SARAKI, 2017/2018 BUDGETS & THE CONFAB REPORT
Last week, Dr Bukola Sarki won his freedom. Since he went against the desire of his party-APC to win the Senate Presidency in June 2015, he has been under severe attack. His 'sins' were compounded by the fact that in the process he allowed Ike Ekweremadu, an Igbo from PDP to become Deputy Senate President. The powers that be in the APC have gone to every length to try and dethrone both Saraki and Ekweremadu. They were first charged with secretly and illegally amending the Senate house rules. Then they took Saraki to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for allegedly failing to declare all of his assets when he was Governor of Kwara State. Since then, he has faced sundry accusations, including taking double salaries- from Kwara State and from the National Assembly. His partner in "crime" Ekweremadu has been chased from Enugu to Abuja in an effort to pin him down to a crime. But it is to their credit and political sagacity that they have continued to jump & pass. I believe also that the grace of God Has been abundant for them. Now that the celebrated CCT high drama has come to end, will it be possible that the duo be left alone to continue their jobs henceforth without undue distractions and unnecessary raising of political tensions in the Country? The 2019 elections are coming into view and so these political gladiators can wait to try and stop Saraki from either contesting the elections as Senator or becoming the Senate President. But for the rest of this term, let the Senate and indeed the National Assembly be allowed to do their work, for there is so much that must be done before 2019 elections.
Last Monday, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo (APYO) eventually signed the budget after nearly three weeks after the National Assembly passed the much delayed 2017 Budget. After that delay, nothing changed in the budget that was passed by the National Assembly. It is certain that the delay had less to do with disputes regarding "Budget Padding" as it had to do with the politics of who signed the budget. Presidential Adviser Eniang and his faction wanted PMB to sign from his hospital bed in the UK as it was thought that allowing APYO to sign would give the impression that the President was gravely sick or would give APYO an increased feeling that he was truly in charge and that could reduce the influence of PMB. I do not know what swayed the argument in APYO's favour but we thank God that this uncertainty did not linger much longer.
The 7.4 Trillion Naira 2017 budget has now been signed into law. The challenge is now how to spend 7.4 Trillion Naira in about seven months, giving that APYO has promised to send 2018 draft budget to the NASS by October and the NASS leadership has also promised to pass the budget by December 2017 so that for the first time since this democratic dispensation we would have a normal budget season of January to December. It depends on how the government plays its hand, spending 7.4 Trillion in 7 months will cause a revolution. But certain questions arise: does the economy have the absorptive capacity? will the revenue budget be achieved?; how soon can the 2.36 Trillion Naira Deficit be financed? Do we have the executive capacity in government to handle this huge sums and the corresponding projects? Is it possible to improve our bureaucracy, hasten and shorten the procurement processes? I just hope we can provide answers to these questions, otherwise all the hope on the 2017 Budget as a major opportunity to exit the recession may be dashed.
On our ability to get the 2018 Budget passed by NASS by December, 2017, that's the tallest order we can ever contemplate. If indeed we are serious about this, then the government should pay attention to my earlier appeal that Saraki and the Senate should be saved from further distraction. There is so much work for them to do. To process and approve the 2018 Budget in 90 days will require total concentration. Other serious economic bills such as the PIB bills are waiting. To be fair, we must applaud the National Assembly, especially the Senate for what it had accomplished in the last two years while its leadership faced severe persecution. This must end now.
The other critical reason the Senate needs to be allowed space to work, is the most recent move they have made. We owe it to the IPOB who raised the ante and the Arewa Youths who escalated it dramatically two weeks ago, the Senate has been 'forced' to call for a representation of the report of the 2014 National Conference to see how action can be taken to respond to the earnest yearnings of many well-meaning Nigerians, who for many long years have longed for the renegotiation of the terms of the union and the political and economic restructuring of Nigeria to yield a more modern and peaceful Nation where each constituent part can develop at its pace without retarding or unduly forcing the other parts. The current arrangement is lopsided and puts some constituents at perpetual disadvantage, creating continuous tension. Those who oppose peaceful change are actually the ones who are calling for revolution or war. IPOB, LNC and many other such groups want peaceful negotiations that will result in a new constitution though the narrative is being reversed.
I am hoping that APYO will take the offer from the Senate. It is nice that he has been meeting with the leaders of the South East and the North to try and calm nerves and allay fears following from what is now called the" kaduna declaration" authored by the Arewa Youths and some of their elders. But the truth is that the matter is not just about the South East and the North. The matter concerns every section of Nigeria. If we settle this eruption, the volcano remains active and the next time it may erupt again in the Niger Delta or in the Middle belt or in the South West. Instead of going round the Country consulting the different people again, I reiterate that the shortest cut is to look into the 2005 and the 2014 Confab reports. That has been my repeated opinion and I was gratified to hear the Senate make what I regard as a very patriotic move last week. The government should respond immediately so we do not lose this momentum. We have delayed enough and dilly- dallied sufficiently. This is the time for the Statesmen to step up. I still believe it is a divine call on APYO.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR