BusinessDay

Budget padding: Justice Minister Malami says it’s just bad?

WHEN Honourable Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation Mallam Abubakar Malami speaks, you wish he kept quiet, especially when he dabbles into his preachment on corruption. Do not for a moment believe he does not know what he is doing.

The Minister delights in mixing ad hominem and befuddlement to defend the disasters of anti-corruption campaigns of President Muhammadu Buhari. Malami has excelled exceedingly

in these sublime admissions that corruption tops the failed agenda of Buhari.

On Wednesday Malami was regaling himself with stories of $1 billion recovery, his latest figures being $300 million from Switzerland in 2017. Does that not say a lot about any efforts against corruption being in the past? He said nothing about $20 million that the United States returned most recently. Obviously, the amount is too small for accountability.

Did he just confirm that corruption has had a free rein since 2017?

The matter of the day is budget padding. It is no longer discussed in hushed tunes. Three Ministers – Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development, Defence, and Health – have publicly accused the Minister of Finance Mrs. Zainab Ahmed of inflating their budgets with various sums. Can anywhere be more public than the National Assembly where the allegations were made?

Euphemistically called budget padding, instead of looting of public fund, which it is, is what these three eminent Ministers in the same party, All Progressives Congress, APC, accused their colleague of, in public. It was not a matter of the opposition accusing APC of corruption which Malami would have gleefully dismissed as “corruption fighting back”.

Malami said the Federal Government was studying the revelations and would explore available measures to deal with them. How long would the study last?

“Whichever way one looks at it, budget padding is bad. If you budget N5bn for roads and N3bn of that fund is diverted, it means the government has lost that money and it will take longer to complete the project. The government is concerned and will do what is necessary to address the issue,” the Minister said.

Malami means government will nothing, absolutely nothing. He dropped a hint that budget padding could be as high as 60 per cent if we are to follow his N5 billion/N3 billion example.

The matter has been closed. Malami fights corruption by minimalisation. His ministerial colleague is accused by another colleague of N206 billion budget padding and his best example of possible impact of inflating the budget was with N5 billion. Where he operates, there may not be a difference between N206 billion and N5 billion.

The anti-corruption war died and had a public funeral between July and August 2016, just a year into the Buhari administration. A reminder could be necessary.

Abdulmumuni Jibrin, Chairman of the House of Representatives on Appropriations, APC member from Kano State, had accused Speaker Yakubu Dogara of padding the budget with N40 billion for himself and principal officers of the House. Jibrin made a show of taking tomes of documents that he said had the proofs to the offices of different security agencies. There was live television coverage of the event.

Jibrin said he was involved in the crimes and was ready to be punished too. Things moved fast. A 206-member Transparency Group emerged in the House, asking Dogara to resign after he made demeaning remarks about other geo-political zones to justify the allegations against him.

Dogara struck. Jibrin was suspended for 180 days for violating the privileges of members. Not a single voice rose in his defence. His politics was a sore thumb in the anti-corruption fights that Malami supports. Malami was Minister of Justice then and still is.

Nobody was investigated. No trials. No convictions. Maybe it is important to mention that none of the characters in this sleaze has immunity, the major legal reason given for not prosecuting public fund looters.

Why would anyone expect that six years after that budget padding should be seen as corruption or worthy of the exalted attention of the Minister of Justice? Did President Buhari say anything six years ago? Will he speak this time? Is he aware?

There are reasons to worry. The three Ministers who spoke are unlikely to be the only ones whose budgets were padded. Are the others comfortable with the padding? Will the Finance Minister get away with this?

Nigeria is broke. Oil, the country’s main revenue source, is stolen so much at source that revenue has dwindled to very low levels. Funding of the budget includes foreign loans. Some people are making a hay looting loans.

Could the Minister be acting alone? What will the N206 billion be used for? Were we not told Nigeria could not spend about N400 billion on universities? Is the National Assembly unconcerned about the padding of the budget, at least the one that was brought to its attention?

Read also: Anti-corruption: FG has recovered $1bn – Malami

If Buhari is still interested in leaving a discernible dent on corruption, the revelation at the National Assembly gives him a reason to weigh in decisively to tell Nigerians that he knows what corruption is – or at least that he is aWARE of the extent of non-compliance with his abhorrence of corruption.

Finally…

APC needs a presidential candidate urgently. The incoherence of Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu, his inability to complete thoughts, his unsteady gait, and fears that he cannot stand for more than some minutes without support are enough grounds for someone to tell him it is his turn – to leave the presidential race.

Tinubu’s cognitive abilities are causes for worry. At the rally in Abakiliki he was short of calling Ndigbo drunkards. He advised a people, most of who do not know burukutu, not to drink so much of it on election eve to forget casting their votes for him.

An earlier gaffe was about the non-availability of “a blinker of electricity to roast corn”, his obvious illustration of the poor state of electricity. It is possible he forgets that his party promised, seven years ago, to improve electricity within months of being in power.

People listen to him now more for his gaffes, and he never disappoints. He is getting better at them daily.

.Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues