Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Does Nigeria’s 2016 budget exemplify transparency or corruption?

Yesterday, the Nigerian National Assembly announced the suspension of the deadline date initially set for the passing of the 2016 budget appropriation bill. The budget, which has been deliberated upon by the National Assembly for the past week, contains different anomalies and inconsistent figures. The integrity of the budget, and the people who prepared it, has been questioned as an indictment on the “change” mantra promulgated by Nigeria’s present administration. The deadline for passing the budget was the 25th of February, but now that it has been suspended, it seems the original fear that its implementation would be delayed is looking quite likely. It would appear that every sector represented in the budget will now have to review its allocations.

This latest furore surrounding Nigeria’s budget is the latest in a long list of related issues. The “lost but found” budget episode in January this year was quickly followed by its withdrawal and re-presentation to the National Assembly by President Muhammadu Buhari. Then hot on the latter’s heels was the issue of the National Assembly’s decision to keep its allocation in the 2016 budget a mystery, an act which made Nigerians cry out in protest, lending more strength to the hashtag #OpenNASS on twitter. It seems that, finally, Nigerians have woken up to one of their rights in a democracy i.e. the close monitoring given to the openness of the budget.

However, this latest problem seems to trump the others because it questions the competence and credibility of President Buhari and his appointments (that took him months to make in the first place because, ironically, he wanted to choose credible and competent people). There were inflated budget allocations for some ministries, while some figures were repeated so many times some Nigerians began to wonder if there was an actual Ministry of Budget and National Planning in the country. Buhari’s acclaimed 2016 ‘budget of change’ has now been termed a ‘budget of corruption.’

President Buhari, through his spokesperson, called the budget manipulation the work of the “Budget Mafia”, whatever that means. However, the state clinic for President Buhari’s presidential villa, Aso rock, will receive more allocation than the Federal Hospitals in the rest of the country, which means the president’s inner caucus is not excused from blame. There’s also the case of the “house rent” for the Aso Rock in the budget.

If Buhari claims non-complicity in the inconsistencies in the budget, perhaps he should sack everyone working with him in the State house. Similarly, ministers of sectors like Health and Education, when asked to defend their federal allocations in the budget at the National Assembly, disowned the content of their ministries allocation claiming that was not what was written down originally. This has left many wondering if it was done by a ghost bent on indirectly revealing the deep, deep rot in Nigeria’s public system.

Since there has never been any confusion with budget implementation in Nigeria’s democratic history, is this present misunderstanding fueled by the peculiarity of the present time? To many, President Buhari has become a some sort of anti-corruption ‘punisher’ since his inauguration. Are these present budget revelations a result of the transparency promised by the reformed democrat, exposing the still corrupt officials scattered in Nigeria’s public system, the ones he didn’t know about? Or have Nigerians just been pawned? It is yet to be seen how President Buhari will redeem his image in the eyes of Nigerians, because, despite his stance on corruption, it appears that Nigerians have been sold dreams.

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