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ANALYSIS: The Missing, Altered Budget

By Tajudeen Balogun, Head, African Examiner, Nigeria Bureau

BALTIMORE, MD (AFRICAN EXAMINER) – It started like a child play. When the news first hit the airwaves Tuesday afternoon that the copy of the proposed 2016 Appropriation Bill has disappeared from where it was kept in the Senate, many Nigerians did not expect the raging volumes of ripples and contradictions which have so far trailed the intriguing development. The alarm on the missing budget, media report had it, was first raised by the Senate Leader, Ali Ndume at the Upper Legislative Chamber’s Executive meeting. Shockingly, it was the same Ndume at a point (Tuesday or Wednesday?) who first denied what was then, still regarded as a speculation.

Later the same Tuesday, President Muhammadu Buhari Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu absolved the Presidency of any link in the missing saga. He adduced all manner of defence for anyone who cared to listen, saying once Mr. President has presented the budget; neither he nor his office has any business with the document anymore.

As if to tell Shehu, ‘look that defence is only for you and whoever that chooses to believe you’, the missing controversy dragged till Wednesday at the Senate’s plenary. Expectedly, an opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Senator, Eyinaya Abaribe raised a point of order, demanding clarification on the budget missing allegation. This subsequently prompted the Senate President, Bukola Saraki to set up a committee, charged with the obligation of searching for the document. The committee was then directed to feed the upper chamber back the following day (Thursday) at its plenary.

Surprisingly again, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi later the same day, told the media that the document was not missing! The Senator appeared to making an attempt to rubbish the mass media, when he opted for rhetoric. He argued that the committee which was set up by the Senate President did not amount to admittance that the budget was truly missing. Unfortunately for Senator Abdullahi, what played out later contradicted his denial. The Lawmaker was not alone in this. Also, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara the same day, (Wednesday) reacted for the first time to the issue and what he had to say was that the budget was not missing.

Like Senator Abdullahi, he was also contradicted with the report of the search committee, which dropped the bombshell yesterday (Thursday) that what it found was a different version of the Appropriation Bill! The committee reported that the available version was not the same with the one Mr. President presented Tuesday, December 22, 2015 to the joint session of the National Assembly (NASS). In the nutshell, what the committee laid its hands upon was an altered version and the person the committee alleged to have been responsible for the ‘backdoor’ job, is the President Buhari’s SA on NASS Matters (Senate), former Senator Ita Enang!

What then followed? The NASS Chairman, Saraki rejected the new version of the budget and vowed his chamber would have nothing to do with the ‘smuggled’ one. He asserted the Senate, once received soft copy of the original version, would duplicate and distribute among its members for consideration from next week Tuesday. And to further register his displeasure, Saraki went ahead to declare if the Executive truly desired any alteration in the budget, it knew and understood the normal channel to get that done.

Enang’s reaction was sought later in the day. Apparently avoiding being embroiled in more controversy, thereby making the matter messier, Enang chose to be diplomatic as he replied would not react to the allegation against him by the Senate. He also seemed calculative and tactical when enthused the matter was a very “sensitive” one. And in what appeared as another tactical attempt to leave the ‘fight’ for those who were really involved, Senator Enang added the issue was between his two superiors – the President and Saraki.

Now where do we head to from here? From the narration, nobody should pretend that, the budget was not taken away from the Senate and nothing happened to it. Although, it could have been most appropriate and more factual, if the Senate search committee was specific on what and what were altered in the proposed budget. Notwithstanding, the obvious fact is already known to the public – missed, stolen or taken away (whichever) and altered.

But beyond this, the questions to ask are: who ordered the retrieval of the budget? Is the person (s) who gave the retrieval directive in the picture of the controversial manner? Who ordered the alleged alteration of the budget? (note, the committee was not categorical on this). Why the alleged alteration? Did Senator Enang do what he alleged to have done with the knowledge of Mr. President alone or with some of his cabinet members? As a former Senator, didn’t Enang know the procedure to go about issues like this? In other words, Did Enang fail to advise Mr. President properly, on how to go about the matter? Did a section of the Senate Leadership deceive or trick Enang to goof? Is there any political power play in the entire missing saga?

I wish to restate here, that the budget was taken away by ‘whoever’ is definitely not in doubt. I do not really bother about this. Where my concern lies, is the approach and some aspects of the story, which might not be obviously clear to so many Nigerians. I might be wrong anyway. First, I wish to ask the readers if it is really possible for such a sensitive document to be taken out of the Senate Chamber, without the knowledge of its Leadership? What could have been the challenge of the person (s) who wanted the document to be withdrawn to have adopted such an embarrassing approach.?

