“The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, said during the budget presentation that the 2017 budget will be rolled over. I took the 2017 budget and went through it page by page. There is no relationship between the two documents. The budget we received was a ‘boju boju’ budget. Why did we package a 2018 budget that was garnished with deception?”
Senator Dino Melaye
Three weeks ago, I wrote a piece, ‘Before we pass the 2018 budget.’ Like the man who saw tomorrow, I argued that the issue of budget padding must and should be addressed before both chambers of the National Assembly pass the 2018 budget. Innocently, I had thought that the yearly bashing of lawmakers will continue as always. Maybe I was wrong. The National Assembly, particularly the Senate, is on the offensive right now. I seriously doubt if they will apply any brake anytime soon.
In that piece, I had advised: “Before the Senate, vis-a-vis, the National Assembly, approves the 2018 budget estimates, certain things must be done first. The yearly embarrassing alleged budget padding must not take the centre stage now. If this is allowed to slide, we may be faced with another embarrassing round of padding brouhaha.”
Already, padding brouhaha is sounding so loud that even the deaf and the dead can hear the drum. What may come out of the Senate this year may break previously-held records. By the time the Senate is done with its ongoing exposé, angry Nigerians may pick up stones and pelt ministers and other heads of government agencies. Two weeks ago, the Senate committee on Power, Steel Development and Metallurgy, turned back the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, over his alleged “unpreparedness to face the committee for his 2018 budget defence.”
The Minister was turned back when he appeared before the committee to defend his Ministry’s 2018 budget. According to the Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe-led committee, Fashola was not ready to face members. He said the minister did not come with necessary documentation to present to members.
This mild drama occurred on December 14. On that same day, another agency under Fashola’s supervision, kissed the sand, when lawmakers accused its head of inflating the contract sum of a solar project to the tune of N10 billion.
Senators wondered why the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) would plan to spend a whooping N10 billion to provide solar streetlight for nine universities. The REA Managing Director, Mrs. Damilola Ogunbiyi, had in her defence of 2018 budget of the agency listed “Rural Electrification Access Progamme in Federal Universities” with a cost profile of N10,148,146,829.00, as one of the projects of the agency for 2018 fiscal year.
Last Monday, the first major outburst about padding hit the airwaves. The Power sector of the Ministry under Fashola’s supervision, told the same Abaribe-led committee that N120 million, N480 million and N288 million respectively, were budgeted for purchase of utility vehicles by the Ministry. If you add up the three sums, it will amount to N888 million.
It did not stop there. The Ministry also earmarked N100 million for transfer and management of office files and documents. Files and documents? In this era of change? Diaris God ooo. Well, lawmakers did not allow that pass without some punches. They complained about the repetition of projects by the Ministry. They said year in, year out, the Ministry presents the same items in the budget and asks for more funds to execute the same projects. A member of the committee who represents Edo Central Senatorial District, Senator Clifford Ordia, was the one who unearthed the scam. His discovery got lawmakers angry. A junior Minister, Mr. Mustapha Baba Shehuri, who stood in for Fashola, could not respond to questions. It was a show of shame.
An angry Senator Ordia thundered: “I need to understand this thing. Look at the different pages. You earmarked N120 million, N288 million and N480 million for the purchase of vehicles. I do not understand. Are these vehicles different? If you add up these figures, you get about N888 million.
“You also said that you want to spend N100 million on transfer of office files. How do you intend to do that? The people in your office, what have they been doing? I can also see from your estimates here that you captured another item for ICT, different from the N100 million.”
On Tuesday, the fireworks assumed another dimension, when senators suspended their day’s legislative business and took turns to rubbish President Muhammadu Buhari’s 2018 budget proposal. I will not bore you with their long speeches. Let me replay the punchy ones here.
Deputy Leader of the Senate, Bala Ibn Na’Allah, who is incidentally Buhari’s close ally, a member of his party and from the same North West, took the first shot of the day. As always, he did not miss his target. His punch was damaging.
Here him: “I feel that there are certain aspects that the Senate has so many things to discuss. When we suspended the plenary for two weeks, the intention was to enable committees work. They are supposed to report progress in order to enable the Senate pass the budget before the end of the year or early next year.
“When we suspended plenary, it was with the idea that the committees will swing into action so we can have a tentative date to pass the budget. From what I have seen, we might run into troubled waters. If we have not appreciated what the problems are, it is important for Nigerians to come here and understand what the problem is.
