BY DAN ONWUKWE
If words were bullets, Dr. Doyin Okupe, President Jonathan’s aide on Public Affairs would know how to set his ammunition right on target and get his adversaries riling and reeling. Don’t look for his trouble, or else you get a dose of your own medicine. Look beyond his massive, Michelin size. Okupe doesn’t go to battle with his gun half-cocked. If he has an Achilles Heel, it is his tendency to unleash incendiary comments on anyone who takes on President Jonathan.
This overzealousness to defend the President at all cost, has taken a more offensive, ‘I will-break-your kneecap’ approach in recent months. Hindsight may have taught him some useful lesson. Over ten years out of the corridors of power, it was not be a surprise that Okupe who was shown the way out of the Presidential Villa by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.
He sometimes work beyond his brief. He is now back ‘smoking’, responding like a bulldog brawler, with so much gusto and impetuosity, to every conceivable unfavourable comment about the President and the Federal Government. That, perhaps may be part of the amorphous description of his job, a mix of policy and raw politics.
The Senate President, David Mark, and Speaker, House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal may have ‘innocently’ incurred Okupe’s wrath and set the stage for a psychological war few minutes before President Jonathan was given the go-ahead to unveil the N4.92 trillion 2013 budget at a joint session of the National Assembly, last Wednesday.
What was the matter? The two principal officers – Mark and Tambuwal – had picked holes in the government decision to benchmark the budget on $75 per barrel oil price. The two chambers had wanted a slightly higher benchmark of $80 per barrel. Secondly, Mark and Tambuwal see the lack of full implementation of the budget due to the late release of funds to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Okupe, sees everything wrong with the position of the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives.
This much is plain: Both the Presidency and the National Assembly have stirred up resentment of each other for some months now. The cross of the matter is the budget implementation. Perhaps the saw the opportunity last week to remind the President that a budget does not worth the paper it is written if it is not implemented, or if implemented selectively.
As far as Okupe was concerned, the comments of Senator Mark and Rep. Tambuwal were “dictatorial”, “over-authoritative”, and indeed, amounts to grandstanding. According to Okupe, Mark and Tambuwal were filibustering on the budget. This seems like harsh words on these respected lawmakers of the Federal republic.
They have since returned Okupe’s tirade, describing him as “uninformed”, and “overzealous” official of government. The stage for this impending psychological war seems well set. But when two or three elephants fight, who suffers? This time, the grass represents the 2013 fiscal budget.
The passage of that bill could be in danger. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila (ACN) has already hinted the possibility that the budget may not be passed, urging the citizens to brace up for a long- drawn filibuster in which the nation may not, for first time, have an Appropriation Act for next year, in spite of the fact that the President presented the bill three clear months to the end of the year.
This risk is real. Okupe may have dared the legislators, and the citizens may suffer a collateral damage, borne out of a needless war of supremacy. One thing is clear about the psychological make-up of the present members of the National Assembly. Even if you accuse them of a tendency to act precipitously, sometimes squaring up in haste for a fight and pursuing seemingly simple issues with zeal and leaving serious matters late in the day, they are less tolerant of any affront from any member of the Executive branch, or more pointedly, any of the president’s men they consider arrogant and disdainful of them. If in doubt, ask the minister of Information, Mr Labaran Maku, who only recently was summoned by the Senate and compelled to tender a sobering apology.
This is why, in the words former British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, politics could be as “exciting as war and quite as dangerous”. But the danger such gridlock portends supercedes the excitement it could bring. But whether the comments made by Mark and Tambuwal ran against every grain of democratic spirit (and I don’t think so), or whether the counter-punch delivered by Okupe was below the belt and has created a fire storm on the 2013 budget, this could be a distraction from the benefits and deceptions contained in the budget.
We need to remind ourselves that first and foremost, a President’s budget is more than a set of figures. It is an outline of his philosophy of government. It is like a window through which everybody can glean how the president thinks about them. The real issue is whether the budget actually addressed their concerns.
