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Sympathy for Buhari

Even as he was presenting the 2017 budget proposal before a joint session of the National Assembly last Wednesday, it was evident that President Muhamadu…

Even as he was presenting the 2017 budget proposal before a joint session of the National Assembly last Wednesday, it was evident that President Muhamadu Buhari can do with some sympathy, given the mounting daily grind of pressures from the seeming intractability of the contemporary challenges facing the country. In apologising to the legislators and the entire nation for the late presentation of the budget, he cited as reason his participation in a trip by West African leaders to visit The Gambia and dissuade the despot Yaya Jammeh from overstaying his welcome, having ruled that West African country for 22 unbroken years, and is reluctant to leave now, in spite of losing elections to remain in office. Buhari had actually arrived Nigeria by 4.00 am that Wednesday morning and by 2.00 pm in the afternoon he was presenting the 2017 budget to the legislature. That is vintage Buhari; indefatigable! 

He went on to present a budget that is coming against the backdrop of heightened anxiety over its fortunes prior to presentation, which in turn drew from the flip flop manner with which elements in the Presidency had recently flaunted policy initiatives and actions with undue overbearing air of infallibility and omniscience. While the pundits may be busy decoding the deeper implications of the budget package, of more significance is the sequence of actions and inactions by the President’s team which will actually define the shape of things to come. After all the budget package is a mere expression of intent by the government on the likely direction it intends to take the country in the coming year. So it is these men and women behind the scene that will wield the levers of government for Buhari to take the shame or shine, as the case may be. 

A typical instance was the President’s request to the National Assembly asking the latter to approve a loan package of 29.7 billion. Due to tardiness in processing that transaction by the President’s team, the request was denied, with significant implications for the executive and the rest of the country. As details later emerged, the loan package was submitted to the National Assembly by the Presidency without accompanying documentation. Another instance was the case of the 2017 – 2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) which underwent a medley of flip flops, in the course of earning the approval of the National Assembly and even failed to earn such before the budget presentation. 

Earlier was the case of 2016 budget which was nearly subsumed in the ill perceived budget padding scandal. That budget itself was lately presented and eventually imposed telling effects on the country as are witnessed today. For allowing a late budget the government shot itself in the foot as it lost the capacity to address the challenge of managing the economy as intended. Needless to state that the ongoing recession of the economy remains one of the indisputable consequences of what Speaker of the House of Representatives refers to was “distorted budget cycle”. 

As if nothing was learnt from the 2016 budget now comes the 2017 draft budget, and as inadmissibly late as ever – in fact on the eve of the commencement of the scheduled vacation of the federal legislature. Its belated presentation effectively precludes the prospects of any significant action being taken on it by the legislators within this fading year. From experience, it is likely that the earliest time the budget may impact on the economy may be June 2017. And if things do not change, then will loom another failed budget for 2018 and the cycle continues ad infinitum.

As if the budget and fiscal woes are not enough, the State House itself is presently enmeshed in a major scandal linked to the revelation by the Senate, of a questionable transaction in which companies allegedly belonging to the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) Babachir David Lawal, were reported to use inflated contracts to syphon public funds designated to bring succour to the victims of the Boko Haram ravages in the North East. Senator Shehu Sani chaired the ad hoc committee set up by the Senate to investigate the award of a N1.3 billion contract awarded by the Presidential Initiative for the North East (PINE) to ameliorate the mounting humanitarian crisis in the war ravaged zone. The snag is that instead of addressing himself to the key elements of the panel’s report, Lawal is already playing the untouchable by accusing the Senate of a having a hidden agenda to ridicule him. According to Senator Sani, the SGF not only awarded works contract on the rehabilitation of the zone to companies in which he has overriding interest, he also took undue advantage to exploit the state of emergency in that area to over inflate contracts to the benefit of the companies. The Senate had called for the resignation and possible prosecution of the SGF. 

In the context of a chronicle of the acts of commission and omission of the Presidency, these few instances are only a part of the parade of excesses that enjoy a common ground as the unwarranted negatives that should not feature in the circumstances associated with the persona of the President Buhari, especially in line with his ‘Change Begins With Me’ agenda’, especially in the context of their deleterious effects on the country.   

For instance, the implications of presenting a budget programme whose statutory tenure runs from January 1st – December 31st  2017 in December instead of August or September of the preceding year are often underrated.   Yet hardly does any other dispensation engender the syndrome of economic stagnation, and even recession than late budgets. It is therefore for good measure that the Speaker House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara raised the issue in his vote of thanks at the budget presentation occasion which he aptly ascribed the anomaly to a “distorted budget cycle”. Incidentally, Dogara’s lament over distortion in the budget cycle also applies to the incontinences of the earlier mentioned loan request and MTEF issue.

Interestingly, while he was presenting the budget on Wednesday and reeling out impressive statistics on successes and projections, fears about the fortunes of not only the budget but the entire administration were openly canvassed by an elderly Nigerian who simply quipped “if Buhari plans to run as he projects then he deserves the sympathy of all Nigerians as the race will be against both his targets and some of his inner caucus members”.