Each time the mass media imput selfish motives of germane national concerns by patriotic Nigerians in apparent rehash of debatably fallacious saying: ‘Man is moved to action not by man’s intellect or reason but by man’s desires and appetites’, I feel a nagging pain in my groins.
But when same is ascribed to genuine protests by public institutions or knowledgeable Nigerians like members of the Honourable House of Representatives, it should rise above My Agony to become a National worry.
In the past few weeks, for questioning the seemingly slow and selective implementation of the 2012 budget, members of the House have themselves become subject of national debate and victims of the hasty conclusion complained of in the opening of this discourse.
Curiously,the ‘sin’ of the House seems, the threat to impeach the President and head of the Executive Arm of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dr Goodluck Jonathan for, among other concerns, an alleged lackluster implementation of the 2012 budget. As demanded by law, the President’s appropriation bill of N4.55 trillion had been sent to both chambers of the National Assembly for proper scrutiny and possible passage. In the process, the National Assembly approved N4.88 trillion, an addition of about N33 billion.
However, President Jonathan before signing the Appropriation Act into law pegged it at N4.7 trillion. That ceremony of signing into law, the 2012 budget took effect April 13, 2012, thirteen (13) days into the second quarter of the fiscal year.
Now, the House’s key grouse with the executive arm is that the implementation of the budget is below average, standing at about 34 per cent by the end of the second quarter, ending June 30, 2012. Secondly, that approved budgetary allocations to ministries and agencies were being released piece-meal, in a manner that compromised anticipated development milestones. Thirdly, that the executive arm picks and chooses which projects and institutions to fund without recourse to national projections, needs and aspirations and finally, that the Minister of Finance and Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, be made to explain why the House should not have cause for worries, by providing facts to contradict conclusions reached, based on valid information from the office of Federal Accountant General.
For raising these concerns, some Nigerians, using a section of the media have repeatedly imputed that members of the National Assembly were saying things different from what they truly worry about. That the major reason for protest is not the slow pace of work to Federal roads; failure to address the country’s energy needs; poor handling of the nation’s security challenges; alleged unco-ordinated education and health sectors reforms or even non-implementation of the National minimum wage by any state of the Federation.
Instead, they claim, the House members’ anger stems from the delay in release of funds for their own constituency projects, a major source of wealth generation for individual members, in recent years.
All these insinuation have been denied by the House. Infact, chairman of the House Committee on Media, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, last week told journalists that the House is troubled by the stubbornness of managers of the nation’s finances who refuse to allocate funds to projects that are of direct need to the Nigerian people. He denied insinuations that the smooth implementation of the 2012 budget was being hampered by the Assembly’s tinkering with the budget proposal, resulting in the increase from N4.55 trillion proposed by President Jonathan to N4.88 trillion, that the National Assembly eventually approved.
According to him, once a budget is passed into law, it becomes a legal document which must be adhered to and not left to the whims of the Executive arm, to pick and choose which to implement. Zakari dismissed as untrue, claims by the Finance Minister that the implementation of the budget was on course and said the executive arm is simply suffering from military hang-over, a veiled reference meaning totalitarianism often associated with military regimes.
If these are indeed so, Nigerians ought to be worried. But they should be more worried if in the long run, it is proved that the House’s protests are actuated by malice arising from the Executive arm’s insistence that public funds cannot be released for projects without passing through due process, which is also a legal document that ought to be adhered to, religiously.
Addressing newsmen a forth-night ago, Co-ordinating Minister of the economy, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala insisted that public funds must be spent responsibly, after due process has been followed, saying, those days when public funds were released for projects, without necessary adherence to approved milestones, were over. According to the Finance Minister, implementation of the budget in most respects had gone far beyond 50 per cent while other areas are far above 34 per cent.
Apart from challenges posed by failure of some contractors to meet laid down guidelines on project implementation with emphasis on transparency, capacity and competence, some over-priced works are yet to be defended by affected contractors. The bottom-line is that while, the federal government is committed to pursuing its development agenda, it is no longer prepared to release funds recklessly without proof of readiness, competence and capacity to meet set standards.
Are constituency projects, proposed by law-makers part of such works desiring answers and structural appraisals? Yes. If so, House members need not be ashamed of it, afterall, all such projects, as provided for in the budget, are intended for their constituencies and by larger implication, all Nigerians.
Yes, Nigerians are aware that some members of the National Assembly in the past used such appropriations for their personal needs and wants, covering expensive auto-mobiles, built palatial mansions in choice areas of various Nigerian cities and used the difference to conduct free eye tests in one or two villages but there is no signal yet that the present crop of honourable members would do the same.
Apart from the stains to their reputation, caused by allegations of demanding and receiving bribes from institutions and oil companies under their various probes, and the story of a loud-mouthed member in the crusade for impeachment, now known to have been barred from legal practice on account of fraudulent transactions, members of the House have shown considerable honour.
It is also honourable to be worried that their constituency projects are being delayed. But a more honourable way would be to say so and not query the mode of budget implementation. As they have thus far done.
For instance, the budget became law on April 13, 2012. If by end of June, 2012, the executive arm has hit between 35 and 55 per cent, in spite of the numerous distractions caused by security concerns, President Jonathan demands commendation not impeachment threat. Another is the fact that Nigeria, in years passed, did not get real value for public works ordered through plum contracts, therefore, one of the best ways of fighting corruption and ensuring adherence to details in project implementation is proper monitoring. In this regard, it becomes foolhardy for government to release 100 per cent funds for projects undone.
Under the due process regime, certain steps must be taken before mobilisation is granted and another tranche released after meeting specific milestones. This means, implementation of a given budget cannot be judged only by the amount of funds disbursed but also by the level of works and the speed with which various ministries, agencies and even contractors meet certain targets.
That being the case, dangling of impeachment threat over perceived delay in implementation of the budget, which passage was also delayed in the first place, inadvertently lends credence to the allusion that members of the National Assembly are not fighting the people’s wars but theirs.
My Agony is that try as I have in ages to believe in myself, I am heading to the sad conclusion that most times, “greedy” men are moved to action not by their intellect or reason but by their desires and appetites.
I pray some members of the House of Representatives do not take me there. At least not yet.
Soye Wilson Jamabo