As it is, the budget scandal, especially the disowning by ministers, leaves us with a mild insight into how our governmental system functions
– Achilleus-Chud Uchegbu
At a meeting with newspaper editors in Lagos, National Planning Minister, Sen. Udo Udoma spoke so eloquently of the integrity quotient of President Muhammadu Buhari. He said it was that alone that made him accept to serve as minister after turning down three previous nominations. He also said that he had worked tirelessly, with some other ministers, day and night, round the clock, to put together what he called a ‘budget of change’. He only asked that the National Assembly passed the budget in record time so as to hasten the process of the change promised.
Buhari’s integrity, though seeming, was one factor that endeared him to some Nigerians during the 2015 presidential election. That integrity has now been called to serious question through his first budget, which had open a lot of gates. For a moment, one wondered how the document passed scrutiny of all that were supposed to scrutinize it, including the President, Finance minister, National Planning Minister etc, before movement to NASS. Somehow, those who sought to mess with Buhari’s integrity, through the budget, must have sat back to laugh as he presented it to the National Assembly last December 22. More horrendous is the fact that the President had ordered a probe into the budget he gladly laid before NASS.
If Udoma, and others, worked hard enough to put the budget together, as he claimed, could it possibly be that they worked hard to design a budget that would embarrass, not just for the president, but all Nigerians? Well, so many things are possible here. In all however, it speaks of a systemic problem. Not just a problem of one political party or the other, or a problem of one leader against the other. It is a systemic tradition that had become a problematic that holds down development for personal benefits.
It was alleged, sometime in 2014, that President Goodluck Jonathan refused to implement the appropriation act approved by the National Assembly and presented to him. Reason adduced for this was that
though the president assented to the bill, he found out that a lot had happened to the bill he caused to be presented to NASS. His way out? It was alleged, again, that he settled to implement the original bill as it was.
But we voted change. Reason there was some form of anger against the Jonathan administration was principally because Nigerians felt the government he led, and the political party that ruled then, were not doing things right. So, they asked for a change. Change meant they wanted new wine in new wine skin. Change meant they wanted things done differently. So, it is a huge disappointment when those expectations fail. Worse of the disappointments is where such failed expectations are blamed on the past administration; or sought to be covered by manufacturing tales that do not correspond to observable reality. Some call them lies. Some call them propaganda. But in the end, we find that we are revolving round the same circle. And what you get is some form of motionless progress. It comes back to the same spot and you ask ‘how come?’
As it is, the buck, in all these, stops at the President’s table. Pushing it on to another official is cowardice. The president chose his team. He brought in all those that work with him either as members of his kitchen cabinet or that in the parlour. It was his understanding of the integrity quotient of those officials that made him trust them with the offices they occupy. But the president had made mistakes. He believes his ministers are just noisemakers. He also believes that civil servants actually perform the tasks. Within that frame of believe, which is deeply rooted in his experience as member of the federal cabinet more than 35 years ago, he refused to open up, liberate his mind and attune same to the realities of governance away from the 1980s. Time has changed the system. Time has changed theories. Time has changed knowledge. Sadly, our president is stuck in the 1980s. Recall that Senate had approved for him to recruit aides that would help him in the complex task of governance. But he does not seem to see any reason to recruit persons who would work with him as economic advisers. And within his
cabinet, he does not seem to have any knowledgeable economists who had been exposed to the workings of world economy. This, to my mind, may explain reversal of economic policies he had adopted.
Like it or not, such actions are a huge statement on the level of understanding of modern economic realities as they affect a country’s growth and development. Take the president’s pronouncements on fiscal policies as they affect the naira. They present our president to the world as one whose mind is iron cast. He tells of himself as one who believes that the naira is better managed, not by market realities, but by executive fiat. I just pray that he opens himself to the understanding of such realities especially given that neither he nor his deputy have some background in managing a political economy, even at the council level.
As it is, the budget scandal, especially the disowning by ministers, leaves us with a mild insight into how our governmental system functions. The comment by the chair of the Senate Committee on Higher Education, Sen. Binta Masi Garba, who held “typographical error” responsible for the padding of the education ministry budget with N10b, if indeed true, is a clear testimony to sloppiness on the side of the president. It could be an expose into the fact that some more dangerous details may have passed
scrutiny of government at different levels because of lack of thoroughness. Thoroughness is an issue our president does not seem to be comfortable with. Recall his comment in an interview with The Telegraph in London where he said: “.. .Britain has earned our respect in the way it deals with these matters. Our only problem is that it seems to be too thorough and it takes too much time.” My simple understanding of this is that he may have probably created an impression in the mind of his ministers, and some civil servants, that being thorough is inimical to governance and immaterial to an impressionist administration.
Going forward, President Buhari must see the need to be more thorough in his handling of issues. He must also realise that he is human. That way, he should be able to free his mind to new understandings and developments. His rigid attachment to the 1980s will cause him problems in a cabinet where he has a lot of young people who see the world differently. That he loves asceticism does not translate to good governance neither does it mean that those he picked to work with must also be ascetics. That he is frugal does not mean his acolytes must be mystics too. These are men and women, some of who are very rich and need to sustain; and some of whom are poor and must measure up. Therefore, he may find himself in a situation where those who work with him exploit his detachment from thoroughness. In this regard, he would fail if he allows his decision to focus on probes (even without thoroughness), to cloud his mission to lead differently.
Like I have always argued, Buhari may be genuinely intentioned. But his failure however to understand that the economy of the present age, is quite different from that he was used to the 1980s may undo him. Therefore, for him to make any measurable impact, he must stop blaming, stop passing bucks and realise that the first year of his administration is almost gone. And he may never get a second chance to impress. For his success therefore, he must take responsibility for the budget mess, fix the shame, fire ministers who drank tea over their responsibilities, and bring in experts who would help scrutinize documents presented to for his signature. Otherwise, he may sign away Nigeria before realizing it. His first budget has shown that it is not impossible.