With the handling of the budget padding issue as was done in the House of Representatives led by Yakubu Dogara, President Muhammadu Buhari has, so far, inflicted upon himself, a major and highly upsetting open wound. It is a wound that will set a very dangerous precedent for political tradition in several legislative periods in the country.
It is most upsetting, not because the padding of the budget and the illegal enrichment of individual and privileged lawmakers, is anything out of the ordinary in an infested political stage that stinks to high heavens. No. It is upsetting because it is not only happening under a highly revered and adored President Muhammadu Buhari, but the method adopted in covering it up menacingly comes very close to the badly discredited and corrupt methods of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
For some reasons known to the pundits in power, there seems to be no hesitation in feeding Nigerians the toxic mix of deception and manipulative mischief. It is now beginning to sound like the legendary tale of “All Animals are Equal, but Some are more Equal”. Night is suddenly turning to day and electric is being turned “to candle”. In a manner that comes dangerously close to the sting operation conducted on Farouk Lawan, voices are now being heard that seem to move towards the criminalization of the whistleblower, Jibrin. Threats are issued by the ruling party, while spokespersons of the President are raising the stakes in discrediting Jibrin by simply denying the veracity of the padding claim, even though Dogara has publicly owned up to it.
While we are all asking questions and finding no answer in the short term, seeking to understand the forces driving this highly respected President to this incomprehensible level of aberration, the culprit has been empowered to come out boldly and simply spit on the collective intelligence of Nigerians.
Now, one after other. Amateurish deception and manipulation happen when people seek to tell Nigerians that the budget was not padded when someone comes up with abundant evidence pointing credibly at a padded budget. It is even worse when the “Padder-in-Chief” does not deny padding the budget but tells Nigerians that padding the budget is not illegal.
Moreover, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dogara, attempts to equate the padding of the budget with “tinkering”.
This low-level academic exercise by a Speaker, who is stooping so low to display the garment of a third-class intellectual gutter game, seems to typify the quality of legislators manning the chambers of lawmaking.
The principle of the separation of powers in a democracy spells out the theoretical bounds of the powers exercised by each organ. While the legislature can initiate legislation and pass it to the President for assent, the executive can as well initiate legislation and seek the consent of legislators. In both cases, either party can tinker with the proposal and make suggestions for a better outcome. In this spirit of cohabitation with checks and balances, the final result is always achieved by negotiation and consensus on the final shape of the law that comes out of a bill. Up until this point, Speaker Dogara is right in his arguments.
However, it will beat anybody’s imagination, how tinkering equates with padding. If, as explained by the lawmaker, who opened up on the concept on national television lately, padding is, indeed, the dare-devil insertion of completely foreign items into the budget after the document has been passed by the open session of the house, I will make haste to ask Speaker Dogara what he truly understands by tinkering.
No one is questioning the re-arrangement of items, figures and volumes and the negotiated deal with the Executive all in the overriding interest of getting a good deal for the state. But the mafia-type conspiratorial connivance of a few individuals, who are the so-called ‘Principal Officers’ of the legislative house, who insert items and figures into a budget that has been passed in plenary session for the purpose of selfishly and criminally allocating constituency projects to themselves, that will never see the light of day but will simply wander into their pockets, can never be equated with ‘tinkering’. Since the public outing on Channels Television, where the meaning of Padding was clearly spelt out, however, there has been no refutal or counterargument.
Now, if the Speaker of the House of Representative is alluding to the fact that the padding of the 2016 budget, as was described on national television, was done by consensus in the aftermath of consultation with representatives of the executive arm of government, everyone will understand what he means by “tinkering” in this sense. After all, the drafting and preparation of the budget is the exclusive prerogative of the Executive. The Legislature, in the exercise of control functions, may amend, adjust, rearrange or reshape the budget (short: “Tinker” with it) but definitely not re-draft it. The inclusion of new items without the consent of the Executive is no longer tinkering but re-drafting.
Even at that, padding the budget with the consent of the Executive will be completely legal if it was done before the passage of the budget into law by the open session of the Assembly. Anything else beyond that is just what it is – “forgery” of the entire budget document.
It is not just surprising that this is happening under the watch of President Muhammadu Buhari very much to the shock of his admirers and adorers but questions abound, how much the President knows of this forgery. Since people have purportedly spoken in the President’s name, to clarify that the budget was not padded (a statement that may be taken to mean that the padding was done with the consent of President Buhari), the President himself is yet to make a public statement.
It will be foolhardy seeking justification for the prosecution of the disgraced President of the Nigerian Senate, Bukola Saraki and his equally disgraced deputy Ike Ekweremadu, for forging the Senate’s Standing Order to elect themselves into the exalted office, while covering up for the criminal acts of Speaker Dogara and his Principal Officers.
Judging by statements coming out of the party of the President so far, it is becoming obvious that nothing will be done to these open culprits. It has become so bad that the guilty ones are the mighty ones in today’s Nigeria. In a clear case of forging the budget after it has been passed by the house of representatives, the offender is given the power and the forum to add insult to injuries by encouraging him to preach “tinkering” and boast that no one will and can be prosecuted.
Of course, former President Ali Baba and the forty Robbers will be sitting down in a very quiet corner in gleeful grins and rubbing their hands in Schadenfreude celebrating a sense of vindication. “I told you, after all, that Buhari is not the saint that you thought he was.”
Will Buhari recklessly give this opportunity to the waiting fangs of the werewolves?
Of course, it cannot be ruled out that Muhammadu Buhari simply got sick and tired of the long-drawn wrangling over the budget amid the legislature’s devilish determination to have their pound of flesh. The need for a quick budget implementation may have informed the acceptance of padding to simply move on with government and show results. Yet, this can be declared openly for Nigerians to know and understand, who the devils in the system are.
It is not for nothing that the current government enjoys so much public support, even in the midst of cries and pains over the soaring prices of consumer goods. Were it not for the policy of openness, Nigerians would never have known that there was a word like “Padding” in the budget’s vocabulary. We will never have known that “constituency project” was the magic name of the legislative bogeyman that made our legislators overnight millionaires.
Compared with the government of Ali Baba and the forty robbers, every sane Nigerian will choose Muhammadu Buhari over the evil government of looters any time, any day. So strong is the faith in the former General. Yet with Dogara, the President has slashed off a significant portion of public trust by maneuvering himself into a tight corner on the budget issue even though he tried his best to prevail on the elements.
Coming out, however, to defend the indefensible, deny the obvious and empower evil and crime while legitimately fighting the same crime in other areas, has simply provoked questions and anger that should be addressed very quickly. The government may choose to ignore the urgency of this call in a bid to allow itself one major blunder, since there will never be a government without blunders, at its own peril. Dogara may go unpunished, and as it stands today, Jibril may end up being victimized and sacrificed as a scapegoat like Farouk Lawan was, but the anger of the folks knows just a single day of reckoning.
If Muhammadu Buhari wants to write his name in Nigeria’s history book as the cleansing General, who picked up the pieces and rebuilt the whole, he will do well to start retracing his steps very quickly, here and now. Just one misstep will be enough to obliterate a million good deeds and the significant strides on the redemption path.