“The template we are using will continue to create problems for us. It was created during the military era. The template cannot work in our country today. From reports we have had, it is obvious that we have problems. We need to know what the problems are. If we have a 2017 budget that has not been executed today and we are considering the 2018 budget, it means there is a problem.
“The President told us that the 2017 budget was going to achieve at least 60 per cent performance. Today, that has not happened. We need to lay this issue and discuss it. Let us put the facts before the Executive and show Nigerians the difficulties we are facing.”
A former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chairman, Barnabas Gemade, who is now a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC), also shocked everyone. Gemade is a diehard defender of Buhari. On the floor of the Senate, it is almost impossible for Gemade to pass a comment, without appreciating Buhari. But on Tuesday, he did the ‘unthinkable.’
Senator Barnabas Gemade, while contributing to the debate, suggested that the consideration of the 2018 budget be suspended. He also argued that the lifespan of the current 2017 budget be extended till end of March 2018.
“This point of order raised is important because of what the public is waiting for. Our two-week committee work should have led us to where we will lay the report and pass the budget. As was indicated, we need to appreciate the efforts of the executive, which is trying to return the budget year from January to December.
“What we have seen is far from the 40 per cent capital project implementation we were told. In many MDAs, budget performance is hovering between 12 to 15 per cent. In early November, the borrowing plans were brought and we approved it. They said they were going to release more funds. As of now, we cannot say if that is true.
“In defending the budget, MDAs are supposed to bring their 2017 budget performance to committees. When you look at the budget proposals brought here, many things captured in the 2017 budget were not rolled over. Committees and MDAs need to do some work.
“We have to set a date for the implementation of the 2017 budget based on the borrowing plans we approved. I therefore propose that we set March 31 for the 2017 budget to be implemented before we can start working on the 2018 budget. We need to guide against abandonment of ongoing projects.”
Another APC member and a protégé of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, Senator Solomon Adeola, almost went overboard, when he descended on Buhari’s 2018 budget proposal. He was so livid and almost lost his voice when he made his submissions.
He said: “How can we approve the 2018 budget without knowing the performance of 2017 budget? This is abnormal. From the recent budget defences, it is obvious that MDAs are not ready. Year in, year out, the budget performance is low. Last week, a minister was asked to excuse lawmakers because he did come prepared. He did not come with the necessary documents to defend the budget of his ministry.
“We need to show to Nigerians that the National Assembly is ready to approve the budget. Remember that the President during the presentation of the 2018 budget, said the performance of the 2017 budget will attain at least 40 per cent. But that has not been done. I am suggesting that we invite the Minister of Finance to brief us on the performance of the 2017 budget. We need to be told.
“Remember how the Executive submitted the MTEF and withdrew it again. It submitted it and withdrew it again. It shows the lack of seriousness on the part of economic managers of the country.”
Now, let me replay what the man who nicknamed the budget boju boju, Dino Melaye, said. Melaye who is also a member of APC, although embattled, used any known unpalatable adjective to describe the budget estimates.
He words: “The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, said during the budget presentation that the 2017 budget will be rolled over. I took the 2017 budget and went through it page by page. There is no relationship between the two documents. The budget we received was a ‘boju boju’ budget. Why did we package a 2018 budget that was garnished with deception?
“There is about N850 trillion with the CBN. There is an outstanding of N1.5 trillion from collection of stamp duties with the CBN. This money has not been remitted. Yet we took over N2 trillion loan. We need to strengthen the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. “The NNPC was supposed to remit hundreds of billions of naira last year. They did not do that. Yet, we say we are fighting corruption. We cannot continue in sin and ask grace to abound. The issue of discussing the 2018 budget should not even arise. “Enough is enough. We must ensure that the 2017 budget is properly implemented. We must ensure that the budget is not an elitist one. What they have brought to us is just a proposal. We need to give Nigerians a budget that will benefit Nigerians.”
What more can I add? This is just the beginning. The Senate has already embarked on its Christmas break and will resume in January. One thing is certain; more fireworks will come. More paddings will be unearthed and Buhari’s appointees will be shamed and disgraced. I urge you to get ready to be entertained.
I so submit!
One more thing…
It’s another Christmas season. This column, since it debuted in May, has received some hard knocks and praises. We have passed through fire and encomiums But I am always encouraged whenever I get your feedbacks, either positive or otherwise.
Without the readers, this page will just be another monologue.
I just want to take a moment to tell you all how much I appreciate you. The best of this page is yet to come. I urge you to keep faith with me. God bless you all and Merry Christmas to you.