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Opinion

Budget padding and Nigeria’s economy

Nigeria's budget

Logically, “padding” in whatever form, is one of the elements of corruption. Although like so many other English words, “padding” has several meanings. Its literal interpretation in accounting is “false entry”. Its applications by those who have a penchant for corruption are opaque and varied in nature. It could be used to manipulate census figures, contract values, workforce (“ghost” workers), electoral figures, goods and services, etc.

Budgeting is the property of accounting, and political rhetoric or hocus-pocus cannot separate them. In this context, budget padding is not only fraudulent, it is also a destructive crime against the future of the people. In fairness to the people, and in line with our orchestrated “change” and the “fight against corruption” mantras, perpetrators of high-profile padding — being economic saboteurs and betrayers of public trust – must not go unpunished.

The padding syndrome has dealt Nigeria a terrible blow. It is a dangerous propeller pulling our economy astern, which has refused to disengage, to enable the vessel of Nigeria’s economy and nation-building to forge ahead.

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Padding is a social evil. It is operated by transgressors who lack social conscience and sobriety. It has the venomous tendency to destroy the economy and the polity of any country that fails to forestall its growth. Ghana was a victim of a padded economy. But when the ruling elites were ready to sincerely combat corruption, a disciplined and motivated leadership-by-example became the norm of public office, and Ghanaians followed suit.

At various times, all advanced countries went through such uncivilised and barbaric governance. But they took steps to ameliorate the situation and embraced civilisation before it became too late.  For instance, the state of affairs in England at the ascension of Henry VII, after the War of the Roses in 1485, – 30 years of civil war — was chaotic! The barons kept personal armies and did not care for the law. According to a historian, “Devastation of crops led to famine; and the disbanding of baronial forces led to increase in the number of sturdy beggars”.

Records have it that the coasts of England were infested with pirates; farmers and merchants were in constant peril of robbery and destruction; judges were corrupt; the House of Commons was too weak, and its members did not even have the ambition to make it strong. The country was not united; it needed a strong government to restore law and order. The situation then was worse than what we have in Nigeria today. But when the masses observed that the leadership was ready to salvage the country, they followed suit.

But unfortunately, the reverse is the case in Nigeria. When in 2015 the present ruling party blew the whistle for “change”, Nigerians, except some of the ruling elite, were ready for real change! Although heads are rolling in the judiciary now, the Federal Government has withdrawn one of the cases against the Senate leadership, and some may no longer see the sun. Similarly, the 2016 budget padding scandal has almost become completely trivialised. These actions are reducing people’s belief and trust in our orchestrated “change” and “corruption crusade”.

Ironically, the foundations of the 1914 structure called Nigeria were pivoted on padding by the colonialists. For instance, five padded population censuses were conducted by the colonialists between 1866 and 1911 in this country. Bad enough, the delimitation and delineation of this country were anchored on the outcome of those padded numerical exercises.

And those were the genesis of the unmendable crack in our co-existence!  In a similar vein, the censuses that were conducted between 1921 and 1952 were also characterised by padding. In his confession, a team player in the British exploitation of Nigeria, Harold Smith, confirmed the padding of population figures. In his words: “Despite seeing vast land with no humans but cattle, we still gave the north 55 million instead of 32 million.”

Evidently, the colonialists exposed us to corruption. They also taught us falsehood, money laundering and padding norms. That notwithstanding, if after 56 years of our independence we have not been able to sincerely retrace our steps and correctly put our future in our own hand, it means that the ruling elite are toying with our future by making Nigeria look like a country that has no focus.  So, those who are taking budget padding as trivial or treasured inheritance are only doing so to water their selfishness and greedy appetite!

The revelation by the former Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumini Jibrin, is the beginning of divine retribution. Meaning that the people’s vengeance for the elite’s misrule is at hand. The poor masses are watching the executive misconduct at the National Assembly. Absolutism and injustice may trigger people’s provocation when push comes to shove.

The ruling elite had converted the nation’s wealth into dollars, shared, and carted away into foreign banks when the naira was doing fairly well in the foreign exchange market.

With the present exchange rate, their loot have become a boon to them. So, they now have more than enough money to fight the corruption crusade to a standstill. Mismanagement and theft of public funds by the ruling elite are the cause of the present economic mess called recession.

It is incomprehensible to political watchers why the pivotal revelations by Jibrin are still being ignored by the appropriate law enforcement agents. And why the lawmakers whom he alleged to have committed offences ranging from budget padding to the misappropriation of public funds persecuted him for alerting the nation to the existing and the envisaged dangers that are capable of ruining the nation’s economy, and its co-existence.

Democracy thrives when ethical and moral values are given a chance to function. Real democrats resign from public office – on moral grounds – whenever misconduct of any kind is established against them. For example, in Israel, Rabin resigned his post when a journalist discovered that his wife maintained a few thousand dollars in a bank account in Washington, a conduct that violated Israel’s strict foreign currency laws.

Some members of our ruling elite pretend not to see anything wrong in budget padding. Despite the solo efforts by Jubrin to bring the full attention of all the law enforcement agencies concerned to positively look into the budget padding scandal, the matter drags on the floor with little or no action by the agencies! As a result, the exposure is gradually becoming a trivialised and forgotten issue.

Today, stiff punitive measures are taken against Jibrin by his colleagues in the House of Representatives for exposing the longstanding high profile misconduct in the legislature.

Many are willing to die for Nigeria, but the fear of persecution – since justice is not guaranteed — has made them live in absolute trepidation and taciturnity. Hence, plutocracy, theft and absolutism ¬have successfully turned our democracy into a feudal system, while executive lawlessness and impunity pervade our polity.

According to Jibrin:  “I would rather say there is corruption in the House of Representatives. Not only that there is corruption, there is institutional corruption and these are things that I can also prove and these are all the second layer of what my struggle is going to be about.”

Jubrin has accused the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and three other principal officers of the House of padding the 2016 budget to the tune of over N400bn. He said that the allegation by former President Olusegun Obasanjo that the National Assembly was populated by corrupt elements could not be dismissed. Ironically, the body language of some past principal officers of the House of Representatives signifies support for budget padding, meaning that budget padding is a legislative ritual.

The negative approach of some of the ruling elite to Jubrin’s struggle to combat a segment of corruption in our polity is a clear indication that these elite are not set to become selfless, modest or public friendly democrats. Public office entails honour. So, astute public office holders command respect when they observe self-discipline as a prerequisite for service.

For example, the President of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, rides a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle. He donates 90 per cent of his salary to the poor. His frugal lifestyle and zero interest in materialism makes him the symbol of good governance and a shining example in Uruguay.

Good governance is about the genuine use of democratic principles to drive the future of the people. Such drive encompasses a high standard of moral, ethical and financial discipline. Like all other elements of corruption, padding has become a culture in our country.

Tell a motor mechanic, carpenter, mason or any craftsman to quote for a domestic maintenance job and his dishonest padding may force you to suspend the job. Doctors, lawyers and all other professionals are not exempted! So, padding – as an inevitable and opaque market booster – has become a permanent and hidden big money-making machine for the greedy and unpatriotic.

  • Temionu, a public affairs analyst based in Lagos, wrote via temorgent@yahoo.com

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