has to do with national budget making. Between 1999 and 2007, the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency seemed to have found a way to manage issues concerning the yearly ritual.
Then came the late Umaru Yar’ Adua administration. It is on record that throughout the few years he held sway as president, before he was snatched away by the cold hands of death, there was no major controversy over the nation’s budget. How he managed to do that is left to conjecture. The same cannot be said about Goodluck Jonathan, his successor, under whose watch the nation witnessed the greatest perfidy and rape of the treasury.
But for the sudden removal of Abdulmumin Jibrin, the erstwhile chairman of the Appropriation Committee of the House of Representatives sometime ago, no one could have known the magnitude of corruption that has been trailing the yearly ritual of budget making in the National Assembly. Jibrin opened a can of worms and inundated the public with the various methods through which the lawmakers had been milking the nation dry via the yearly appropriation ritual. Since the matter is now a subject of intense investigation by one of the anti-graft agencies, we’ll leave it for another day.
The 2017 appropriation bill is, therefore, coming after Jibrin’s expose. One would have thought that the lawmakers in the National Assembly would be more circumspect in their handling of this year’s budget. But obviously, it is a case of the leopard never changing its spots. Although, Yemi Osinbajo, the acting president, has finally signed the 2017 budget into law after a lot of needless controversy over whether he was the right person to sign the document as prescribed by the constitution or not, another pandora box has again been opened.
This time, it is not a member of the National Assembly squealing on the others, it is a minister of the Federal Republic that seems not to be in tune with the conduct of the legislators. Even the acting president said that much at a recent forum when he berated the legislators for acting beyond their mandate by tinkering with the budget through the introduction of sundry items that were not in the budget estimate submitted by the executive to them. Pronto, the legislators took him on and accused him of knowing too little about the act of legislating, especially with regard to budgeting. Yakubu Dogara, the speaker of the House of Representatives, threw in the gauntlet and tried to educate the professor of law that the legislators have the right to either cut or increase the budget proposal.
That controversy about who had what powers was still raging when the appropriation bill was eventually signed into law. No sooner had this happened than Babatunde Fashola, who has the singular honour of presiding over three important ministries – works, power and housing, now collapsed into one, came out openly to accuse the legislators of meddlesomeness. Fashola said even though he had appeared before the legislators to defend his ministry’s budget estimates, he was surprised that the lawmakers still went ahead to tamper with his proposals and even went further to introduce into the appropriation bill, items that were not in the initial estimates.
They still went further to tamper with the budget of the Second Niger bridge at a time people from that part of the country are threatening fire and brimstone unless they are sufficiently accommodated in the scheme of things. This smacks of insensitivity and lack of responsiveness to the yearnings and aspirations of the people.
Obviously, Fashola, a lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), as well as an erstwhile two-term governor of Lagos State, is not happy over the reduction in the budgetary allocations to some flagship projects proposed by his office. He is particularly irked by the unilateral slashing of his ministry’s budgetary allocations to the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway project from N31 billion to N10 billion; and the Second Niger Bridge from N15 billion to N10 billion. But while reacting to Fashola’s claims, the House of Representatives said the minister’s statement were mischievous. Also, the Senate, in a statement by Sabi Abdullahi, its chairman, Committee on Media and Public Affairs, justified the lawmakers’ action which he said was to ensure equity.
Abdulahi said: “The National Assembly already has an agreement with the acting president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, that if, for example, the private finance initiative does not materialise to provide the needed funds for the completion of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, just as in other areas where government has issues with the budget, the instruments of virement and supplementary budget can be used.
“This is as a result of our belief that it is one government and we all share the gains of the successes and pains of the failure. However, with the blackmail and back biting going on, they are already laying the foundation for the failure of the agreement with the executive.”
One wonders why the issue of budget making will continue to throw up much dust in this country. It is very clear that something is wrong somewhere. Perhaps, we should not develop goose pimples because the executive submitted a N7.298 trillion appropriation bill to the National Assembly but in their “wisdom”, the National Assembly returned a N7.441 trillion remake, thereby hiking the bill by a whooping N143 billion. By doing this, the National Assembly may have acted within its powers to either adjust downward or upward as the case may be. Like accountants like to say, budgeting is not garbage in, garbage out. It is a serious exercise that entails rational, critical analysis, as well as sound judgement. This may have been lacking in the conduct of the lawmakers.
Agreed. A national budget is a country’s projected income and expenditure profile for a particular period. But the majority of Nigerians from all walks of life, ethnic, tribal or religious background, who commute on the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway everyday, must be gnashing their teeth that the pain and anguish they face on the road are not about to abate. Down the years, the Expressway has steadily become a travellers’ nightmare. We may have all lost count of the various accidents and wanton destruction of lives, property and economic well-being that occur on the road almost on a daily basis because of the perpetual construction that is going on there, but those who have lost their loved ones will not forget in a hurry.
This is the concern of this column. Initially, Nigerians had hoped that by 2019, which was the earlier projected completion date, they will heave a sigh of relief. But that is no more, no thanks to our lawmakers who do not care about the people who voted them into office. The whole thing is about pecuniary gains and nobody wants to know whether there is a virement or supplementary budget in place or not. What Nigerians want is for a speedy completion of this road which links every part to the country’s major economic artery.
The lawmakers have come up with such puerile and pedestrian argument that Fashola may just be interested in presiding over the awards of big contracts. That does not make any sense. To so drastically cut down a budget that could possibly accelerate the completion of the construction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, at a time when contractors are threatening to pull out except a backlog of N15 billion owed them is paid, is the greatest disservice a group of people who call themselves lawmakers can do to their people and their fatherland.
They still went further to tamper with the budget of the Second Niger bridge at a time people from that part of the country are threatening fire and brimstone unless they are sufficiently accommodated in the scheme of things. This smacks of insensitivity and lack of responsiveness to the yearnings and aspirations of the people. Perhaps, what the lawmakers could have done was to have left all those projects they introduced into their dream supplementary appropriation, instead of demonstrating that they do not have the love of the people at heart. Equity my foot!
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