What else shall we write?
That was the title of a column written by Prof Olatunji Dare in the nineties. It attests to the fact that for every columnist, a moment comes when you look at practically all the issues dominating the news and you wonder what new things you have to say. I am in such a situation today. Take the 2017 Appropriation Bill recently passed by the National Assembly that is now raising a lot of dust. Last year, according to a Twitter post, the President of Nigeria was looking for a budget to sign but this year; it was actually the budget that was looking for a President to sign!
With that drama now resolved half-way into the year, the controversy now is about whether or not the National Assembly can rewrite the budget as they do every year. Acting President Yemi Osinbajo believes the National Assembly went beyond its powers by inserting projects that were not planned for into the budget while the lawmakers are fighting back. This is an old problem that will not go away until the executive muster the courage to challenge the matter at the Supreme Court so that there can be a clarity on the specific roles of the executive and the legislature in the budgeting process.
In my book, â€œPower, Politics and Deathâ€, I narrated what happened at a meeting held on 3rd April, 2008 at the villa which reviewed and subsequently endorsed the decision of the late President Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua to challenge the powers of the National Assembly at the Supreme Court. At the end, Yarâ€™Adua was prevailed upon not to go to court. But the executive has always dealt with the issue by way of selecting what projects to fund and which ones to â€œdelay actionâ€ and that is usually what causes friction between the presidency and the National Assembly.
Ironically, when I wrote â€œThe Illusion of Budget Performanceâ€ on this page in November 2013, Mr Ben Akabueze, who was then the Lagos State Commissioner for Economic Development, joined issues with me. He argued that my piece â€œaptly captured one of the flaws in the way budgetary performance is usually reported in our countryâ€ before canvassing his point: â€œI agree with you that there is often an undue focus on expending the budgetary provisions without commensurate emphasis on the quality of the expenditures in terms of both priorities and value-for-money. While we cannot avoid expressing budgetary performance in percentages, performance measurement must go beyond that to also include Impact Assessment in terms of the budgetâ€™s actual outputs and outcomes vis-a-vis set targets. I know this can be done based on our practice in Lagos State.â€
After defending the â€œenvelope systemâ€ of which I was very critical, Akabuezeâ€™s conclusion raised some pertinent questions about the challenge of budgeting in Nigeria: â€œThe reality is that the budget process currently does not generally serve our people across the tiers of government. Why is the perennially late approval and low budget performance of the Federal Government not a matter of sufficient concern to Nigerians? How many state governments currently routinely measure and report their budget performance? How many local government areas even seriously prepare annual budgets at all? The questions to be asked abound.â€
I guess some of those questions can now be directed at Akabueze, having moved from the passengerâ€™s side in Lagos to the driverâ€™s seat in Abuja as the Director General, Budget Office of the Federation. But I am really not interested in budget today, especially in a season when our country seems to have been invaded by some all-powerful â€œgrass-cuttersâ€ and numerous other â€œrodentsâ€ who feed fat on the misery of the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) in the North-east where the situation is getting increasingly desperate for millions of Nigerians.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report which covered a two-week period between 16th and 31st May this year, no fewer than 8.5 million people are in dire need of life-saving aid in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe; 5.2 million people are food insecure with the onset of the rainy and lean season; 204,500 Nigerian refugees remain in Niger, Cameroon and Chad while 5.9 million people require emergency health care in the three most affected states. â€œWith the onset of the rainy season, recent wind and rain storms have damaged and/or destroyed hundreds of shelters, latrines and learning centres, causing a lot of distress for displaced families. Due to shelter shortages, many are still sleeping outside, completely exposed to the elements (rainfalls, sandstorms, sunâ€¦)â€ said the report.
Unfortunately, food and other relief materials meant to cater for millions of this most vulnerable group in our society are being diverted for sale in the open markets by some unconscionable officials. In yet another emblem of shame which forced an apology from the federal government, about 200 tonnes of dates sent by the Saudi Arabia authorities as a Ramadan gift to the IDPs were found to be on sale in local markets. As usual, Nigerians were told of some investigations to unravel the fat cats involved even when everybody knows that such an exercise will yield no outcome. So, I see no point writing on something that has happened before and will happen again.
