Governments at all levels derive pleasure in christening their annual budgets. Apart from naming them budgets of a particular year, like 2016 Budget, they also come up with catchy words such as Budget of Consolidation, Budget of Emancipation and so on.
Since this present administration came on board based on the change mantra of the ruling All Progressives Congress, it was not a surprise to many that the first budget prepared by the Muhammadu Buhari administration, the 2016 budget, was tagged Budget of Change.
Events have however showed that there are more appropriate descriptions for the document, far from being a budget of change. What about christening it a Budget of Controversies? If not that it will only be meaningful to those who understand Yoruba, one would have considered a Budget of abiku so oloogun deke.In the beginning, not a few Nigerians held the belief that the 2016 Budget held a lot of hope. For instance, the APC had last year explained that it could not begin to implement the social welfare programmes that formed part of its electoral promises to Nigerians because the funds needed were not captured in the budget of that year which was prepared by the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The Office of the Vice President that supervises the economy has been using every opportunity available to it to inform Nigerians that the money needed for the programme had been captured in the budget proposal currently before the National Assembly.
The making of the budget was as dramatic as the controversies that later trailed it. The government had boasted that it adopted zero-budgeting method as against the previous way of preparing budgets through the envelope system.
Some officials in charge of the budget, I recall, were camped in the old Banquet Hall of the Villa for days while they were busy with the document. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was invited on a Saturday to see and appreciate the kind of efforts the officials were putting into the preparation. During that visit, I saw the officials glued to their laptops like yahoo yahoo guys will do.
Finally on December 21, 2015, the Federal Executive Council approved the 2016 Budget and gave Buhari the go ahead to present same to a joint session of the National Assembly the following day.
I remember vividly that on January 6, 2016 after the first FEC meeting of the year, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun, joined her Information and Culture counterpart, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, to brief reporters about the outcome of the meeting. A question was raised on how the government would ensure that Ministries, Departments and Agencies do not pad the budget.
Adeosun was very categorical in her response that such could never happen under the present dispensation. “There can be no padding of budget when revenues are so thin and one of the things that I think that the budgeting process is doing is pruning down unnecessary expenditure. Let me also mention that we have set up the efficiency unit that is going to look into how we spend money, look at how we make savings because the money just isn’t there. I don’t think this administration is part of that and secondly I think at this level, I don’t think there can be anything like that,” she had said.
Not long after, the controversies started coming up. It started with the claim that the budget presented by the President had been withdrawn. Later, they said the document was missing in the National Assembly. Again, another story went round that there were more than one versions of the document before the lawmakers. Then the issue of discrepancies in some figures also came up. Expectedly, all these were denied by the authorities.
When the evidence became overwhelming, the government admitted that there were discrepancies in the document and was quick to attribute them to some government officials described as “budget mafia.”
Just last Saturday again, Mohammed said the budget was not padded. “A lot has been said about the budget. Let me make it clear that nobody can ever accuse this 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 that the budget was padded,” he said.
But the President disowned the minister on Wednesday when he admitted that the budget was indeed padded. I like Buhari for his frankness. He talks from his heart when he talks and he is always blunt. You may not like his bluntness but this President will say it as it is.
In admitting that the budget was padded, Buhari said the alterations which he described as embarrassing and disappointing made the document being debated in the National Assembly completely different from what was prepared by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning. He said since he had been holding public offices, he had never heard about budget padding before this incident that happened under his watch! What else can we say on this matter?
… and Osinbajo’s curious political meeting
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo hosted an unusual meeting on Wednesday. That was the first time that kind of meeting would be held under the present administration. The bigwigs in the ruling APC attended.
They included a leader of the party, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former Vice President Atiku Abubakar; the party’s National Chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun; President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yusuf Lasun; Senate Leader, Ali Ndume; Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal; and a former interim chairman of the party, Chief Bisi Akande.
Others in attendance were the party’s Deputy National Chairman, Segun Oni; Chief Tony Momoh; Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu; Imo State Deputy Governor, Eze Madubere; and the Special Adviser to the Vice President on Political Matters, Babafemi Ojudu.
There were many curious things about the meeting. First, the meeting was not on the Vice President’s schedule for the day, at least as of the time his schedule for the week that I sighted was prepared. The second curious thing was that a meeting of such magnitude could be held when Buhari, the leader of the party, was outside the country. Another curious aspect of it was why the meeting was not held at the national headquarters of the party.
It was also curious that the Office of the Vice President attempted to stop journalists from reporting that the meeting held. It was again curious that all participants were advised not to grant press interviews after the session. In fact, Ojudu saw them off one after the other to their cars to ensure that they did not break “the oath of secrecy.”
When it became clear that they must break their silence on the meeting, the Office of the Vice President came up with a two-paragraph statement that was neither here nor there. The statement claimed that the party leaders met on issues affecting the party and the nation. Authors of the statement did not find it fit to mention some of the issues, especially those that affect the nation.
The meeting left a lot of questions unanswered and I am sure the last has not been heard about it.