Earlier this year, somewhere in Abuja, I sat down over a couple of drinks with a close friend of mine who is a senior official of a very strategic federal agency. We have been friends for a very very long time. We were discussing the issue of the budget and the new concept of budget padding.
I told him I didn’t believe such a thing was possible. I mean, how can people sit down and completely rewrite budget estimates sent by the executive to the legislature?
My guy laughed at me and told me in clear terms that not only is it possible but it is something that has been happening every year for several years in this country.
According to him, there is a special syndicate who are “budget consultants” and it is these people who work closely with the legislators, some members of the executive together with top civil servants in the National Assembly and other ministries and departments to do this neatly.
Budget Distortion of the Past
My guy went on and on explaining how the thing works. He said, if you bring past budgets, you will see things like
- N600 M – Purchase of Medical equipment at Federal Medical Centre Birnin Kebbi.
- N300 M – Upgrade of facilities at School of Aviation, Kano.
- N2 Billion – Purchase of computers at the Office of the Head of Service.
- N4 Billion – Conferences and Trainings at the Office of the SGF.
- N4 Billion – Upgrade of kitchen facilities at the State House.
- N12 Billion – Purchase of surveillance equipment at the National Defence College.
- N22 Billion – Upgrade of facilities at Nigerian Embassies and Foreign Missions
These monies are never spent on these items but end up in private pockets. Shared by the various interest groups.
He said to me that this is the first time this issue is becoming a problem and everybody is surprised because it is what goes on regularly here. It is part of the system.
These people who run these syndicates live large in Abuja. They live in choice areas, drive heavy automobiles, carry the finest chics in town and spend money like there is no tomorrow but you can’t link them to any business. They simply live large on budget padding.
They simply move figures from one part of the budget to the other part and share the cash. Simple.
We all have heard how the 2016 budget recently sent to the President for his assent was distorted and key projects had their allocations manipulated.
In particular, two key rail projects were affected. According to the reports, the President had sent estimates of 80 billion Naira for the Lagos – Calabar coastal rail project. Another is the Lagos- Kano rail project of which 100 billion Naira was sent as estimate.
The National Assembly allegedly completely removed the Lagos-Calabar coastal rail project. What of the 80 billion Naira earmarked for it?
They took half of the amount which is 40 billion Naira and added to the estimates for the Lagos Kano rail project jerking it up to 140 billion!
They now took the other half of 40 billion Naira and distributed to projects located in the north. Many of these projects are located in the constituencies of the Chairmen of the Senate and House of Reps Committees on Appropriation, Senator Danjuma Goje and Hon Abdulmumin Jubrin.
There are others too. For instance, it was alleged that the sum of 4 billion Naira was moved from the original budget of the Ministry of Health and moved to the Code of Conduct Tribunal while another sum of 8.7 billion Naira was removed from the budget of the Idu- Kaduna rail project, a project that had reached advanced stages.
Perhaps, the most ridiculous is the removal of almost 9 billion Naira from the estimates meant for upgrade of transmission of power into the purchase of tricycles and the construction of town halls.
If you recall during one of the budget Defence sessions, the Health Minister, Prof Isaac Adewole told the Senate Health Committee that the figures he was seeing were completely different from what his ministry submitted. Several other ministers said the same thing but we all dismissed it as part of the lies of Buhari.
Could it be why they refused to send the budget details initially? Who will sign a budget without its details?
My worry here is how legislators from the South will allow this kind of injustice to happen, though the report says that most of them are not even aware of this situation. They simply trusted the Appropriation Committee leadership to do what is right but they didn’t.
In particular, National Assembly members from the South South and South West should hide their faces in shame if this removal of the Lagos – Calabar Coastal rail project is confirmed.
Senator Ben Bruce in particular cannot know when such things happen with the way he spends his time on Twitter and Facebook.
My take is that I choose to wait to hear from all sides before I make my final conclusions. I want to hear from the National Assembly. From Senator Danjuma Goje. From Hon Abdulmumin Jubrin.
I want to hear from Senator Godswill Akpabio who is the Minority Leader and from Akwa Ibom State. From Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila who is the House Leader and from Lagos State.
I shall give them fair hearing.
When they speak, then I will know what to say.
Until then, let me consult my Snuff Box?