While the â€œgrass cuttersâ€ continue in their business of short-changing the displaced and dislocated Nigerians in the North-east, the grandfathers who address themselves as youth in Kaduna are still threatening Igbo people with their quit notice. Meanwhile, I understand that the troublemaker leading the â€œNorthern youthâ€ actually resides in Lagos with his family but with the police authorities looking the other way, he and fellow confederates are untouchable. That, quite naturally, has emboldened Nnamdi Kanu, the president of â€œBiafraâ€, who has also been busy addressing crowds of okada riders and the likes in what has become a season of madness in our country.
If, as a result of double standards, the police authorities seem impotent where the â€œNorthern youthâ€ is concerned, the recently captured celebrity kidnapping suspect, Chikwudubem Onwuamadike, a.k.a Evans, has provided them something to brag about. Apparently enjoying the media spotlight, they have practically outsourced the â€œinterrogationâ€ of such a high-value suspect to reporters in what is fast becoming a farce.
Not only have they been revealing the details of how Evans was caught, other kidnappers (and potential ones) are also learning from the â€œmistakesâ€ that led to the arrest of the kingpin. Yet, in the euphoria of the moment, it should not be lost on the police that the arrest of Evans does not signal the end of kidnapping in Nigeria and that they need to be more professional in their investigation.
However, the real issue in the drama of Evans is in the fact that he is a very religious person, in fact, a â€œprayer warriorâ€. According to his wife, Uchenna Precious, who unfortunately has dragged their innocent children into the mess by posing with them for a Selfie that she then posted out, Evans reads the Biblical Psalm 23 so many times that â€œeven (on) his phone, he sets alarm for 12 noon to read psalm 23. He took part in our daily prayers in the morning, evening and night. He used to lead us in prayers.â€
That a notorious kidnapper who inflicts sorrow and tears on many families prays to God ordinarily sounds incredible yet it is not too difficult to believe in a country where people practice religions that they believe absolve them of taking responsibility for their actions, including serious crimes. Armed robbers pray before they go for their deadly operations; official meetings (including where inflated contracts are approved) are hardly ever conducted at any level of government in our country without prayers from adherents of Islam and Christianity etc. for God to bless the transactions. It is then little wonder that someone would read Psalm 23 all the time and still be in the business of kidnapping people for ransom.
Incidentally, I dealt with this same issue on 23 June last year in my piece, â€œThe â€˜Testimonyâ€™ of Brother Cyprianâ€, https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2016/06/23/the-testimony-of-brother-cyprian, following the arrest of Emeka Okeke Cyprian, who led the gang that killed Colonel Samaila Inusa, the late Chief Instructor at the Nigerian Army School of Infantry in Jaji, Kaduna State. â€œI told the man to lie down in the bush. He asked for water but when I was about to give him the water, he dived at my gun and tried to remove the magazine. I was shocked. He gave me a head-butt. But I held tightly to the rifle and we struggled on the floor. I donâ€™t know what he touched but the trigger could not fire. If not for God, the man would have killed me. Luckily for me, the trigger fired and I shot the manâ€¦â€ said Cyprian.
The subtext to that statement, as I argued in the intervention, is that the average Nigerian has invented a special God of their own and it is one that demands no accountability and condones all forms of evil. That also explains the state of our nation today. â€œTo the extent that religion plays a crucial part in forming identity and values, the fact that many Nigerians profess God and Godliness is ordinarily a good thing. The challenge is that this profession is not reflected in either the personal character of the ordinary citizen of in our national character as a countryâ€, I wrote back then.
While I am not pursuing the topic, it is nonetheless important to point out the futility of a kidnapper using Psalm 23 to justify his action. According to the exposition by a Biblical scholar, Alexander MacLaren, what Psalm 23 â€œdetails are common, the emotions it expresses simple and familiar. The tears that have been dried, the fears that have been dissipated, by this old song; the love and thankfulness which have found in them their best expression, prove the worth of its simple words.â€
After delving into the hidden meanings in each of the verses of what is easily one of the most popular Psalms of King David, MacLaren now zeroes in on verse three: â€œThe soul thus restored is then led on another stage; â€˜He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His nameâ€™s sake,â€™-that is to say, God guides us into work. The quiet mercies of the preceding verse are not in themselves the end of our Shepherdâ€™s guidance; they are means to an end, and that is-work. Life is not a fold for the sheep to lie down in, but a road for them to walk on…â€
Even when I concede that we all live by the grace of God and His enduring mercy, Psalm 23 cannot BE an anthem for kidnappers. But then, to borrow a refrain that has been popularized–even if not yet patented–by the ANAP Foundation Chairman, Mr Atedo Peterside: What do I know?