Appropriation Bill 2016: Zero Brained Concoction?

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To save face, it is the case that something or somebody must be blamed whenever something goes awry with a project or policy in a public or corporate sector organization.

That explains why, Zero Based Budgeting, ZBB, which is the latest policy innovation of government aimed at arresting corruption in the public sector, is the ‘fall guy’ of budget 2016, as it were.

To douse the tension raised by the unsavory discoveries in the proposed 2016 appropriation bill, the Budget and National planning minister, Udoma Udo Udoma, has opted like a good lieutenant to shield President Muhammadu Buhari from the darts being thrown at him as a result of the unfolding budget fiasco.

With ZBB being held up as the culprit, Minister Udoma is absolved from blame; President Buhari is protected and the civil servants are covered, but the citizens are suffering untold hardships as the budget which calls for greater scrutiny, is now bogged down at the National Assembly, NASS, much longer than the initial February deadline.

Legislators who are reneging on their earlier pledge of speedy passage of the 2016 appropriation bill before the end of February are justified in their decision. This is because the chaff has to be sieved from the seed of the highly bastardized budget to allow the long suffering Nigerian masses enjoy optimum benefits of the resources of the country whose potentials have remained in pendency.

Assuming the complexity of ZBB truly is the cause of the disaster that has befallen budget 2016, is ZBB also responsible for the shoddy, if not shady manner in which the budget was sneaked out of NASS for amendment ostensibly by the presidential adviser on National Assembly, Senator Ita Enang? How about the discovery by the committee on judiciary that the provision for Investment and Securities Tribunal, IST, in the 2016 budget is exactly a replication of the 2015 document? Is what happened to the IST budget not evidence of the continuity of the erstwhile envelope pushing budget system said to have been replaced in the 2016 budget with ZBB which compels creating a budget from ground zero?

Aside the discovery of about N10bn as fictitious provision for a strange budget head in Education Ministry, legislators have also rejected the same ministry’s budget as being completely different from what Mr President presented to the parliament.

As if the melodrama of NASS declaring the 2016 appropriation bill missing and doctored is not bad enough, a couple of ministers and a handful of heads of Ministries, Departments and Agencies, MDAs have also raised alarm about strange insertions in their budgets during their defence at NASS and have therefore disowned them, further embarrassing the executive arm of government.

Notable amongst the vocal complainants are the Minister of Health, Isaac Oyewole and his Information and Culture counterpart, Lai Mohammed.

The hullabaloo has been so much that President Buhari had to offer apologies to Nigerians with a promise to separate the hubris from the substance of the 2016 appropriation bill, with a directive that the document should be uploaded to the website of the Budget and Planning Ministry for more public scrutiny.

Mr President’s unsavory ordeal from his first budget to his compatriots started from his maiden media chat where he was tasked by callers who exposed some of the outrageous expenditure provisions for Aso Rock villa and NASS to him.

This is coupled with the fact that late last year, the usually very vocal former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Chukwuma Soludo had weighed in with the critique that the 2016 budget proposal was not different from Goodluck Jonathan’s appropriation bill in the years past.

So it was an astonished and flustered President Buhari who was clearly unaware of some of the wasteful financial provisions that are inconsistent with the reality of the prevailing socioeconomic atmosphere in Nigeria, who ordered an immediate review and amendment of the proposed budget while in NASS’s custody.

It is against the foregoing backdrop that one wonders if the affliction besetting the 2016 appropriation bill is actually caused by the Zero Based Budgeting, ZBB, as alleged by Minister Udo Udoma, or ZERO BRAINED BUDGETING, a phrase that reflects the general belief that not enough brain work was applied in producing the document, perhaps due to the short period of time it took to package it.

Besides time constraints, adorning the Appropriation Bill 2016 with the toga of a zero brained budget also has to do with the fact that most of the missteps that occurred in the process of producing and presenting it to NASS were avoidable. Therefore, the absence or lack of rigorous and critical thinking as well as sensitivity to the prevailing socioeconomic circumstances expected to have been invested in the process of producing such an important document, is really the culprit.

A very graphic display of the budget breakdown in the media by the budget advocacy group- Budget-It titled “Nigeria’s 2016 Budget: Wasteful And Suspicious Spending” says it all. Clearly, a simple line-by-line analysis of budget 2016 does not reflect the prevailing economic circumstances and the expected frugal mode that the authorities are supposed to switch the nation into.

The bottom-line is that in addition to not being cost conscious and insensitive to the hardship being experienced by the citizenry, the crafters of the budget were profligate in allocation of scarce resources and untidy in its presentation.

Granted that they were constrained by time, in this day and age, preparing a budget with all the latest Information Technology, IT applications available, should not be as challenging as rocket science, but a no-brainier. To the dismay of most Nigerians, the producers of the document and conveyors of same to NASS, were so tacky that the budget is now so inelegant and therefore the butt of jokes on numerous mainstream and an online media platforms.

The good news now is that beyond the Budget Minister, Udo Udoma attributing everything that went wrong with budget 2016 to ZBB, President Buhari has also, to borrow a corporate phraseology ‘did the needful’ by firing the Director of Budget , Yaya Gusau for superintending over the perversion of 2016 appropriation bill . Apart from appointing a replacement, Tijani Abdulahi immediately, Ben Akabueze, a gentleman that I would like to refer to as ‘Mr Budget’ has also been hired as Special Adviser to the Budget Minister. It may be recalled that Akabueze, a thoroughbred banker, having served as managing director of defunct NAL merchant bank, was the immediate past Economic Planning Commissioner for Lagos state and served under two former Lagos state governors – Bola Tinubu and Tunde Fashola for the better part of sixteen (16) years. For a ‘Legal Alien in Lagos’ – an lgbo man to serve two governors in the same capacity in Lagos state, there must be something extraordinary and spectacular about him.

In my reckoning, with Akabueze involved in developing Nigeria’s budget, our nation’s appropriation blues would be consigned to the past.

Therefore, Mr President, in my estimation, ‘hit the bull’s eyes’ with the appointment of Ben Akabueze to the Budget Ministry. In that regard, I would like to suggest that those concerned Nigerians that were calling for the withdrawal of the document from NASS for a complete makeover, possibly by a team of consultants to be appointed by Mr President, should hold their peace because, Ben Akabueze has come to the rescue.

Also fortuitously, Mr President has a Chief of Staff in the person of Abba Kyari, a man gifted in financial matters, having been a former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of United Bank for Africa, UBA, to coordinate with Akabueze.

In the absence of an economic adviser and economic management team, engaging such august body of experts to restructure budget 2016 is a welcome development and a reflection of the fact that Mr President is listening to the voices of the masses who facilitated his emergence as president and on whose behalf he was reluctant in removing the obnoxious fuel subsidy and for whose sake, he is resisting further devaluation of the naira so that they may not be plunged into further hardship.

Dynamic and innovative leaders acknowledge the fact that extra ordinary time, demand extra ordinary measures. In this instance, President Buhari has proven his astute leadership ability by the changes that he just made to the budgeting bureaucracy in Nigeria.

So, we must applaud Mr President for introducing more brain and less brawn in governance, so that we may leave a proud legacy for our future generation.

***Magnus Onyibe is a development strategist, futurologist, and former commissioner in Delta State is an alumnus of Fletcher School of Law And Diplomacy, Massachusetts, USA.

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