Nigeria: Budget and spoils of war

Developing Just Leadership

Adamu Adamu

Rabi' al-Thani 11, 1436 2015-02-01

News & Analysis

by Adamu Adamu (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 12, Rabi' al-Thani, 1436)

President Goodluck Jonathan is brazen to the point of being obnoxious about pouring money into his own area while ignoring other parts of the country especially Muslim majority areas. Nigerians hope the February 14 elections will consign him to the dustbin of history.

It is said that budgeting is the process of worrying about expenditure before incurring it — and the pleasure comes after making it. In governance and the budgetary process, he who controls the power controls the purse. He who controls the purse controls the purpose; and he who controls the purpose controls everything — and everyone. That, to all intents and purposes, is the first and last tragedy of Nigeria.

For the budget drawn by President Goodluck “Latter-day Praise” Jonathan last year, charity began at home — and promptly ended there. Not for this president, all those time-wasting political graces; or those courtly concerns associated with that blasted culture of political correctness; and nor was he one to be bothered by polite regard or common consideration for others or what they thought of him and his government.

For him — or the group using him — the art of politics or contrived electoral victory is equated with a military campaign with its series of wars, each war a series of battles, each battle with its set of conquests, at the end of which public resources are appropriated as the spoils of the new civil war — and the land of the dissenters is conquered territory. And for this president, conquered territory is anywhere other than Igboland because he had said that was the only area that voted for him. That there was conquered territory, or that he said this, might be the second tragedy of Nigeria.

And when it came time for making allocations, he decided to award the lion’s share — more than half — of all available resources not to Igboland but to his home zone — the South-South. Neither the National Assembly nor the civil service, nor yet the media could stop him or force him to undo it after its fact by making amends or expressing remorse. That he couldn’t be stopped might be the third tragedy.

That allocation to the South-South was more than twice the allocation of the South West, almost six times that of the South East, more than six times that of North Central, more than ten times that of the North West, which has the highest population in the country; and 27 times more than that of the North East, which is more than two and a half times bigger than the South-South. Even the South East, which is a mere one tenth of the North East, has an allocation five times that of the troubled zone.

And on a holistic scale, the allocation of the South-South [639 billion Naira] is more than the combined allocations made to all the other five zones in the country [554 billion Naira] with a difference of 85 billion Naira; and the difference with which it surpasses all the zones alone, again, is more than the allocations of the North West and North East zones combined.

It is clear that none of the known principles of public expenditure management has guided these unfortunate disbursements. They were not dictated or supported by any demonstrable plan designed to create effective demand in society and stimulate real, positive economic growth and development that would enhance the welfare and standard of living of the people of the country.

And surely there couldn’t have been the required prior permission that amounted to real, legitimate and defensible authority to incur expenditure. Such authority could only be given by a conscious and responsible legislature alive to its oversight duties to the nation and to posterity; moreover, one that could and would scrutinise these financial allocations and outlays and pass only those that were in the public interest. Certainly authority could not be given to a legislature that has abandoned this sacred obligation and compromised and buried itself in the corrupt cultural pits of constituency projects, or in blind, inordinate pursuit of contracts from the executive arm of government that it ought to have kept in check.

Nor were these expenditures aimed at reducing poverty and inequality in a way that would ensure maximum benefit to the entire society. While special attention should be paid to backward areas, this should in no way be restricted to just one favoured zone — the home zone of the president.

But, as we saw, favouring one zone was exactly what happened, it being typical of the president’s six years in office. Figures recently released showed that in 2014, actual budgetary allocation made to the president’s zone of the South-South was unconscionably lopsided and disproportionate to what the other zones received. It really constituted an insult to the unintelligence — not intelligence — of the nation that a government could allow itself to be guilty of such intolerable and flagrant sectional aggrandisement.

The quantum and type of public expenditure are determined by the political will of the leadership, the budgetary process and the choices and preferences of the bureaucracy that is crucial to the formulation and execution of policy.

Ideally, public capital expenditure, which in a democracy is supposed to be a reflection of election promises and a concretisation of people’s collective choices, should be political popularity writ large, inasmuch as that popularity is captured and faithfully represented in and by a free and fair election. The quantum and type of public expenditure are determined by the political will of the leadership, the budgetary process and the choices and preferences of the bureaucracy that is crucial to the formulation and execution of policy. Obviously, for the rest of the country, political will to sanction public expenditure is clearly absent. Without a budget that is followed or a plan with provisions to guide action, estimates are made in a vacuum. In the absence of legislative oversight, expenditure is incurred without check or balance.

That gives the unconscionable executive the leeway to do as he pleases. And if, as what may be called Bachian illusion has it, “your conscience is the measure of the honesty of your selfishness” — and it is, then the political conscience of President Jonathan, in a situation where there is neither real politics nor good conscience, is in good company — and clearly at ease with itself and satisfied with its own dishonesty. Our experience of the president’s handling public affairs has now shown that it is a dangerous presumption that people can learn to be inclusive and fair without having lived and experienced a history of it.

Perhaps like the concept of federal character, there ought to be measurable leadership intelligence quotient that should guide the determination of eligibility for leadership. But it is surely not in something so culturally technical that the panacea lies. What is required to remedy this and foreclose its recurrence is to take immediate steps to decentralise the presidency and embark on meaningful reform of the public service, not just so much to attempt a so-called professionalization of its cadre as to undertake a comprehensive reinvention and enforcement of its ethic.

There is urgent need for the reintroduction of respect for the budgetary process and the national development planning process by the executive tier of governance, to be supervised by the continuous oversight function of the legislature. The three tiers of government should act as external checks and balance upon each other, while the public service acts as an internal check and balance upon the executive of which it is a part.

In order to stop the possibility of the nation witnessing a re-enactment of the president’s manifest nepotism, this role of the public service must be restored and fully enforced. The issue is not just doing what appears right: it is doing what is right in a way that is legal. It is not just any particular area but the entirety of the country that is a victim of mismanagement, a rural, economic backwater and development wilderness waiting for a visionary to reclaim and transform it. It should be hoped that any such future visionary will neither favour his area of origin nor even try to “take revenge” for the lopsidedness his predecessors have created. Unless a line is drawn and the past is firmly and finally put behind, the country will always produce a sectional or tribal leader itching to come to the stage to bestow largesse on his kin and deny the same to his perceived opponents.

There is no ground to justify this shameful anomaly. In terms of need and desperation of the population, the North East stood in greater need and is in even more bitter desperation. And while militants of the Niger Delta were fomenters of mayhem and could stop it when paid, the people of the North East are the unprotected victims of third party mayhem — and are unable to stop it and seem condemned to remain unaided. It is unfortunate that this lopsidedness can happen at all, and even more unfortunate that it can happen in an election year, the best indication that the president and his party take the entire country for granted.

The essence — and indeed the hallmark — of real leadership is the ability to be fair and inclusive, a requirement that in this country is demanded and enforced in the name of federal character. The demand of federal character for the fair and equitable distribution of appointments and amenities is not optional, or something to be invoked or applied only when it is convenient for, or only when it accords with, the whims of temporary wielders of power.

In the end nothing will change until the National Assembly does and accepts its responsibility as the guardian of the constitution and proves to the nation that it can look into and pass judgment in all cases where the president disregards the constitution, exercises his powers in a way not in the public interest or breaches any of the constitution’s provisions or commits any of its impeachable offences. The president will only accept to abandon the powers of impunity he enjoys and begin to act for the public good if he knows that the nation’s legislators will throw him out of office if he toys with the its destiny.

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