Buhari’s Tepid War against Corruption, Budget Padding

Ecological Fund: An Epicentre of Corruption

Who should we trust again with the leadership of our dear country with glaring failure staring President Buhari and his drowning All Progressives Congress (APC) that trumpeted competence and sincerity for trust in 2015? In 2015, the three major campaign promises of Muhammadu Buhari of the APC were on security, economy and anti-corruption.

Despite several setbacks in his war against insurgency, history may not be too harsh on Buhari because outright defeat of insurgency is near impossible. Although Nigeria’s stakeholders including Obasanjo, who had warned President Buhari not to treat killer herdsmen with kid gloves but as terrorists at a period the president listened to only ‘loyal gatekeepers’ who had embarked on unscrupulous assault on victims and those who resisted infiltration of killer herdsmen to their reserved forests, will insist he mishandled the herdsmen war.

To an unbiased observer of unfolding events, President Buhari inherited a wobbling economy compounded by the outbreak of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic. Ngozi Okonja-Iweala, former president Jonathan’s finance minister admitted in May 2015 that Nigeria was borrowing money to pay salaries as a result of governor’s refusal to save for the rainy day. In her own words: “As a result of the 50% decline in oil revenue…… the government has borrowed N473billion ($2.5billion) to meet up with recurrent expenditure”. In fact Chukwuma Soludo, former Central Bank governor and now the governor of Anambra State predicted that whoever was to win the 2015 presidential election, would be haunted by ongoing economic crisis. According to him, “probably more than N30trillion has either been stolen or lost or unaccounted for or simply mismanaged…..while some faceless public ‘thieves’ were pocketing over $40million per day from crude oil alone reference to Premium Times story of February 1, 2015.

Again, some will also argue it was on account of this that Nigerians traded Jonathan for Buhari in the hope he would end the hemorrhage by refurbishing our refineries and by retrieving our common patrimony from those who sold to themselves the nation’s total investment of over $100billion for less than $1.5billion so that our teaming youths could secure employments.

I doubt much if President Buhari has any hiding place over his mishandling of his anti=corruption war which according to an APC stalwart, he wages against opposition party using insecticide but applies perfumed-deodorant when it involves his supporters hiding under the cover of APC. P erhaps more damaging is the fact that for seven years, Buhari could not stop the criminal act of budget padding and diversion of constituency projects, the source of massive corruption in the national assembly controlled by his party.

When Obasanjo between 1999 and 2003 dragged about 17 governors to court over corruption and dismissed his PDP-dominated national assembly as “pen robbers”, as late as December 31, 2021 during his signing of the 2022 Appropriation Bill, all we got from Buhari was the same periodic tepid complaint about budget padding. Lamenting about the padding of the budget by N735.85billion as if he forgot the buck stops at his table, he had said “Provisions made for as many as 10, 733 projects were introduced into the budget by the national lawmakers”.

From the birth of the fourth republic in 1999, our lawmakers who publicly declared that, having sold their houses and other possessions to contest the election, part of their mission in politics is to recoup their expenses, have never held any pretence to serving the country. they first cornered 25% of the yearly national budget to themselves. They then created artificial fuel scarcity to justify expanding number of fuel importers from about four to over hundred, set up Pipeline and Product Marketing Company (PPMC) through which their children later forged documents to swindle the country over N1.7trillion.

Migerians first heard of budget padding following President Obasanjo’s stand-off with the national legislators in 2000 when they jerked up that year’s N667.41billion and their own assembly’s N22.6billion budget by N2billion.

Many at that period had thought the problem was with Obasanjo’s appointment of ‘inexperienced’ Dr Bukola Saraki, fresh from the medical school in the United Kingdom as Budget Adviser. However, his successors were confronted with the same problem despite their so call experience.

In her book—-Fighting Corruption in Dangerous: The Story Behind the Headlines, Okonjo-Iweala confirmed the National Assembly increased the 2015 budget by N17billion which she said “the executive had to accept as a price to pay move on” but insisted the country must clear up and clarify its budget process for the future to improve”.

And because the N17billion padding by the national assembly was suspected to have been inserted as election expenses, The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) sent a letter in which they threatened to institute legal proceeding to compel Buhari’s government of change’ to act in public interest.

Then, a Civic Technology Organization—BudgIT produced a report for the new sheriff in town’ on N350billion appropriated by the national assembly in respect of about 2,516 projects spread across the country over a period of five years which never too off even after full payment had been made. Such constituency projects inserted in budgets not executed but fully paid are there for discreet investigation and subsequent action.

On July 17, 2016, The Nation Newspaper in its published report titled “Constituency Projects—-a ritual of monumental waste” summarized the result of a survey of 436 projects spread across 16 states of the federation by BudgIT. It listed projects such as water boreholes, rural electrification and road projects and primary health centres designed to alleviate the suffering of the poor but either abandoned or not executed across the visited 16 states of the federation but paid.

We have no evidence that Buhari and his government of change’ did anything to punish the culprits involved.

Instead, the 8th and 9th National Assembly dominated by his APC men has become ‘a house of dealmakers’, “probably the worst we ever have since the return to civilian rule” according to Professor Itse Sagay SAN, a ‘predatory legislature’ according to Biodun Jeyifo, responsible for the most unjust and lopsided pay structure in the world’, according to the influential The Economist Magazine’.

As if to confirm the baleful legacies of the national assembly dominated by APC, when one Abdul Mumini Jobrin was removed as chairman of the Appropriation Committee over allegation he ‘unilaterally padded the 2016 budget to the tune of N4.1billion to his Kiru/Bebeji federal constituency in Kano state’, he spilled the beans and attributed his trivails to his inability “to admit into the budget almost N30billion personal requests from the Speaker and three other principal officers”.

The APC dominated ‘house of deal’ was soon to be haunted by more scandals. On January 11, 2017, the Nigerian Customs had intercepted and impounded a British made Range Rover SUV which carried documents that claimed its chassis number was “SALGV3TF3EA190243”, valued at N298million with an alleged fake documents presented by the driver showing payment of N8million as against expected customs duty of N74million. Investigation later confirmed the vehicle belonged to the President of the Senate, Dr Bukola Saraki.

Then Colonel Dangiwa Umar, a highly principled former military administrator of Kaduna State spoke of an influential senator, who used his company to import 1,200 metric tons of rice in 30-40foot containers, fraudulently declared as yeast to evade payment of appropriate duties. The importer went scot free while “the leader of the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise &Tariff” put the blame on the clearing agent.

The same senator was also said to own a company that secured a contract to dredge the Calabar Channel which the Bureau of Public Procurement condemned as violating all due processes. The senator “demanded and got a whopping $12.5million upfront payment from the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA) and even requested for a purported balance of $22million” despite the fact that there was no evidence the contract was ever executed.

Thomas Browne 1642 said: “Charity begins at home is the voice of the world: yet is every man his greatest enemy”.

President Buhari and his Change slogan have woefully failed the test. Real change should come in 2023 where stolen public funds through any mean from all those rogues and their hangers-on, appendages, bootlickers and sycophants be retrieved to sanitize the abnormality threatening the comfort of the bread liners in the majority.

Muhammad is a commentator on national issues

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