• Friday, July 12, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

A week of presidential drama: Budget Thievery, Withdrawal, BBOG’s visit

2016-Budget

The past week was characterised by laughable dramas, even oddities, in government, giving an aura of confusion and cluelessness at times.

From the rather incredible tale of the stolen 2016 budget (some now say it was doctored) to the display by ministers, or so-called noise makers, who continue to read the body language of their principal before the can speak on any issues made the seven days working week quite interesting.

The drama began Tuesday, January 12 when news broke at the National Assembly, that the budget submitted by President Muhammadu Buhari last month had gone missing. Who stole our budget? The question was hanging
everywhere with no one bold enough to answer.

At the Aso Rock villa, journalists sniffed around for snippets of what had become of the country’s budget. Well, I heard from the grapevine that the budget was being amended but not withdrawn. Amended but not
withdrawn?  Is that possible? Rejigging by proxy? Well if it wasn’t withdrawn, what was all the embarrassing and conflicting reports about?

Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun had penultimate week amidst reports that the budget had been withdrawn explained that the budgetary approval process was an interactive exercise. There was no need to withdraw it
since the Ministries, Departments and Agencies would have the opportunity to defend their budget at the NASS and needed amendments can be subsequently made, she said.

With reports of the missing budget going viral, Senate President Bukola Saraki rushed down to the Villa for a tet-a-tet with Oga at the top. While he declined comments to reporters who hounded him for comments feigning surprise, you couldn’t have missed the body language.

Garba Shehu rushed to put out a statement dissociating the Villa from any document thievery titles.

“Nobody except the President can withdraw the budget. As far as we know, he hasn’t done that. The copies in their hundreds have been delivered to both chambers of the National Assembly. By tradition, once the budget is submitted, it ceases to be our property. Enquiries as to where it is should be directed to the appropriate quarters,” he said.

Now we know that the budget document may have been withdrawn and amended and not stolen, after the Senate suddenly announced that there are two different copies of the budget in circulation for a fact. Further
trying to quench the controversy was the Budget Office who subsequently put up a breakdown of the 2016 budget. Typical Naija fire service approach.

But the finger pointing continued. The Senate accused the Presidency of misleading Nigerians, indicting Ita Enang, Buhari’s links man to NASS of smuggling in (imagine Enang in his trademark Ibibio attire scaling the NASS gate in the dead of night on a budget a smuggling mission) a different copy of the budget.

While this embarrassment is unnecessary and avoidable, it is pertinent to ask why the government would not openly amend the budget if it felt criticisms by Nigerians struck a cord that something needed to be changed? It would have signalled strength to admit it has acknowledged concerns raised about the spending plan and has taken steps to fix the issues raised. Did someone within the administration read the body language of the President and decide to take a shortcut? Anyways, that is a questions for another day.

And still speaking about body language, a feisty verbal confrontation was narrowly averted Thursday, January 14 between Minister of Women Affairs Aisha Alhassan and Obiageli Ezekwesili,  a leader of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) movement Obiageli Ezkwesili, following an insensitive statement by the minister chiding the group.

The group, including parents of the over 200 schoolgirls from Chibok abducted 19 months ago (641 days) had arrived at the Villa to see Buhari and get a first-person update on what the administration was doing to #BringBackOurGirls after they last met the president in July 2015. Mind you, security personnel in Borno had allegedly tried but failed, to block the grief-stricken parents from travelling to Abuja to storm the Aso Rock.

Minister Alhassan told the group that they couldn’t just barge in on the President without making a schedule. She claimed she made efforts to reach their leaders and representatives of Chibok at the NASS.

“I have no reason to lie to you. If I didn’t do it I will tell you I didn’t do it, ” she said flatly when they tried to argue.

Her tone and body language was aloof and lacked empathy for these poor grieving parents, mostly women she was supposed to help advance their cause as a female minister. She might as well have being saying to the parents, ‘look those girls didn’t go missing under our watch so don’t harass us’. Such was her tone and body language.

But of course,  trust Oby Ezekwesili aka Madam Due Process to take her to the cleaners. She would have none of it. The Bring Back Our Girls group had written to the Presidency and had received an acknowledgement, she retorted.

“You have been very unfair to the movement and Nigerians, ” she charged in her usual tone. “When the defence minister, NSA and Chief of Defence Staff spoke their tones connected with the parents. I do not understand how you can choose to chide these parents.”

The mothers of the girls had wept like an Orchestra,  they wailed in a symphony, when the government’s delegation walked in earlier, and one couldn’t help but be moved by their agony. It was an emotional sight. And I could relate. For Pete’s sake, their daughters are still missing and the government had said they have no intelligence on their
whereabouts. Well the thankfully the President finally arrived.

Funny how the tables seem to have turned. The BBOG on its website said as a movement, they were “underwhelmed by today’s meeting as it is markedly different from the last one in many ways”.

Well, the President, ditching his characteristic body language, verbally reiterated that he has no reliable intelligence on the whereabouts of the girls.

And finally, ministers got a sobering reminder on Wednesday before the federal executive council meeting; they need to be seated at least 30 minutes before the meeting which now seems to have returned to it’s weekly Wednesday ritual starts.

Buhari surprised them when he walked into the hall at 9:51am leaving Vice President Yemi Osibanjo, 19 ministers and other principal aides absent. The President usually walks in at 10am or a few minutes after, in the company of the VP. The original drill would be for the President to arrive at his office a few minutes earlier and be joined
by the VP. The duo would then walk together to the council chambers.

However, that day, he proceeded straight to the council chambers, while the VP arrived at 9:53am and rushed in. The late ministers later found their way in through the tea room. I reckon they will all arrive way ahead of schedule next week to avoid being locked out. We wait.


He is God of all…even me

Elizabeth Archibong