One item that has sustained its controversial stance since it attained that status, is the 2016 Appropriation Bill of President Muhammadu Buhari, generally known and referred to as the Budget. It started with a gentle rounds of argument as to whether or not its genuine, and then graduated to a more serious allegation of being doctored or padded in some peoples parlance, and smuggled back into the chambers of the lawmakers with more than a casual remarks that superfluous matters were corruptly introduced into it.
From the minister of health to that of information, to communication and to the minister of agriculture, all of which have appeared before the National Assembly to defend their input into the Budget and they have all complained of something being really wrong with the Budget. They maintained that the figures changed from what it was when it was first presented by the president. The legislators even before the controversial level of the bill went up, came out openly to state that there are a lot of irregularities that needs to be rectified or reconciled as the case may be, and so had to break the promise or pledge they made to the Nigerian people on passing it before the end of February. At the moment, no one knows when the Budget will be passed as the date was made indefinite by the lawmakers.
The president, Muhammadu Buhari, has blamed this discrepancies on those he termed "budget mafias". As a matter of fact, there are rumours, suggestions more likely, that the presidency is aware of this embarrassing and unfortunate incident. The most practical semantics as deduced from the findings of many self-made forensic accountants and other independent investigators, is that those responsible for what has become an international embarrassment for Nigeria, are not faceless but known and operate within the system, with linkages to all nooks and crannies of the civil service. It will be a mishmash and a complete build up of sacred cows if these criminals in government uniforms are not made known to Nigerians who right now are not only very eager to know who they are, but also interested in knowing their motives as well as what the government of President Buhari intend to do to them. If this is happening before the very watch of President Muhammadu Buhari, despite the road-blocks he has put in place to effectively and efficiently keep corruption under wraps, then something is gravely wrong. With this revelation, it is safe and bold to imagine the truck load of work the president has to do in his ongoing war against corruption, especially among government workers, from top to bottom.
This is not to rain on the parade of the few honest and decent civil servants who carry out their work diligently and with disciplined integrity. This is to point out as I once did many months back, that civil servants, especially the "ogas at the top", are the constant breaker of the system. They are the ones who inflate contract sums for no good cause only to get a cut from it. They take kickbacks even though it robs down on our integrity as a people and cripple the economy of our country. They threaten the lives of decent ones who refuse to play ball with them and force them out of government. Isn't it surprising that this act of cosmetic impropriety is taking place under the watchful eyes of the minister of Budget and National Planning? Last I checked, it is the duty of this ministry to scrutinize the Budget before its made available to the public, what happened? What went wrong? What are they not telling Nigerians? This is the first time to the best of my knowledge, that our national Budget is made to look like a kindergarten material that can easily be played with and discarded afterwards. Someone seriously need to lose his or her job for bringing us this low before the world. Till this very moment, no one has come out to explain to Nigerians, how unplanned items managed to make its way into the budget. Nigerians deserve to know, after all they are the ones currently paying through their noses to sustain the Nigerian economy via the many deductions from their accounts and other levies and taxes. They deserve to know.
The practical implication of this delay is that the hard time told to us last year, both by the President and Godwin Emefiele of the Central Bank, has suddenly been prolonged. Without making the budget whole and passing it, it is impossible to release money for any capital project that set the country running. As some people say, we are in a very big mess right now.
Maybe it is too early to allege sabotage. However, in our opinion, the President must treat the matter with the urgency it deserves and ensure that adequate punishment is meted out to those who trivialized the budget no matter how highly placed they are either in the government or the Party hierarchy.
Here is my candid suggestion to President Buhari on this controversial budget -treat the matter with the urgency it deserves and ensure that adequate punishment is meted out to those found culpable. To delay makes the right decision harder. Indecision in itself is a choice. Not to decide is to decide not to. Take for example you have a ticket to Lagos tonight, and can't decide whether to go or not, if you wait pass the departure time, the choice would have been made. The plane will take off without you. Decisions are made whether we make them or not. Time decides if we don't. And time always decide against us. Mr President, time is already against you. Take back this budget, get us one that works and punish those that made a mess of this one.
God help us all!
Jeff Okoroafor is a Good Governance Advocate and Civil Rights Activist. The Founder of OpinionNigeria.com and a Strategic Team Member for the Bring Back Our Girls.