The 2016 Budget As Anti-People | Independent Newspapers Limited
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The 2016 Budget As Anti-People

Posted: Mar 6, 2016 at 6:47 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


 Ikeogu Oke, Lagos

President Muhammadu Buhari placed a box, wrapped in Nigerian colours before a joint section of the National Assembly on December 22, 2015. He took a bow, smiled with what seemed a deep sense of accomplishment, and the plaudits clattered about him as he took his leave. When the box was opened afterwards, out flew all the plagues that threaten Nigeria.

Corruption, for which the President professes a deep hatred, flew out of that box as evidence of the padding of the budget. And Nigerians have been aghast, wondering how they came to be associated with such a misfortune.

And for once, there has been a reason – no thanks to the inglorious item in that infamous box – namely, the 2016 budget.

The President’s critics were permitted to have an open season on the budget and, by implication, him, since his presentation of the budget implies that he is satisfied with the document as his administration’s instrument of fiscal planning for the country.

And why would even his most ardent supporters demure to defend him after the mind-boggling details of the proposed expenditures in the budget came to light? Could it be because, like his critics, they were equally shocked by the glaring indefensibility of the document and some of the expenses it proposes, such as payment of rent for Aso Rock, the President’s official residence, would be right in proposing to use their collective funds to pay “rent” for his current shell of which he is, by all intents and purposes, the pro tempore landlord?

In the wake of the budget scandal the President has reacted predictably by sacking some of the public servants, including, what would amount to, the country’s chief budget officer, and vowing to punish those responsible for padding the budget. This is understandable for a leader at whose desk the buck is meant to stop, who therefore has the ultimate prerogative to sack those considered to be complicit in such matters.

But to be fair to President Buhari, I believe his involvement in this issue has no trace of conscious misdeed. I rather think he fell victim of his trust; that he was let down by people he believed he could delegate the responsibility of preparing a credible budget for him. But it is unfortunate but who instead saw an opportunity to use him as a fall guy to advance their venal interests as expressed in the budget, at the nation’s expense.

However, this paints a worrisome picture of a President who may not be in charge after all, and who must fight hard to ward off the influence of the sinister forces that surround him, threatening to take him hostage and manipulate him like a glorified puppet; and who must realise that his success depends on how soon and successfully he can snatch his independence from such forces and keep it.

It also hints at a President who needs the support of every patriotic Nigerian to succeed, given that we would all have been victims of the fraud, had the budget been passed in its original form, without the changes we expect to be made in response to our collective outrage.

Of course weeding out public servants of doubtful loyalty and integrity can be a way forward. But the result can be counterproductive unless they are replaced with competent people who also have integrity. For the President must recognise that, in such dire conditions in which Nigeria finds itself, competence must be judged superior to loyalty in choosing people for national service, provided disloyalty cannot rightly be adduced against such people.

But what perhaps makes the 2016 budget most disagreeable is its anti-people orientation. So the people, represented by the polytechnic students, get less allocation for books for their education than the office of one leader, the Vice President. This anti-people orientation of the budget is also evident in its proposal to spend more on one clinic for the State House than for building hospitals for use by the generality of the Nigerian people.

The proposed allocation for books for the Vice President’s office is particularly curious because he is already a professor, and the demands of his office are not likely to allow him time to read the volume of books one expects to be purchased with such a humongous sum, whereas reading books is essentials to the education of the students who get a lesser allocation. This is an indication of misplacement of priority that also makes the budget anti-future, for the students represent the future. 

Now, with such budgetary proposals, is it still a mystery that Nigerian education and public health system are notorious for poor performance?