“Buhari orders MDAs to defend budget before NASS.” News Report, Friday, 16 March, 2018.
VIRTUALLY all Nigerian newspapers carried the news report of one of the agreements reached between the President and the leaders of the National Assembly, NASS, at a meeting in Aso Rock the day before. As if any more evidence is needed to prove that the Nigerian President lacks the minimum understanding of how a modern economy works, the late instruction to the blockheads in the Executive Branch, has provided even more. No other President or Prime Minister needs to prompt his top officers to defend their budgets before parliament. They know that it is mandatory. But, Buhari’s Ministers and Heads of parastatals have been behaving as if the lawmakers are nothing more than public nuisances who can be ignored at will.
Two Ministers from the Southwest in particular – both former Governors; one a SAN and the other with a Doctorate – have taken sauciness to new lows in the way they have responded to calls from the NASS. The PhD holder, forgetting that the legislators are elected representatives of the people – including himself – while Ministers are at best glorified Messengers serving at the pleasure of the President, declared a few days before the President issued his marching orders that he would no longer respond to the House Committee with oversight responsibilities for his Ministry. He must think he owns the business.
The two might constitute the most extreme forms of defiance and insult which the NASS has endured from under-performing Ministers. But, the insult to constituted order is pervasive. And, it has been responsible for the delay in getting the budget passed in the last three years. Like the bunch of dissemblers that they all are, every attempt was made to shift the blame to the NASS. Buhari’s shameless Ministers, headed by the spokesman have tried to persuade gullible members of the public that legislators cause delay in the passage of their budgets; when in fact some of them have skeletons in those lockers every year. They have done everything to resist a forensic probe into their submissions.
However, while the Ministers and heads of agencies deserve blame, the greatest share of the condemnation belongs to President Buhari. In fact, only one Minister can be exonerated from sanction in the Executive branch. The Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma had worked like a galley-slave to ensure that the 2018 Budget reached the NASS by late October. Knowing, unlike his other ignorant colleagues, that time is also an input in the budget process; that budgets passed late inhibit economic growth in many ways, Udoma managed to get the President to deliver the budget to the NASS in the first week of November. Up to that point we thought we were making progress. We failed to reckon with Buhari and how slowly he thinks and acts.
A President who took five months to appoint Ministers, something other leaders accomplish in less than two weeks, and who takes two and a half years to select the Boards of public bodies simply does not belong in the digital age when events move at the speed of light. And, the results follow just as swiftly. What can possibly be expected of the new Board members who could not possibly have come to grips with the problems in their units before Buhari’s first term is over?
All Buhari needed to do was to have included just one sentence in his Budget speech in November. He should have instructed all the heads of MDAs to appear as soon as possible before the relevant committees to defend their budgets or get sacked. Had he done that in November, instead of March 15, 2018, the budget would have been passed latest end of January. “Fish rots from the head”; as everybody born in a fishing village knows. An administration is the shadow of its leader. Where the leader fails to take anything important seriously, he invites neglect from his subordinates.
Buhari, after over eighteen months as Military Head of State from 1984-1985 and almost three years as President in 2015 to 2018, still does not understand that the modern Head of Government – President, Prime Minister, Chancellor etc – is entrusted with two basic functions which he must discharge well simultaneously; otherwise everything else is imperiled. The two vital assignments are: economy and security. Invariably, they are inextricably linked so much that it is sometimes difficult to determine which comes first.
Generally, however, it is expected that a nation at peace will focus first on the economy; a nation at war on security. But, even nations which have been engaged in perpetual war – Syria, Israel, Afghanistan etc – still manage their economies by ensuring the passage of their annual budgets on time. Buhari’s government is failing in its efforts against Nigerian’s enemies – Boko Haram and Fulani Herdsmen. The economy as now managed is only guaranteed to make Nigerians poorer every year until an unknown time in the future. Lateness in getting the budget passed each year has contributed to our deepening poverty. And, budgets are passed late because Buhari, until now, has failed to learn that he must kick out Ministers who fail to appear for their budget defence – if we are going to continue to have budgets passed in April.
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