 If as alleged, Enang was responsible for both retrieval and alteration, we all know, he could not have done so on his own. And in an attempt to answer parts of the questions I asked earlier, I wish to say here categorically that it is very wrong; unexpected; self indicting and embarrassing if the Presidency knew about the missing, in particular the manner the retrieval of the budget was done.

I say this because President Buhari’s administration is reputed for promoting culture of discipline; transparency and probity both in the public system and our National life. But can this President really descend this low? Honestly, I will rather reserve my comments and in effect, give benefit of doubt.

The reason for my position here is that, it is not really a big deal if for reasons best known to Mr. President and his cabinet members that the Appropriation Bill be withdrawn for the purpose of adjustment, modification or to correct certain errors in it. After all, it is still a proposed financial document. Still, the manner of approach really matters. I am sure if the proper approach has been taken in the withdrawal, the country would have been saved from the contradictions and controversy which surround the missing. If at all, the Senate declined the official request for alteration, the Executive’s effort would be on record and whatever that later becomes the consequence(s) of such refusal, the Senate will definitely take the blame.

Away from this, I also smell a rat on the saga. Many might not be wary of the points, but I dare say that two of the statements uttered by Senator Enang after being indicted were very instructive. Admitting that the issue was “sensitive” and that it was between his two bosses to me, suggested that the two (obvious) men he was referring to, had the knowledge of what transpired. The poor man might have quickly applied wisdom (not to become the grass that suffers when the two elephants clashed).

This is exactly what informed the question of possible power play. Everyone knew the genesis of Saraki ascension to the present number three position he occupied. That majority of his supporters in the Upper chamber of NASS belong to the opposition party is also a common knowledge. Similarly, that his opposition supporters will always prove to be so loyal to him, strategically, to ensure that their political interest receive his nod is also not disputable. That he would always wish to reciprocate the same gesture for similar reason, is a fact one should also not treat with triviality.

What I am inferring here is that, it is not impossible that Enang’s two superiors might have heard a gentlemen agreement on the questionable approach the budget was withdrawn, but along the line, the opposition lawmakers, one way or the other were privileged to be fed with the move. The beginning of wahala (trouble). Expectedly, the opposition would consider this as a very good instrument to fight the sitting Government. Remember, in politics, nothing is impossible, gbobo ara ni ija (everything is a tool to fight). I say it again; I might be wrong, but eh! I tell you, in politics, nothing is not ‘doable’!

 Perhaps, you might want to disagree on the premise that Enang’s boss on the Legislative side belongs to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC); that is very correct. But I tell you, there is no way one could distance or disconnect him from the circumstances – intrigues and altercations (within the APC and PDP) that led to his emergence as the occupant of his present position. The man, I tell you, is someone with a divided interest; forget about his obvious maximum cooperation with his party and the Presidency during the screening of the Ministerial Nominees. That is the true name and game of politics for you.

Back to the budget retrieval; its controversial manner and mixed political interest; it is important President Buhari is always extra ordinarily careful and conscious of the type (for now) legislature he is working with. It is important Mr. President is sensitive to the effect of backfiring; he must always consider and weigh actions and reactions of all parties, on every dealing and agreement the Executive will enter into with other arms of government, in particular, the Legislature. The point here is that any approach (secretly or openly) that cannot be defended through the law or by public opinion should be totally avoided. Agree, the issue in focus, is not about financial misappropriation; cash diversion or money laundering, but, a blunder – taking an administrative process for granted. But as I mentioned, in politics, the consequences if known to the opposition, can be devastating and so embarrassing as being witnessed presently. Therefore, President Buhari must be wary.

Despite the above, with the confirmation of the “stealing” of the budget and indictment of former Senator Enang, the buck is now at the doorstep of the Presidency. Since Senator Enang has submitted that the issue is between the two Presidents – Buhari and Saraki, and since the latter has spoken, President Buhari needs to, and must talk on this matter.

No matter how (critical or trivial) individuals may perceive the issue, it has been made public; considered and accepted to be disgraceful. Therefore, Mr. President must clear the air. When former US President Bill Clinton in the late 90’s was accused of sex scandal with a white House intern, Monica Lewinsky; despite that public opinion which was divided in between the fact that the offence was personal and abuse of public office, Clinton was drilled; his position was threatened by the Republican Legislators who were bent on making him to vacate his seat, while in the end, he admitted the guilt The rest of the saga as it is said, is now history.

Finally, whether the budget missed; altered or not, President Buhari, it is over to you; or whoever you wish to delegate, to talk to Nigerians on the matter. Mr. President, speak up and clear the air once and for all on the saga please!

E-Mail: tjaysuccess10@gmail.com; Facebook: Tajudeen Balogun; Twitter: @tjaysuccess10

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