Simon Kolawole Live!: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The day President Goodluck Jonathan—or should I say the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)—failed to install Mulikat Adeola-Akande as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, he lost significant voltage in the power game. The PDP members in the House revolted against the party leadership and, along with the opposition parties, overwhelmingly voted Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as the Speaker. The margin of 252-90 was the biggest landslide you would ever witness. Hidden, or not so hidden, in those figures is the fact that Jonathan was going to face formidable opposition in the House where his party has the majority. I am therefore not surprised that their relationship is always in turmoil.
The latest controversy is on the 2012 Appropriation Act—what we call the budget. The House has asked that the budget be implemented 100 per cent by September 2012, if not President Jonathan would be impeached. For those who may not know, the budget, once passed by the National Assembly, becomes a law. Failing to implement it automatically means the president can be impeached for breaking the law. There are two fundamentals here. One, the National Assembly has a responsibility to Nigerians to make sure the budget is not just an ordinary bunch of papers. Two, the president is obliged to obey the laws of the land; the Appropriation Act is one of them. Therefore, nobody can fault the lawmakers for insisting that the budget should be implemented.
I can identify at least talking points over the latest fiasco. One, why did the president not implement the budget? Two, is the September date set by the House feasible? Three, how can we avoid this sort of confrontation in the future? Of course, I am aware of the allegations of political undertones over the face-off. I know that people in the president’s camp believe the latest showdown was caused by Jonathan’s decision to dump the Farouk Lawan report on the subsidy saga. The House is fighting back, according to this camp. There are also insinuations over the constituency projects which, it is alleged, are a good source of slush funds to lawmakers. It is believed that they are angry that the liquid is not flowing the way they would love it. But, to be honest, these are not the real issues we should be discussing. We should focus on the substance of the matter.
Why is Jonathan not implementing the budget? Obviously, there is a breakdown in communication. As a layman, I know that the budget was passed only in April. Effectively, we’ve just entered the fourth month of the 2012 budget as passed into law. The first four months of the year were spent debating and approving the budget. By law, the Federal Government could spend up to 50 per cent of last year’s budget during this period. It is therefore impossible to judge the performance of 2012 budget on the basis of January to September, when in fact it only became operational in April. If it would take me five hours to get to Benin City and I take off at 10am, it would be unfair of you to expect me to be in Benin City by 1pm. Failure to pass the budget on time automatically leads to missed milestones.
Is it possible for the president to attain 100 per cent implementation by September? Now, I am a bit confused here. If the 2012 budget is for 12 months, how can I attain 100 per cent by the ninth month? What percentage would I score when we get to October, November and December? About 140 per cent execution? Something is wrong there. Perhaps, what the House is saying is that by September, the budget from January to September should have been executed 100 per cent. That makes more sense. However, if the budget for January to September was only approved in April, how can I achieve 100 per cent in three or four months? Some of these projects are technical in nature. You cannot, for instance, rush to build a road or bridge within three months, given the practical hindrances.
Finally, how can we avoid this kind of crisis in the future? Simple: the president and his team must present the budget as early as possible. There is nothing that says the budget cannot be submitted to the National Assembly by October. The target should be that by the last day of December, next year’s budget has been passed. If we do things properly, we would not have to experience this sort of crisis every year. It is ridiculous that ministers are expected to be implementing two budgets side-by-side in a fiscal, year. This is what happens when budgets are not passed on time. And if the budget is not submitted on time, how can the National Assembly work on it on time? How can the executive deliver the goods as expected? How can Nigeria make progress?
I don’t know who is advising the president, but the last thing he should want to do now is pick a fight with the National Assembly. Obviously, there is a serious communication breakdown. If the lawmakers pass the budget very late and it is becoming impossible for the president to implement it to the letter, why can’t he put the leadership of the National Assembly in the know? They meet all the time at different levels. I don’t know what it would cost him to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are having problems implementing the budget. I need your understanding.” If the president does this and the lawmakers still make impeachment threats, then I can accept that this is all about politics. For now, I take it as an embarrassing lack of communication between these critical arms of government.
The last thing Nigerians need now is the excruciating heat in the polity. We are faced with unprecedented security challenges, which in my opinion, should be enough trouble. We are still groping in the dark as lack of basic infrastructure is dragging us back in our quest for development. Nigerians are generally frustrated with the quality of life and standard of living in their country. If you ask me, the task of making life better for them is as urgent as yesterday. A Jonathan/House face-off should not be the best item on the agenda now.
And Four Other Things...
SSS vs Police
There is something about this country that makes us a laughing stock all the time. Just as the police announced that they had arrested suspects in the murder of Olaitan Oyerinde, the SSS paraded some suspects who said they killed the former private secretary to Governor Adams Oshiomhole. While police are treating the case as assassination, the SSS angle is armed robbery. Whatever the case is, this government is clearly advertising its embarrassing internal divisions. That’s poor co-ordination. I am also surprised that with the heavy Boko Haram threat, the SSS still has enough resources to be chasing and parading armed robbers. I smell a rat.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, it was, who popularised junkets in 1999 in the name of attracting foreign investments. Only God knows how much we have burnt on these jamborees in the last 13 years. It’s amazing how ministers, perm secs, governors, commissioners, council chairmen and special advisers fly first-class, lodge in five-star hotels and collect hefty estacodes in the name of searching for foreign investors. It’s a fad, a costly one at that. And the charade never ends. But most sensible investors put their money where they have confidence. It hardly depends on these jamborees. In fact, if we had invested the junket budgets locally, maybe we won’t need foreign investors again!
The unrelenting attacks by Boko Haram, especially on Muslims, during this Ramadan season are confounding. Muslims, irrespective of their sects, treat Ramadan as a holy month during which certain things shouldn’t be contemplated, much less executed, at all. But these guys keep killing in and out of season. After several attacks during the week, they restated their mission: “We want to stress that in our struggle, we only kill government functionaries, security agents, Christians and anyone who pretends to be a Muslim but engage in assisting security agents to arrest us.” The truth is that hate never gives up. Hate. Never. Gives. Up.
Mischievously creative Nigerians have been having a field day since the US taught Nigeria a few basketball lessons at the Olympics with the 156-73 humiliation of D’Tigers. Some have reproduced the Milo TV commercial of the 1980s and 90s, “the food drink of future champions”, which featured “future” basketball stars. Milo lied, they joked. Jokes apart, though, we were never going to beat the best basketball team in the world. That we even qualified for the Olympics at all is a landmark achievement. The next challenge is how we can build on this promising feat for the future. I’m proud of D’Tigers any day.