Beyond that, how does the budget address the expansion of the economy. This is where the more discerning citizens and investors take an impassioned interest in the nitty-gritty of the budget. Government may claim that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is growing at 6.5 percent, or that debts are been repaid, and the rate of inflation and unemployment is going down. It only makes meaning if the outcome is the nuts-and-bolts that people can see and feel. The truth in budgetary matters is that everything is there because someone or interest group likes it. It is therefore not unkind to say that in his first budget as the substantive elected President last year, Jonathan is yet to see budget as a veritable tool to address serious issues and look the future in the eye.
Talk is cheap. So a budget can be vacuous, no matter the fanciful tag it is dressed with, if funds are not released in time for the implementation of the targets. We are all witnesses to what happened in the 2012 Appropriation Act, for which the National Assembly is still angry with the President. Indeed, despite the fact that the 2012 Appropriation Act was passed by NASS since March 15, available records show that implementation was less than 20 percent even though the coordinating Minister for the Economy and Minister of Finance, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala admitted at the heat of the face-off between the Presidency and the NASS that implementation was about 41 percent.
She blamed the MDAs for the slow rate of implementation. You can see the point Mark and Tambuwal were making, and for which Okupe was hauling missiles at them. Their concern is grounded on the constitution. However, it makes sense to respect the parameter upon which the government has decided to base the budget estimate.
Whatever may be the reason the two chambers may have for advising government to anchor the budget on a projected $80 per barrel cannot be superior to the reasons given by both the Finance Minister and Governor of the Central Bank, Mr. Lamido Sanusi.
The fact remains that the oil industry and prices in the international market hold relatively few surprises for any economy planners. In this market, things change, of course, sometimes, dramatically, but in relatively predictable ways. Therefore, it behooves budget planners to realize that global supply will often rise and fall in almost equal measure as geopolitical forces play out. The immediate outcome is that demand will also rise and fall with incomes, GDPs, weather conditions as we have seen in the floods that have ravaged many states.
Floods have also wrecked havoc in other countries. All these factors are outside many countries’ control. It makes sense that utmost care is taken in recognizing these extenuating factors and factor them in the benchmark to be used in arriving at the budget figure.
Sadly, in our own, everybody is an economist. It’s like football in Brazil where everyone acts like a coach for the national team. But who gets the boot when the team loses a crucial match? The coach. In this case, the President is the coach, the buck stops at his table. But, of course, the Finance Minister will take the rap as well. In practical terms, it is the expectation of Nigerians that the 2013 budget will not suffer the fate of the 2012 fiscal estimate.
That should be a matter of great concern to the President. He should not wait to be prodded by the National Assembly to do what is necessary – full implementation of the budget, or at worst, a reasonable percentage of implementation. Already, the legislators from the North- East are threatening that the budget will receive resistance, something one of them described as, deadlier than Boko Haram. That will be unfortunate. Mail Box Re: still on Anambra oil well furore Dan, Enugu and Kogi states are not claiming ownership of Orient Petroleum.
They are only saying that part of the oilfield is located in their states. Chief Emeka Anyaoku admits that this may be true. So what is the palaver? If your neigbbour’s building encroaches into part of your land, will you forfeit that part just because you did not help him draw the house plan? Or because you have been sleeping, (and) not yet awake to build? Of course, you assert your ownership.
That’s how I see what Enugu and Kogi are saying. Dr. Chudi Nwike Former Dep. Gov. Anamber (1992/93). Mr. Dan, the oil wells in OPL 915 known as Anambra River I, 2 and 3, are located in Aguleri land in Anambra East of Anambra State. You should not mind the war appetite neighbours, (Enugu and Kogi states). They should pray and wait for their turn. Collins 08038322090 Dan, I am really glad with your recent report in the disputed oil well among Anambra, Enugu and Kogi states.
The two other claimants – Enugu and Kogi states – never cared for the people but are only interested in the mineral. The Supreme Court should give Anambra the verdict, because the state took the community as its own before the discovery of the oil. Comrade Chinweuba Anyaragbu