National Budget Palaver: Who’s Fooling Who? | Independent Newspapers Limited
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National Budget Palaver: Who’s Fooling Who?

Posted: Apr 15, 2016 at 3:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Tiko Okoye

Just when almost everyone thought we had passed the crisis point in the war of words between the executive arm of government and the legislature over the passage of the 2016 National Budget, another boil on the privates seems to have ruptured. The latest crisis involves the alleged refusal of President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Appropriation Bill transmitted to him by the National Assembly on the grounds that several projects designed to provide an elixir to the comatose economy were removed, while others were padded up.

Mindful of the potential explosive anger of millions of hard-pressed Nigerians who earnestly looked forward to the signing of the 2016 Appropriation Bill as the ultimate solution to their ‘wilderness experience,’ the National Assembly wasted little time firing on all cylinders. The spokesman for the Senate warned the Presidency to “stop engaging in surreptitious campaigns of calumny against the Senate in order to cover up its shortcomings.”

It has become obvious from the ceaseless acrimonious exchanges between the Presidency and the National Assembly that they are both more preoccupied with winning the PR war for public support, with the collective interest of Nigerians consigned to the back burner.

The bone of contention this time around is the Calabar-Lagos rail project. The presidency claims it was removed from the budget while the legislators counter that it was never listed in the first place. But it is easy to sift the wheat from the chaff. A number of incontrovertible facts can be deduced from explanatory remarks made by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Land Transport, Sen. Gbenga Ashafa.

First, that the Calabar-Lagos rail project was indeed never listed in the budget proposals submitted by Buhari. Second, that during the defence of his ministry’s budget, Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, duly informed the Ashafa committee (and its counterpart in the House of Representatives) of the omission of the rail project by the Budget Office. Third, that Amaechi actually submitted a supplementary copy of the ministry’s budget to the committee, which contained the rail project (and signed off by the Budget Office).

Although Sen. Ashafa just stopped short of spilling the beans – obviously in clear deference to his colleagues – it can be reasonably concluded that his committee included the disputed rail project in its report to the Senate Appropriations Committee. But the Joint Appropriations Committee of the National Assembly deleted the project on the basis that it was “smuggled” into the budget by Amaechi, and didn’t originate from President Buhari, and that including it would “amount to padding.”

As far as I am concerned, the action of the legislators amounted to no more than misguided political posturing.  After all, “A truth that is told with bad intent,” so said English poet and painter William Blake, “beats all the lies you can invent.”  If it is indeed true that the National Assembly refused to include the rail project because it was not included in the original draft presented by Buhari, what of the N92billion the legislators added to the estimates for the Lagos-Kano rail modernization project that was equally not provided for?

***And if they sexed up the amount for the latter because it is their constitutional right to remove or add to budget estimates presented to them by the Presidency, as they are wont to declare, what then stopped them from “adding” the Calabar-Lagos rail project – even if it was entirely omitted in the first instance and Amaechi never presented it at the budget defence – if it was in the overall interest of the nation?***

I am greatly disappointed by the dog-in-a-manger attitude of legislators from the South-South and South-East geopolitical zones, who are majorly of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP). They chose to sacrifice the overriding interest of their zones on the puny altar of political vendetta: their incandescent collective dislike for Amaechi for obvious reasons and rubbishing Buhari with an eye on 2019. Who exactly is fooling who?

The dissident elements of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from the North and disgruntled PDP aficionados from the South already scheming to form a strong third party that would do to the APC what the latter successfully did to the PDP are well advised to take heed of the analogy by Irish-born English playwright Oliver Goldsmith: “The dog, to gain some private ends, went mad, and bit the man. (But) The man recovered of the bite; the dog it was that died”! I rest my case.