Published On: Mon, Jun 25th, 2018

Prostrate we lay before you, Mother Corruption. -By Owei Lakemfa.

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President Muhammadu Buhari, the Apostle of Change in the country while signing the 2018 Budget in the sixth month of the year, told   fellow countrymen that he was singing what amounted to a fraudulent bill.

He claimed that “The National Assembly made cuts amounting to 347 billion Naira in the allocations to 4,700 projects submitted to them for consideration and introduced 6,403 projects of their own amounting to 578 billion Naira.”

In his critical analysis, he reached the conclusion that: “Many of the projects cut are critical and may be difficult, if not impossible, to implement with the reduced allocation.” He claimed: “Some of the new projects inserted by the National Assembly have not been properly conceptualised, designed and cost and will, therefore, be difficult to execute.”  Among these poorly conceptualized, badly designed and arbitrarily costed project insertions he claimed, are about seventy  new road projects   inserted into the budget of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.

These indeed are serious claims that should have been thoroughly investigated in the interest of the Nigerian people. This would have been further necessitated  by his other claims that: “ many of these new projects introduced by the National Assembly have been added to the budgets of most MDAs with no consideration for institutional capacity to execute them or the incremental recurrent expenditure that may be required.”

As President of the Federal Republic, he avers that some of these newly inserted projects relate to matters that are the responsibility of the States and Local Governments and not the Federal Government.

I was particularly touched by cuts he said were made in areas that are a matter of life or death such as the upgrade of some tertiary health institutions, transport and storage of vaccines through the cold chain supply system, provision of anti-retroviral drugs for persons on treatment, establishment of chemotherapy centres and procurement of dialysis consumables which he said were cut by an aggregate amount of 7.45 billion Naira.

To cap its unpatriotic run on the 2018 Budget, the President accused the National Assembly of arbitrarily increasing its own budget  by N14.5 billion ; from N125 billion to N139.5 billion. Under the blatantly corrupt Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government led by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the National Assembly in 2005, ballooned its budget to N44 Billion, now, without any increase in its membership or better service to the people, the Assembly’s budget under the anti-corruption All Peoples Congress (APC) stands at N139.5 billion. An over 300 percent increase.

The President promised to seek remedy to restore the cuts in some of the most critical areas through supplementary budget, but how does he hope to fund this when the  N9.12 trillion Budget he has signed, is itself a deficit one.

Our principled, unbending and anti-corruption President  announces to the good people of Nigeria that  the National Assembly has transformed the 2018 Budget into a fraudulent document which is  injurious to the good health of the country and the anti-corruption programme of the ruling party. But rather than decline assent and send back the bill, he signs it into law. So what was all the drama for? Why did he sign when  there was no apparent gun held to his head? Is he a whistle blower or an accessory after the fact of  corruption?  Does his speech  show he is an uncompromising fighter against corruption and sleaze, or a Pontius Pilate who washes off his hands? Or are  his claims and accusations, a disguised blackmail against the National Assembly with whose leadership his administration is at loggerheads?

In any case, what does our revered President Buhari want Nigerians to do; march against the National Assembly and kick  the Honourable Representatives and the  Distinguished  Senators out of  the hallowed chambers?

The Finance Minister under the defunct  PDP government, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala  in her self-serving 2018 book, ‘Fighting Corruption is Dangerous’ wrote that during the Jonathan administration, the  National Assembly included an additional N20billion in the country’s 2015 Budget “as election expenses for National Assembly members… but (the Executive) managed to reduce the N20billion figure by only N3billion to N17billion. This became the price to pay to have the 2015 budget passed”

Her revelation was greeted with derision. The   self-righteous apologists of the Buhari administration held this out as blatant bribery of the National Assembly and  corruption of the Budget process by the corruption-ridden PDP. They did not know that within five weeks, President Buhari will be making a similar confession. Like the musician, Omawumi Megbele sang: “If you ask me, na who I go ask?”

On Thursday, June 21, President Buhari while declaring open the World Congress of the International Press Institute (IPI)  in Abuja, spoke admirably against fake news. But who will protect Nigerians against fake news?  As a veteran journalist, I am not even sure how to detect fake news, and I know many in the media are in this dilemma. For instance, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo told Nigerians that the Buhari administration had saved N1.4 trillion by not paying  fuel subsidy, a fraud the PDP government was noted for. Then, Petroleum Minister, Ibe Kachukwu announced that fuel subsidy under the same Buhari administration has hit N1.4 trillion. So which news is fake which is authentic or are both correct? Is it a case of eating your cake and having it?

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