For the first time since Nigeria’s return to democracy, the government has set up a public hearing for the budget of the federal republic. Though a number of persons might feel a public hearing concerning budgets should have been in the system before now, we must appreciate the fact that it has come at last. Not just appreciate, but also seize the opportunity it provides us to challenge the seemingly unscrupulous attitude of the government towards the line items on the budget on one side, and the frivolous items as well as the bogus and utterly senseless repetitions on the budget on the other.
When the draft of the budget was released in December, the normal reaction for anyone who has been following the trend of event would be “no, not again’’ at the sight of overblown figures and repetitious items. For a government which promised change, we reckon things like this should never occur especially after the drama that trailed the 2016 budget. Alas, the 2017 budget is just as filled with repetitious items as the 2016 budget.
We find a government supposedly fighting wastefulness, budgeting over 200 million naira for the food items in the state house in what is nothing but a brazen show of the same wastefulness that defined the last administration. To show that Solomon in all his glory would not have been able to compete with the spoons and plates and cookers of Aso Rock, let alone the human beings staying there in wealth, the presidency budgeted over 100 million naira for kitchen and cabinet utensils for the state house. The only explanation is the housekeepers plan on changing the spoons after every use.
Some ministries have the same item repeated as much as 20 times, while our super minister, Babatunde Fashola, will spend 222 million naira on photocopy machines. Isn’t Nigeria just interesting?
When the announcement of a public hearing was made, I particularly was happy that the bogus figures will be challenged by sane Nigerians who have taken their time to go through the budget. We cannot trust the legislators who have made themselves the cankerworm and caterpillar bent on destroying the corner wood – not cornerstone – of this country.
However, we are able to talk about the executive budget because it is available. What about the legislative budget of about 150 billion naira whose detail is shrouded in secrecy? Besides the executive budget, the budget of the house deserves a public vetting, and that’s supposed to be the core of the OPEN NASS agenda of the Saraki-led 8th senate.
Over 150 billion naira is spent yearly on just about 550 people who make up 0.0003 percent of the Nigerian populace – these individuals are supposed to be in public offices to represent the public, but their actions have made us know better. In the spirit of fairness and sincerity, there is no better timing than now for the senate to follow up its public debate of the 2017 budget by revealing the details of the National Assembly budget.
They have until now been able to operate a “cabal-like” assembly due to the opaque system of administration in Nigeria. The tactic is simple: you will not protest what you do not know. This change should not be one-sided. We must as a people be privy to how our wealth is shared. If after the public hearing, the budget of the National Assembly is still a mystery, then it shows the Legislators are not doing this in the interest of Nigerians, but rather as a way of getting back at the executive. The Yoruba adage that “charity begins at home” implies that to be qualified to supervise the vetting of another person, you must first be vetted yourself. The time to vet the budget of the assembly has come, and it will be unwise of the legislators to attempt to buy their way out of it by foregrounding the executive.