What the creatives prepared by Budgit – the social conscience outfit that has become the nemesis of even the most ingenious yam eater in Nigeria – on President Buhari’s 2016 Federal budget is to ensure that even members of NURTW can discuss the said budget at Agodi motor park in Ibadan, while eating amala and abula amidst squeals of “Ado kan!”, “Ado kan!”, “Ado kan!”
The budget is now accessible in a format that Iya Kubura and Baba Kasali can understand and President Buhari and his team are finding out, too late and disastrously so for them, that yesterday’s monkeys in Idanre have disappeared, replaced by socially-conscious agents capable of grasping the monumental fraud in the budget.
If you thought that you’d seen the worst in that budget with the creatives by Budgit, it means you have not gone through the forensic analysis prepared by the media outfit, Premium Times. Entitled “Inside the Massive Fraud in Buhari’s 2016 Budget”, one passage in this report is worth quoting in some detail:
“A particularly disturbing instance of misplaced priority is the allocation for books for Vice President Osinbajo’s office. Mr. Osinbajo’s office has more money allocated to it for books than what each of the federal polytechnics in the country are getting for the same purpose. While N4,906,822 was proposed to be spent on books by Mr Osinbajo, the total allocation for books for 11 out of 22 federal polytechnics, which actually have book allocations, was a mere N3,832,038.”
Because Nigerians can squeeze humour and laughter out of stone – it is not for nothing that they earned the distinction of being the happiest people on earth – they have been able to turn President Buhari’s budget tragedy into a source of national carnivalesque. But all the comedy, all the humour, all the laughter which has greeted the unbelievable perverseness of the 2016 budget is the laughter which the Yoruba say is the only recourse of those who have run out of tears.
The situation is made much worse by President Buhari’s chronic inability to recognize moments of national solemnity and do what is needed. When a Federal budget is this badly bungled, it is a moment of national disgrace and humiliation which tragically undermines the humanity and dignity of the Nigerian. The first order of national healing happens when the President accepts responsibility, comforts people, addresses them, and promises appropriate sanctions.
We need to start teaching Nigeria’s leadership that the sky does not fall when you talk to your people, accept responsibility, and comfort them in times of national solemnity. We need to start teaching Nigeria’s leadership that if you accept responsibility for things gone awry, ojuju Calabar will not come and carry you in the dead of night.
To address Nigerians vaguely and casually through a Facebook update by Garba Shehu welcoming criticism on this grave budget matter is an insult. There are moments which require the face and the voice of the big man himself. Diehard supporters will resort to the default mode of saying that the President cannot personally speak to everything. They are wrong. They are ignorant of the power of symbolic national moments when the Nigerian needs to hear directly from his President.
Nigeria being Nigeria, we must accept the crumb that we have received from Garba Shehu. He says that they are prepared to listen to criticism of the budget in good faith. We tell them that, hopefully, the 2016 budget will be the last that President Buhari and his team will ever present without having read a single page of it. We understand perfectly that this is a long-standing Nigerian tradition. No administration, no previous government, has ever read a budget they presented. You just have civil servants photocopy the text of last year’s budget and make the necessary yam adjustments for inflation.
Let President Buhari finally settle down to read his 2016 budget, he’d be amazed by its similarity to the budget he read in 1985. He’d be amazed by its similarity to every budget that has ever been read after 1985, all the way to President Jonathan. Only the figures and the size and scale of the theft and the padding are adjusted by civil servants. The text is essentially the same insipid and unimaginative text – it never varies. The sentences are the same. The only other thing which varies is the christening: budget of hope, budget of growth, budget of creativity, budget of transformation, budget of restoration. Then you start again from hope and run through the same titles year after year.
In essence, nobody is saying that the national shame of copying and pasting last year’s budget without reading it, merely inserting new yams and adjusting old yams for inflation, started with president Buhari. What he is to be blamed for, his monumental failure, is in not changing this paradigm. He is supposed to be the first President to have ever read the budget he presented in Nigeria’s recent history. He is supposed to have spent weeks poring over every detail, he and his team huddled in his office, reviewing and revising the text, with plenty of Nescafe sachets, goro, and tomtom wraps littering the work space.
The damage has already been done. This is the time for President Buhari and his team to start preparing to earn their salaries by actually reading the 2017 budget. Too many people are holding civil servants responsible for the budget mess. I’m afraid President Buhari bears singular responsibility for this gargantuan failure and betrayal of public trust. If you keep sugar coating things for the President and absolving him of every misstep, if you keep saying that the buck stops at the desk of civil servants and political aides, you are on the path to destroying this President. You are not helping him.
Let me remind you, career absolver of President Buhari, that when criticism emerged of ethnic lopsidedness in the President’s appointments, you pleaded with Nigerians to understand the fact that the President needed to appoint only trusted hands that he knows and can trust and can supervise and can work with. You said that he needed to appoint only people he was sure would not mess him up. You said he needed those who would do a great job.
Similarly, when he took twenty years to form a cabinet – I’m a writer; I use hyperbole for effect here – you frog-marched the same rationalizations into his defense. You said that he needed all the time in the world to appoint competent people he knows.
If you are now saying that all these people are the ones to blame for messing up the budget… do you see the problem of logic that has just fallen on your laps? It is time for you to stop insisting on ogbono that has lost its slimy and draw capacity. Okro is also draw soup. Boil water and prepare okro. In other words, stop blaming aides every time something goes wrong. Try holding the President responsible for something for a change.
You must read your budget before presenting it. Hopefully, President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, who wants to read more books than all Federal polytechnics combined, have learned a lesson. However, reading your budget is one thing, knowing that a budget is an identity document, a philosophy of your essence, is another thing.
I have written about this before in my essay on the Dubai of the belly. You don’t just consider a budget an annual ritual in which your ministries and agencies and other mechanisms of your bureaucracy cobble together a spending diet for the year. The story of postcolonial budgeting in Nigeria is the story of ostentation, opulence, lazy and parasitic consumption without producing. Every budget document shows a pathological national hatred for genius, innovation, creation, and sacrifice.
A fundamental shift in budget philosophy requires a very deep understanding of symbolism. President Buhari will never reach this understanding if he is constantly reassured that his aides, ministers, and civil servants are responsible for his errors of the rendering.
President Buhari must take the bold step of looking in the mirror every morning and telling the man starring back at him: the pot is yours. You break it, you own it.
I wish him Godspeed.
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Pius Adesanmi is the director of Carleton University’s Institute of African Studies, Ottawa, Canada. In 2010, he was awarded the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. A widely-cited commentator on Nigerian and African affairs, he has lectured in African, European, and North American universities, and also regularly addresses non-academic audiences across Africa.
Follow him on Twitter @pius_adesanmi