Unpadding the Budget


PEOPLE2PEOPLE with Oke Epia, Email: resourceman.oke@live.com. Telephone (sms only): 07059850016 and Twitter: @resourceme

The budget padding drama which played out in the House of Representatives for several weeks reached a denouement with the suspension slammed on recalcitrant former chairman of its Appropriation committee, Abdulmumuni Jibrin. The latter-day whistleblower, who would rather be referred to as accidental activist, was barred from the Parliament for 180 days, a development which has raised constitutional issues. Femi Gbajabiamila, Leader of the House leads the school of thought the decision to shut Jibrin out is a breach of the rights of his Kiri-Bebeji federal constituency of Kano State to be represented in the National Assembly. But while the suspended lawmaker is out in the cold from where he continues his graft-cleansing campaign, the House seems to be less concerned about the grave budget padding allegations raised against Speaker Yakubu Dogara and three other principal officers. During the week, Mr. Ossai Nicholas Ossai, Chairman of the House Committee on Ethics and Privileges which investigated and recommended the suspension of Jibrin, told journalists that the allegations raised against the Speaker; Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun; Chief Whip, Alhassan Doguwa; and Minority Leader, Leo Ogor would not be investigated until after the sanction is served out and the punished lawmaker probably allowed back to Parliament. For now, the House has moved on having chipped off the offending finger even though ripples of the suspension cannot be totally subdued. Importantly, it is apt to let the courts make a pronouncement on the matter of Jibrin’s suspension while the anti-corruption agencies take action on the allegations of budget padding. Just as it is equally apt and urgently so, to reform the budgetary process in order to avert a repeat of the large-scale malfeasance that has characterized the preparation and implementation of the annual budget over the years. And a major step in this direction was taken on September 26, 2016 in Abuja when stakeholders from the Executive, Legislature, Media, Civil Society, Development Partners, Private Sector and even the Diplomatic Community gathered together to brainstorm on how to make the budget work in Nigeria and for Nigerians. The event was the Gallery Colloquium organized by OrderPaper.ng, Nigeria’s premier independent parliamentary reporting multi-media news organization.

The array of stakeholders who attended and participated through prepared submissions, panel contributions and comments included Speaker Dogara, the man in the eye of the storm which engulfed the House of Representatives in previous weeks; his immediate predecessor and current Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal; Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udoma Udo Udoma who was represented by Kayode Obasa, Director of Economic Growth in the Ministry; and Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu. Others were Sen. Ita Enang, Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate); Emeka Ihedioha, immediate past Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives; Eze Onyekpere, Lead Director of the Centre for Social Justice (CENSOJ); Dapo Olorunyomi, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of Premium Times; Victor Muruako, Acting Chairman of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission; and Sen. Chris Anyanwu, a member of the 6th and 7th Senate. The panel also had Sen. John Enoh, chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance; Kingsley Chinda, Chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts; Garba Lawal, Chairman, House of representatives Committee on Constituency Outreach; Imoni Amarere, Managing Director of Daar News Services (owners of AIT and Raypower FM); and Sen. Shehu Sani, Chairman, Senate Committee on Domestic and Foreign Debts. Comments and questions were put forward by the audience which had critical stakeholders like Mustapha Dawaki, Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation and other members of the Parliament including Sen. Dino Melaye, Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), and Abdussamad Dasuki, Chairman of the House Committee on Navy. Top CEOs and Heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), including Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) also put up participation at the event.

The media was also strongly represented and went the extra mile of giving proceedings and outcomes of the Colloquium very lavish coverage and analysis weeks after. While Tambuwal chaired the day’s proceedings which took up to four hours and had all guests and participants staying through to the end, the panel session was moderated by Anthony Ubani, a development and leadership expert who is CEO of African Leadership Advantage. One of the beauties of the event was that a communique was prepared, vetted and adopted by a unanimous voice vote of participants before the meeting adjourned till the next edition of the Gallery reconvenes sometime in September 2017. The communique preparation was expertly coordinated by Chido Onumah of the Africa Centre for Media and Information Literacy.

But besides the glitz and glamour which had all the trappings of an A-class event, the Colloquium produced very salient roadmap on how to make the budget work in the interest of the majority of Nigerians and not just a few privileged members of the political class. Some of the very important recommendations (by the way the full communique and details of papers presented at the event can be viewed and downloaded at www.OrderPaper.ng) reached touch on inclusiveness of the budgetary process; capacity-building for actors and players involved in the process; reform of the National Assembly committees on Appropriation; strict adherence with the and amendment of the Fiscal Responsibility Act; budget tracking and extensive oversight; as well as emphasis on the roles of the media and civil society in the entire process, among others.

The rich outcomes of the Gallery Colloquium if followed through with necessary steps by concerned actors and stakeholders present a veritable avenue to reform the budget and make it deliver the dividends of democracy which Nigerians have craved for since return to democratic rule in 1999. The good part is that some of these next steps need not be initiated by government even though the onus of implementation lies largely with it. And for an administration that is riding on the crest of change, there is no better time than now to pick up the gauntlet offered by OrderPaper.ng in proffering workable and measurable solutions to the challenges of budgeting in the country.

––Epia is the Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of OrderPaper.ng. Kindly follow writer on Twitter @resourceme