A 19th century English clergyman, Frederick Robertson, once said that “There are three things in the world that deserve no mercy: hypocrisy, fraud, and tyranny”. It is surprising that a Christian cleric would say something like that. However, we may never know what went on in his mind before he concluded that some persons were undeserving of even a tiny drop of mercy. Nigeria is in the midst of another budgeting process, and at least two of Frederick’s unpardonable sins are being blatantly committed. If Frederick the Annoyed were alive today, what would he say about the 2017 Federal Budget?
In December 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari presented the proposed 2016 budget before a joint session of the national assembly. With Buhari’s pristine reputation as the patron saint of holiness, the budget was hailed as the best ever budget in Nigeria’s history. The accolades continued until the budget was declared missing, becoming the first budget in Nigeria’s history to be “stolen” from the national assembly. When the bulky document reappeared, allegations of padding began to dominate discussions about the budget, and Buhari’s sainthood seemed threatened. It got so bad that a federal minister disowned his ministry’s budget during budget defence proceedings at the national assembly.
In a move consistent with Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power, the budget office’s director was sacrificed. Since our dear Buhari could do no wrong, all blames were laid at the feet of the hapless director, and he was booted out of office. The President went on to blame “corrupt civil servants” who cooked up figures in the budget and wanted to embarrass his administration. He pledged that those responsible for the shameful padding would be punished. In the presidential outrage, Buhari conveniently forgot that the padded budget supposedly passed through different levels of control, including ministerial approval before receiving his official endorsement. However, the token sack of just one person and later redeployment of some senior civil servants was seen as sufficient to address the padding escapade. Buhari’s white caftan was still unblemished.
Nigerians generally have a short memory span for issues relating to politics, so everyone moved on. Nigerians had more serious issues to face, such as how to survive the biting recession. Then in the middle of December 2016, a report was published showing that some officials indicted in the padding fiasco had been transferred to a “juicy” cash office. To demonstrate how potent Buhari’s punishment threat had been, a spokesperson for the civil service even had the courage to say that the posting was a normal exercise. It is only in Nigeria that a budget would be shamefully padded, a righteous President would hypocritically scapegoat a few persons, and some of those indicted persons would then be transferred to handle monies. Talk about moving goats closer to fat yam tubers.
In a statement in November 2016, Buhari said, “I am waiting for the 2017 budget to be brought to us in Council. Any sign of padding anywhere, I will remove it.” Since the 2016 budget fiasco was seen a mistake by a new administration, it was assumed that the 2017 budget would be better. What was not clarified was what “better” meant; the same way the meaning of “change” was not made clear before the elections. With the presentation of the 2017 “Budget of Recovery”, better has been defined to mean “more padding”. Now, it can be said that Buhari’s dramatic anger about the 2016 budget was not inspired by righteousness, but a smokescreen to cover the hypocrisy in his government. As some Nigerians would say in Pidgin English, “All na wash”. How can he claim anger at padding in 2016 and still submit a well-padded budget in 2017? The new version was not even slightly better than its predecessor. Padded items gained weight in the intervening year, like garri soaked in cold water.
BudgIT, a civil organisation helping to prod Nigerian governments towards transparency, did a little review of the proposed 2017 budget. The budget which is available online, shows that this administration is hypocritical about fighting fraud. Whereas the Jonathan administration stole and accepted the decorated crown of thievery, the Buhari administration steals while swearing holiness. BudgIT presented a series of frivolous items in the 2017 budget. These items include sewage charges for the State House increasing from ₦6.1M in 2016 to ₦52.8M in 2017, making it appear that a mountain of presidential sewage is planned for production this year. Similarly, electricity charges for the State House jumped from ₦45.3M to ₦315.6M, alongside water charges that went from ₦18.7M in 2016 to ₦76.4M in 2017. More can be found on the BudgIT website.
The examples shown above are for the State House, President Buhari’s immediate sphere of influence. If the budget of the State House can be defaced like this, what would be expected of other ministries, departments and agencies? As a proof that Nigerians are taken as fools, the government did not even bother to clarify the “Residential Rent” for the State House in the 2016 budget. Instead, the figure for 2017 was almost tripled to ₦77.5M. If the State House can budget for rent for a complex supposedly owned by Nigeria, why would the Ministry of Education not budget ₦77.9M for “N/A”? This same administration would seize every opportunity to ridicule the last set of thieves, and trumpet its credentials as the best thing to ever happen to Nigeria since the invention of garri; yet it is a house of hypocrisy.
Some government apologists may want to argue that the massive increment in budgeted figures is due to growing inflation, or blame the rising dollar for the increase. If the increments were less than double, this explanation may have been grudgingly accepted as being somewhat plausible. However, it would be difficult to convince the average Nigerian that the State House not only pays rent, but its landlord can triple the rent if the exchange rate changes, or that sewage charges can be multiplied by almost ten in one year. At this point we can say that Buhari’s administration is perpetuating fraud and is being shamelessly hypocritical about its fraudulent escapades. We would leave Buhari to the judgement of Frederick, our dear Englishman.
Image Credit: jashow.org