Dogara, Jibrin and budget padding

The general misconduct of those who occupy leadership positions in the country has pitted the governed against them. The leaders’ great misdemeanor has resulted in the people’s great contempt for them. Now, Nigerians believe every negative report about their leaders. Rather than give leaders benefit of the doubt, Nigerians convict their leaders first and expect them to prove their innocence later. This is a product of years of betrayal of trust and gross disappointment. When a people have been repeatedly let down by those in whom they repose trust, living above skepticism becomes a Herculean task for them. It is for this reason that great leaders work hard never to betray the trust of their followers.

So, the outburst of condemnation against the leadership of the House of Representatives that greeted the revelation by Honourable AbdulmuminJibrin that the House leadership padded the 2016 budget is understandable. This is especially so because Jibrin, was until recently, the chairman of House Committee on Appropriation. He was, as it were, the person who had the responsibility for getting the bill in its proper form before it was passed by the House.

Given the revelation that Jibrin was reeling out and the passion with which he went about it, it was difficult to ignore him. He seemed so sure of his facts that anything to the contrary would appear to be the lie. Although those who were opposed to him queried why he had to wait till he was relieved of his duty as the chairman of Appropriation Committee before he started singing, my position is that there is no wrong time to reveal an infraction against a people. If indeed what the Honourable member claimed about the budget padding happened, then it was not wrong for him to come into the open when he did, especially when he claimed that he had become a different person.

However, right from the outset of the issue I have had issue with the claim. The kernel of Jibrin’s claim is that the leadership of the House tinkered with the budget. Really, that is amusing to me. Tinker with the document? What was the House expected to do with the document sent to it by the president? Was it expected to return it to the presidency as received? The essence of having the National Assembly go through the budget estimates is to allow the members make their input into it. That suggests that they need not agree with the position of the president on every issue in the budget. In cases where they do not agree with the president and they change such entries, can such be really regarded as padding? If the President votes N150billion to education and the lawmakers believe that a way of speeding up the process of getting into school the 10.5million Nigerian children out of school is by increasing the allocation to education to N200billion, will that be padding? In recent past, the executive had chosen a particular figure as the oil benchmark only for the National Assembly to disagree and recommend another benchmark which resulted in more revenue accruing to the government with the legislators allocating same to some sectors. Would it be right to refer to that as padding? If the legislators can neither reduce nor increase what is sent to them in form of budget estimates, then sending the estimates to them is a waste of time of both the executive and the legislators.

In spite of all these, I was still tempted to think that there was some merit in the claim of Honourable Jibrin until the Presidency came out to say that the budget signed by the president was not padded. According to the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Senator ItaEnang, while addressing journalists after meeting with the leadership of the All Progressives Congress last Tuesday, “There is nothing, to our knowledge, like padding of the budget. The budget, as assented to by the president, is the budget passed by the National Assembly and it is being executed.”

If the president, who meticulously went through the budget after it was passed by the National Assembly before assenting to it, can come out to say it was not padded, then it is safe for us to assume that the budget was not padded.

Having said that, it is my considered opinion that the security agencies saddled with the responsibility should go ahead with their investigation of the matter so as to bring out the truth and prevent a recurrence.