By Owei Lakemfa
TWO bills in the last two weeks, defined for me the President Muhammadu Buhari government including its state of mind, wellbeing, position on democracy and its so-called war on corruption.
On Monday, December 20, 2021, it declined assent to the 2021 Electoral Act Amendment Bill on the basis – rather, excuse – that it contained a provision for direct primaries in political parties. Direct primaries empower registered members of a party to vote for their candidates in main elections, while indirect primaries empowers assumed delegates to decide on candidates.
Citing this lone provision, President Buhari threw back the bill; more like throwing away the baby and the bathwater. This is because the bill contains other provisions that would strengthen the electoral and democratic processes such as electronic voting and transmission of results.
This is the fourth time in three years, Buhari would decline assent to the bill. The first time in March 2018, his claim was that signing the bill at that time may affect the powers of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, to fix the dates of some elections. He refused assent the second time saying there are drafting issues involved.
In December 2018, he declined assent on the basis that it was too close to the 2019 general elections. Now that the 2023 elections are still far away, he says the direct primaries provision makes the entire bill incurable so there must be a surgical operation to remove the cancer.
It may sound incredible, but it is true that while President Buhari refused assent to the electoral bill because of a single provision, eleven days later, he readily signed the 2022 Budget which he told the nation has over 6,600 controversial insertions including budget padding which is an euphemism for official corruption and theft.
While signing the budget bill on Friday December 31, 2021, President Buhari accused the National Assembly, NASS, of directly padding the budget including making new insertions for itself totalling N36.59 billion.
The President also claimed that the lawmakers cut the Non-Regular Allowances of the Police and the Navy by N15 billion and N5 billion respectively despite the fact that: “personnel cost provisions are based on agencies’ nominal roll and approved salaries/allowances.”
What is unstated in this move is that overhead is usually a target because contracts can neither be awarded nor inflated on the salaries and allowances of people. So it pays law makers better to reduce personnel cost and add such monies to project costs. This is not to say that they do not sometimes increase personnel costs where they have interests like sending hordes of people to be employed.
It is a notorious fact that NASS members also make money for their private pockets by inserting or embedding new projects into the budgets of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs. The strongman of Nigeria accused the NASS of inserting 6,576 such new projects into the 2022 budget including over 1,500 into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture alone.
He lamented that these ‘projects’ have been added to the budgets of MDAs without costing, consideration for availability of funds or capacity to implement them. Is the President not aware that many of these so-called projects are not meant for execution?
Despite all these and his experience in budgeting in the last six years, the President who prides himself as the anti-corruption czar in Nigeria, signed what he otherwise presents as a monumental fraud, into law. Who is deceiving who? Is it the National Assembly deceiving the public; the President deceiving Nigerians or both the Assembly and the Presidency deceiving Nigerians and oiling the corruption machinery?
The Presidency for at least six years now has been making the same lamentations while condoning the brazen theft of public funds through budgetary provisions. It appears the Presidency has a template for the budget-signing speeches he makes annually.
For example his speech last week and the one in 2018 in which he said: “The National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira” are from the same template.
Compare President Buhari’s 2022 Budget claim that: “The cuts in the provisions for several of these projects by the National Assembly may render the projects un-implementable …” and his 2018 one that: “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.” Same script!
In 2018, Buhari lamented: “Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and costed and will, therefore, be difficult to execute.”
In the 2022 Budget he made the same assertion: “Many more projects have been added to the budgets of some MDAs with no consideration for the institutional capacity to execute the additional projects and/or for the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required…and do not appear to have been properly conceptualised, designed and costed.”
In 2019, he made similar assertions including a claim that the NASS inserted N90.3 billion in the budget to cover items like security bills and severance allowances of the outgoing National Assembly members. In the past, the Buhari Presidency used to claim it allowed budget padding because it was faced with an antagonistic NASS presided over by Dr. Bukola Saraki. So why has it continued to allow this with a pliant NASS under Dr. Ahmad Lawan?
President Buhari’s mantra was change, but it appears change is unyielding; the more things change, the more they remain the same. Sometimes, I imagine what Buhari tells himself in his quiet, reflective moments. After having been a military Head of State and contesting the Presidency thrice, shouldn’t he have just gone into retirement tending his cows and farm rather than contesting the 2015 elections?
That victory which made him the second military dictator to become a civilian President, also completely demystified him. It portrayed him as a clay-footed hero whose promissory note cannot be cashed.
Wouldn’t it have been better for him not to have been President, rather than be a Commander-in-Chief whose territory is being effectively challenged by bandits, terrorists and miscreants some of who have not only seized territory, but are also running their mini governments including imposition of taxes?
Is this a case of an exhausted lion taking a rest or one that has become old and feeble waiting for the end of his kingship? There are the legion of jobbers who tell him he is doing very well and even tease him that without him, Nigeria would have ceased to exist. My advice, is borrowed over the ages: Man, Be Truthful To Thyself.