All Eyes on Paddington

All Eyes on Paddington

Contemporary dictionaries list “Paddington” as “a surname”, “a district of London”, and “a railway station” in London”. However, seeing that some dictionaries have given special privilege to Nigeria, by providing another definition for “bunkering”, consistent with the Nigerian reality, it is time to extend such special status to “Paddington” to reflect its Nigerianness. 

Before now, despite the twenty-something available definitions for “pad”, the word pointed to three main things to most Nigerians—keypad, sanitary pad, and gamepad. However, just as 2015 witnessed the addition of “hangry” to the Oxford Dictionary, here’s what a nouveau edition should have for pad. 

pad 

noun 

1. an extra item added to a budget to make it buoyant 

2. an astronomical increase in the cost of a budgeted item

verb 

1. to bloat a budget 

derivatives: padded, padding, Paddington 

Since the definitions of padded and padding would be already clear, the dictionary would skip to Paddington. 

Paddington 

noun 

1. a place where budgets are padded, either an agency of the executive, or the chambers of the national assembly 

2. nickname for any of the thirty-seven capital cities in Nigeria 

etymology: From new politispeak dialect. Coined from “padding” + “town”. Literally, “a town for padding” 

This definition would duly capture the Nigerian experience since February 2016, barely a month after the 2016 budget was declared “missing”. In fairness to the Buhari administration, padding did not start with it. The yearly binge at Paddington has lasted through many administrations. The Buhari administration burst into the scene with a much vaunted “new Sheriff” at the vanguard, promising to clear the Augean stables. Then it got to Paddington, but instead of copying Jesus to whip the profaners, it simply joined the party. 

During the heat of the first wave of budget padding allegations, President Buhari showed anger at the “corrupt civil servants” who padded the budget. Angered at the shame of submitting a heavily padded budget, Buhari fired the Budget Office’s director, and swore that more “heads will roll” after investigations. That was around February. This is August. All the involved heads have remained glued to their respective bodies. 

The next wave of padding allegations came in April after the national assembly had “cleaned up” the earlier “heavily-padded budget” and passed a supposedly clean copy. The presidency refused to sign, pointing to suspicious changes in the budget. Then accusations flew around of legislators, especially the two appropriation committees’ chairmen, removing projects, adding projects, jacking up monies for their constituency projects, arbitrarily slashing the value of some budgeted items, and increasing the value of some others. Surprisingly, despite evidence of earlier atrocious padding, and acclaimed removal of such pads by the legislators, the passed budget sum was as close to the initial proposal as a car’s tyres are close to the ground. Once again, there were no consequences. Nigeria simply moved on. 

Nigerians are now in the third wave. This time, the principal actors are the speaker of the House of Representatives, and the former chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation. Incidentally, Dogara and Jibrin were members of the clique that defied the APC to bring Dogara to the speakership. Now, to say that they don’t see eye to eye would be an understatement. One speaks to the press, social media and investigative agencies, while the other speaks through other people. Unfortunately, the House is on recess. It would have been nice to watch the two friends-turned-enemies physically present in the same room, live on national TV. 

Jibrin threw the first salvo, claiming he was removed for not acceding to Dogara’s request to add pads worth about 40 billion naira to the budget in favour of the speaker and some other principal officers. Dogara’s camp then upped the ante, responding with a counter accusation that Jibrin added unsanitary pads worth over 200 billion naira of Nigeria’s broke citizens’ funds. Each side continues to paint the other black, with Jibrin tweeting about twenty serious questions for Dogara to answer, while some voices, apparently backing Dogara, are calling for the issue to be resolved “in-house”, that is to say, thrown in the national assembly’s large dustbin. 

One could easily lambast Jibrin and Dogara for playing to the gallery, deceiving Nigerians suffering in this harsh economic climate. If Jibrin is saying the truth, why now? Why didn’t he speak in March or April? Was he simply following the standard dinner etiquette: “don’t talk while eating”? Or has he just found his voice, branding himself as an “activist” after his removal as chairman of that “juicy” committee? As for Dogara, if his accusations are correct, why now? Why did he not speak before now? As the speaker, if a committee chairman truly added overtly expensive pads, why did he not call him to order? Is this really a fight over principles of integrity, or an APC proxy fight for the House speakership? 

Instead of fully blaming Dogara or Jibrin, or any of the others who inhabit Paddington, the blame should be on Buhari. If Buhari had sent a strong message by carrying out his threat of punishing those responsible for the first padding wave, maybe the other waves would not have happened. This is like President Obama’s threat to use the US’ military might if Syria’s President Al-Assad were to use chemical weapons on Syrians. The weapons were used, yet Obama reneged on his threat, thereby emboldening the Syrian dictator. 

The first padding session took place in Buhari’s immediate constituency—the civil service and the presidency. If truly he had no prior knowledge of the binge at Paddington, and had seriously punished those responsible, those in the legislature would have had the proverbial “riot act” read to them. By doing nothing about the padding under his watch, save for the scapegoating of the budget office’s director, his famous body language passed the message that padding has no fearsome consequences. 

Paddington has been there before Buhari. Now that he lives there, it is up to him to either clean up the place and earn an inarguable place in Nigeria’s Hall of Saints, or leave it untouched and feign holy ignorance. If he chooses the former, he can start with Jibrin’s petitions to the police, ICPC and EFCC. Then he should revisit his February vow to send heads rolling. However, if he chooses the latter, then, “All hail Paddington! Corrupter of the Righteous”. 

Image Credit: informationng.com

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