Should Nigerians worry about budget padding?

Tony Abolo

Opaqueness defines Nigeria clearly we seem in for a ride by an opaque Presidency, NNPC Ltd and now add on, the Nigerian Senate.

Nigerians are not any longer certain if it was a N25 trillion budget that was passed for assent or it was a N28.7 trillion budget, an addition of N3.7 trillion. No thanks to budget padding as alleged by Senator Abdul Ningi, a high ranking Senator now on a 3 month suspension for raising what his colleagues called a false or wrong alarm on budget padding.

Aside this 3.7 trillion figure, a lot of figures are being bandied as provided to Senators.
Nigerians hear of 200 million, 500 million and then comes the big bang, Senator Ned Nwoko, that he got N1 billion naira.

The way the information is dispersing, we do not know for certain whether these figures, not to mention the N3.7 trillion, whether they stand for cash out “gifts”, or whether they stand for Constituency projects.

These issues get more befuddled when after the suspension of Senator Ningi, the President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio went over to meet the Presidency, an inference of having done President Bola Tinubu’s bidding or the comment by Tinubu at NASS fast breaking “Iftar” meal, when he said that the Senate’s integrity, whatever that means, is intact and that he, Tinubu, more than any of the budget padding traducers, know better about budget arithmetic.

It is that kind of statement that wrinkles, because, there is no way for President Tinubu to understand, and can explain the maths of any budget he has ever presented.

In fact, Tinubu was bluffing and he wanted the Senate to save face in what Nigerians know is an annual ritual of paddy paddy agreed riffling of the Treasury.

To worsen the Senate and Tinubu’s denials, BudgIT, an NGO that has the skills and the history of studying and analyzing budgets has backed Senator Ningi.

The NGO even alleges that Senator Akpabio got N90 billion in the 2024 budget padding. Before we bother ourselves with the annual ritual of NASS “studying’ and passing the budget, an annual ritual, where they help themselves from the National Treasury, like they say, the devil is in the detail.

Olusegun Adeniyi who has written more than a dozen articles on the need for reforming the budgeting process in Nigeria has observed that what we ceremonialize as budget making, is “essentially about the distribution of “political spoils”.

Looked at in greater details means that in the true spirit of using a budget document to plan for the expenditure and income and remit of indebtedness, either of a Federal or State or Local Government in Nigeria, is no more than an annual despoliation of the economic environment.

Has 64 years of budgeting in Nigeria has produced nothing more than misery in Nigeria? The ridiculousness of budget making in Nigeria is best seen when one examines that of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, with 20 projects totaling N18 billion and most of which have nothing to do with agriculture, but allocated to Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial district represented by Senator Godswill Akpabio. Then also, in the budget, you will find items like “Capital Supplementation, which is an instrument hard to explain by none other than Civil servants and politicians. Many items come with round sum figure, which raises questions as to the process by which those figures were arrived at.

In utter disgust, a Columnist, Olufemi Adegbulugbe calls the NASS, a den of corruption by a gang of unarmed pen robbers.

Peter Obi’s scathing remarks are worth rehashing even if they are paraphrased and excerpted in parts. Peter Obi in a tweet says, “I find it deeply disconcerting and a matter of grave concern and even shameful to read about the alleged N3 trillion discrepancy.

This alleged discrepancy is especially worrying because it represents over 10% of our national budget,… more than the combined education (N1.54 trillion) and Health (N1.38trillion) official budgets”.

The entire gamut gets more ridiculous when you read in the 2024 budget an allocation of N82.5 billion for 427 boreholes (which in effect is N193 million per borehole) or the allocation of N212 billion for 1,1150 streetlights (which translates to N184 million per street light, in a very unlit and dark Nigeria).

There are really no defences for the malfeasance going on. Constituency projects which they claim all these extra allocations are going for, are but aberrations.

They are the corruptive functions and discontinuities in our legislative houses – a huge scam and corruption personified in sleaze money as Lord Baron de Montesquieu in his spirit of Laws in 1748 would argue.

Nigeria legislators have taken over the power of oversight to a new dishonourable levels, hence we cannot but agree with Lord Acton who says – power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This was not the contemplation of John Locke when the separation of powers was being advocated in the 18th Century.
John Locke argued that when Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers are held in separate hands the protection of members of society can be as high.

The practice in Nigeria has muddled up the Doctrine of the Separation of Powers, made worse by the fact that it is the legislature that should represent the will of the people that is muddling the waters, such that Nigerians no longer know, who determines what?, who hand picks the contractors?, who supervises the constituency projects?, who dispenses the funds?, who ascertains quality and who holds the lawmakers to account?

A case in point is when in the 2024 budgetary allocation, which indeed we should call an allocation for corruption, N47.5 billion was allocated in the Ministry of Education “for the renovation and provision of learning materials in 50 schools across Nigeria” with no reference to the location of schools.

Who then do we query? How did the lawmakers allow that “allocation” to pass? The intentions of Constituency projects seem noble but it tends to carry our warped dislocation of Public Administration history. From the military days when “task forces” were used to run as extra parastatals and outside of the Civil service, service delivery routes were bastardised. Nigerians have allowed that awkward pattern to permeate our “democracy” somewhat.

The alterations are being tolerated in the name of allowing a Legislature that should make laws to be seen as serving their Constituencies as does the Executives. The ruling class has debased legislative functions into a cash and carry business and legislative members are now seen as doers and law making is relegated to the background.

So why do Nigerians not think less of our “lack lustre” “Laws” and their ineffectiveness and how they address nothing as law making which is meant for social engineering and re-engineering means nothing in Nigeria.

Little wonder Senator Monday Okpebholo and a Member House of Representative, Dennis Idahosa would want in to run as 2024 Gubernatorial Candidates in Edo State. Perhaps they get their wish. In which case, Nigerians may as well scrap the Legislature as a functionless appendage in our governance system.

It is a message the duo are symbolically passing on. But Nigerians never read their tea leaves very hard. In another few years, it may dawn on us that the caricature system Nigerians have executed needs a refiguring and reconfiguration.

What if the Executive in cahoot with their legislatures and the people are voiceless and mean nothing. If the argument looks abstruse, then Nigerians need to relook at the budgeting system and get it to function as a document for planning and development, which it has never been since 1999, because of budget padding.

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