Like Buhari, Tinubu starts strong with budget padding

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By Ikeddy Isiguzo

On Wednesday, November 23, 2022, Abubakar Malami, Minister of Justice of President Muhammadu Buhari, was regaling himself with stories of $1bn recovery, his latest figures being $300m from Switzerland in 2017. He said nothing about $20m that the United States returned more recently. Obviously, the amount was too small for accountability.

The matter of the day was the padding of the 2023 budget, the last budget of the administration in which he had served since 2015. It was no longer discussed in hushed tunes. Three ministers – Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Defence, and Health – had publicly accused the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed of inflating their budgets. Can anywhere be more public than the National Assembly where the allegations were made?

Euphemistically called budget padding, instead of looting of public funds, which it is, these three eminent ministers in the same All Progressives Congress (APC) accused their colleague publicly. Malami said the Federal Government was studying the revelations and would explore available measures to deal with them. How long would the study last?

“Whichever way one looks at it, budget padding is bad. If you budget N5bn for roads and N3bn of the funds is diverted, it means the government has lost that money and it will take longer to complete the project. The government is concerned and will do what is necessary to address the issue,” the Minister said.

Malami meant government would do nothing, absolutely nothing. He dropped a hint that budget padding could be as high as 60 per cent if we are to follow his N5bn/N3bn example.

The matter had been closed. Malami fought corruption by minimalisation. His ministerial colleague was accused by other colleagues of N206bn budget padding, and his best example of possible impact of inflating the budget was with N5bn. Where he operated, there may not be a difference between N206bn and N5bn.

The anti-corruption war died and had a public funeral between July and August 2016, just a year into the Buhari administration, and with Buhari’s first budget. A tugging of our mind could be necessary.

Abdulmumuni Jibrin, Chairman of the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee, APC member from Kano State, had accused Speaker Yakubu Dogara of padding the budget with N40bn for himself and principal officers of the House. Jibrin made a show of taking tomes of documents that he said had the proofs to the offices of different security agencies. There was live television coverage of the event.

Jibrin said he was involved in the crimes and was ready to be punished, too. Things moved fast. A 206-member Transparency Group emerged in the House, asking Dogara to resign after he made demeaning remarks about other geo-political zones to justify the allegations against him.

Dogara struck. Jibrin was suspended for 180 days for violating the privileges of members. Not a single voice rose in his defence. His politics was a sore thumb in the anti-corruption fights that Malami supports.

Nobody was investigated. No trials. No convictions. Maybe it is important to mention that none of the characters in this sleaze had immunity, the major legal reason given for not prosecuting public funds looters.

Jibrin’s vuvuzela ran its course. The political eclipse of Jibrin in that era started with his remarkable fight against the leadership of the National Assembly.

Unlike Senator Abdul Ningi who made general insinuations about money that was not tied to any projects, Jibrin was specific and had loads of documents that he handed over to the security agencies. Were they impressed?

Perhaps, because Jibrin is from the North, nobody accused him of trying to pull Dogara down because they were from different parts of the country.

When Senate Leader, Michael Opeyemi Bamidele speaks of “a failed coup” against Godswill Akpabio, the Senate President, he deliberately misses the point. What we had was a successful coup against the people. Where was the interest of the people represented in those unclear projects for which trillions had been set aside?

Opeyemi was happy that as a lawyer and public administrator for decades, he would gloss over the allegations and proudly tell us he got N500m for constituency projects. Does he know what others got assuming he thinks the N500m he got was a lot of money? Was that a reward for being in Akpabio’s corner and the divisive insinuation that Akpabio was being made to account because he was from the South?

Any suggestion that Akpabio represents anyone other than himself is the sort of ad hominem response only an Akpabio acolyte can give.

Next, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume sprang to his feet to impress us with his legendary self-importance. He got more than N500bn, he said, and that he would not tell us how much. The issue was still the opaque dispersal of public resources that have been personalised.

Similar arrogance was Dogara’s response in 2016. He pointedly alluded to knowing what he was doing. He reminded us that he was a lawyer and that there was no crime called “budget padding.” Nothing happened to him even after he shunned an invitation from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

President Tinubu sees the questionable use of national resources for personal gains as a matter for the Senate. He will not intervene, supposedly on the principles of separation of powers. Is Akpabio in-charge of the Senate’s version of the resolute nepotism that the President has shown in his appointments that abhor reflection of federal spread?

Akpabio deserves pity while he gloats in diminishing the Senate yet blames others for his failure to provide leadership. The last strips of his integrity are at stake. He should answer questions clearly about the issues Senator Ningi asked and the newer ones the co-owners of the Senate, Bamidele and Ndume, have raised.

We remember that Tinubu promised to continue Buhari’s projects. He has already exceeded Buhari in every way. Under Buhari, budget padding was alleged to be in billions. Now, the figures alleged are in trillions. Is that not a monumental achievement under a year, no matter how we blame the unstable Naira?

Nigeria is broke. Oil, the country’s main revenue source, is stolen so much at source that revenue has dwindled to very low levels. Funding of the budget includes foreign loans. Some people are making hay throwing the loans into the wind, as if they do not know where they will land.

Finally, a video of some official louts breaking the legs of a private sector competitor in the growing extortion industry in Anambra State caused me personal distress. Almost everyone I called confirmed that it was a common practice and tried to justify it. Torture is among crimes the Constitution is specifically against. I learnt the state government had arrested the louts. But what happens to the shattered legs of the man they tortured? My assumption is that he survived the torture.

Kidnapping is thriving again. The targets again are students. The incidents are too frequent that a President whose aide says gets a few hours of sleep daily, as he broods over Nigeria, cannot visit all the places. More than words are necessary to address this matter that affects the present and the future.

When the President decides to name an airport after himself, he should be bold enough to say so, in the same way he has shown that the entire country is his. It is totally disingenuous to pretend that Niger State Government named an airport that belonged to the President after the President? What is the hurry, though, in naming the airport after Tinubu? Muhammadu Buhari, his mentor named an airport after himself but on the last day of his eight-year tenure.

*Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues