“The culprits will not go unpunished. I have been Military Governor, Petroleum Minister, Military Head of State and headed the Petroleum Trust Fund. Never have I heard the words “Budget padding”.”
President Buhari, February 23, 2016, in Abuja.
It is one of the axioms of management carved on stone by the management guru Peter Drucker, that nothing is more wasteful than doing diligently what should not be done at all ”“ especially when the step to be taken is based on anger ”“ which might not even be justified. Reading that statement credited to Buhari again, one is immediately struck by the irony involved in the historical precedents the President cited. Budgets by military governments at Federal and State levels were never debated nor were they passed to another body to approve. So, if there was padding, nobody would ever know.
A budget passed in secrecy and not subject to verification by anybody cannot be compared to one that is in the public domain. So, if that is the basis of Buhari’s anger, he might as well forget it. It is like comparing what happened in smoke-filled rooms, presided over by a powerful mafia, with what happens in an ordinary board room in which the directors were free to query the Chairman. There is simply no comparison.
Furthermore, the President needs to be very careful about who he has in mind as “culprits” ”“ because when the entire 2016 budget process is analysed, he might discover like Pogo, the cartoon mascot in America, who declared, “We have found the enemy, and he is us.” Strictly speaking, there is no way any fair inquiry into the snafu (Situation Normal All Fouled Up) enveloping the 2016 budget would fail to indict some highly placed individuals in the Presidency as well ”“ as this article will demonstrate before we are through.
Buhari might find himself embarrassed twice. He had declared his embarrassment with respect to the “padding” of the budget. He might soon discover that the real culprits are not the hapless civil servants he thought were responsible, but that the seeds of “padding” were sown by some of those he brought into government with him.
More to the point; it is hoped that Buhari realizes that he heads a democratic government, and the sooner he forgets about those halcyon days, marvellous, that is for an autocrat, the better. In a democracy, any allegation against any individual, even by the President, must be proved beyond reasonable doubt especially if punishment is imposed. His threat to punish people must be accompanied by the promise to operate under the rule of law in imposing the punishment.
And, he should never forget that those punished have recourse to the courts to protect themselves. It is mostly because Buhari might be heading for the quick-sand of governance that this piece is being written to warn him about the dangers ahead ”“ if he pursues the ego-satisfying quest for punishment instead of, for instance, reprimand.
One needs not be a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, to appreciate the fact that Buhari’s case against any prospective “culprit” had been severely damaged by the utterances of two of his Ministers ”“ the Ministers for Finance and Information. On December 21, 2015, Mrs Adeosun had declared, categorically, that, “There can be no padding of the budget when revenues are so thin”¦”.Â While Lai Mohammed, on February 20, 2016, was emphatic that the budget was not padded. Let’s give him the floor. “A lot has been said about the budget. Let me tell you that nobody can ever accuse the government of padding any budget.
The total of all Ministries put together has not exceeded N6.08 trillion that was submitted. It is factually incorrect to say the budget was padded.” If Buhari punishes anybody on account of “padded budget” and the individual(s) head for the courts, our President will be courting embarrassment for the third time on the same subject. Correction please, it should be the fourth time. The first occurred when he had to eat humble pie and apologise to the nation about the mix-up on “missing/replaced budget”. To be candid, Buhari is seeking to prolong a matter which it is in his interest to bury as soon as possible.
However, if there is still any doubt in the President’s mind about forgetting the matter and face more important issues, there are two more related events which place the blame for the mess right in the Executive branch ”“ especially, the Presidency.
Vice-President Osinbajo had achieved great things in some areas ”“ particularly, law and education. But, even the VP, an old Igbobi College student, must be noble enough to admit that budget preparation is not one of them. Put in charge of the economy, in the absence of a cabinet, for five whole months, the Professor committed the first blunder which set the ball rolling for the fiasco that followed. In a paper titled “The economy”“ where we are today”, delivered at a retreat which ended on November 6, 2016, he announced that the Federal Government was working on the 2016 budget which would be between N7 and N8 trillion. Given that the 2015 budget was N4.4 trillion that meant an increase of 59 to 82 percent increase. That was startling enough. But, the 2015 budget had derailed on account of declining crude oil prices. Financial and budget experts were looking at N3.6 trillion revenue for 2015. Thus, the VP’s announcement amounted to 94 to 122 percent increase over expected 2015 performance. It was scandalous ”“ especially as the price of crude continued going down and the average for the current year was known to be heading for a figure lower than that of 2015. In the end, the budget presented was N6.08 trillion ”“ still 69 percent higher than the actual for 2015. Certainly based on advice, but Osinbajo inadvertently unleashed the series of mistakes serving as the inducement for padding ”” if ever there was one.
SAY GOODBYE TO FREE MONEY ”“ SAI BABA.
“This largesse, N5,000 for the unemployed, I have got a slightly different priority. I would rather do the infrastructure, the schools and boost agriculture.” Buhari, February 29, 2016, PUNCH, page 1.
Three weeks ago, in my column on Monday, I had carpeted Mr Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the VP, who had paid glowing tribute to Buhari for budgeting N500 billion for a salad bowl of free money to be given out. The ill-advised and ill-planned set of programmes were called the “most revolutionary by any President in history” by unnamed “economic historians” who must have a poor grasp of economics. Thank God commonsense is returning to Aso Rock.
Now that Buhari has dumped the nonsense, what will the propagandists have to say? That Buhari is now wrong? They dare not.