SPECIAL REPORT: How Obasanjo, Yar’Adua, Jonathan tackled Nigerian lawmakers on budget padding

The raging feud between the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, and the former Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Abdulmumin Jibrin, over the padding  of the 2016 budget has again brought to fore the question the integrity of Nigeria’s budgeting process.

Mr. Dogara had, during the plenary last week, announced Mr. Jibrin’s exit from the position of chairman triggering myriads of shocking allegations from both parties about the budget.

The Speaker said Mr. Jibrin, his former ally, betrayed the trust the House reposed in him. He announced the appointment of Bala Dawakin, also from Kano as his predecessor, as the new Appropriation Committee Chairman.

Since then, both parties have exposed the dirty deals that attended the budget consideration, completed on March 23.

Mr. Jibrin alleges, among others, that Mr. Dogara, his deputy Yusuf Lasun, Chief Whip Ado Doguwa and Minority Leader Leo Ogor attempted to pad the budget with about N40 billion.

Previous Contentions over the budget

The current furore generated by the alleged padding of the N6.06 trillion budget is yet another controversy trailing the making and approval of the budget, the first by the All Progressives Congress federal government.

Perhaps, no federal budget in recent times has been dogged by this magnitude of controversy and integrity test as the 2016 budget, presented to the joint session of the National Assembly by Mr. Buhari last December 22.

It began early in the year with the shocking claim by the Senate that the document was missing.

Upon their resumption from Christmas/New Year break, the senators were informed in a closed-door session by their leader, Ali Ndume, that deliberations on the budget would not commence until fresh copies of the documents were obtained from the presidency, Ministries of Finance and National Planning.

At the time, there were indications that the document was secretly withdrawn by the president in order to make some adjustments following the falling prices of oil in the international market.

The objective, it was claimed, was to adjust the benchmark of $38 per barrel proposed for the 2016 fiscal year since the crude oil price was $30.5 per barrel.

The presidency later denied withdrawing the budget.

That settled. A few days later, the Senate claimed it discovered N10 billion “questionably smuggled” into the budget of the Ministry of Education for an allegedly questionable subhead.

Shortly after, the Minister of Health, Isaac Adewole, while defending allocation to the ministry before the House Committee on Health, disowned the allocation submitted on its behalf by the Ministry of Budget and National Planning.

He said the proposal drawn up by his ministry and submitted to the budget office had been doctored and that “foreign” appropriations, different from what was submitted had been sneaked in.

Even when the lawmakers eventually passed the budget on March 23 and transmitted to the president for assent, he declined assent and returned the document.

The Presidency said the lawmakers added new projects and removed critical items proposed by the administration.

For instance, there was the issue of Lagos-Calabar rail project, which was not originally in the budget. The project was introduced midway into the budget by the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi.

The two arms reconciled the controversial figures and transmitted a clean copy of the budget to the president.

But for about one week after that was done, the president refused to sign the document because it had no details.

Mr. Buhari was said to have been concerned that signing the budget without details may give approval to an un-implementable spending plan.

However, on May 6, the president finally signed the budget ending weeks of disagreement with the National Assembly.

The current controversy is, however, not the first in Nigeria’s democracy. Since the restoration of democratic rule in the country 17 years ago, the legislature and executive have engaged in battle over padding of budgets presented by the latter.

Olusegun Obasanjo’s 2000 Budget

In 2000, former President Olusegun Obasanjo refused to sign the budget passed by the National Assembly claiming it had been padded with about N2 billion.

In November 1999, the former president had submitted a proposal of N667.51 billion to be spent in the 2000 fiscal year. It was his first having assumed office about seven months earlier.

In the budget, the National Assembly got an allocation of N22,714,438,837 out of which N13,229,683,837 was for recurrent and N9,484,755,000 for capital expenses.

But in approving the budget, the lawmakers added extra N2 billion for themselves bringing their total allocation to N24 billion.

The president identified 15 other areas which he said were “contentious” in the document passed by the lawmakers and therefore would not sign.

In a letter dated May 3, 2000 to the then Senate President, Chuba Okadigbo, and Speaker Ghali Na’Abba, Mr. Obasanjo questioned the N24 billion budget of the National Assembly, imploring the lawmakers to make further explanation.

He specifically questioned the N117 million inserted for the purchase of vehicles; N95 million for e-mail interconnectivity; N276 million for office equipment; N110 million for development of recreation; N883 million for the construction of boys quarters; and N30 million for the development of model primary schools.

He also rejected the increment in the allocations to state electricity firm, NEPA, from N41 billion to N55 billion and the Nigeria Police Force from N3.1 billion to N5 billion.

Also, Mr. Obasanjo reportedly frowned at the extra N6 billion allegedly spent by the legislature in the previous year on capital projects.

However, after weeks of face-off between the two arms of government, the former president agreed to sign the budget on the condition that he would bring a supplementary bill to address the contentious issue. Mr. Obasanjo backed down after a meeting convened by the National Caucus of the Peoples Democratic Party.

Soon after, the truce was almost threatened as the other parties represented in the National Assembly disowned the agreement before agreeing to it.

Obasanjo’s 2005 Budget

In 2005, the then Senate President, Adolphus Wabara alongside some senators and members of the House of Representatives were fingered in the alleged offer of bribe by the Ministry of Education to pad the ministry’s budget.

The senators involved in the bribe-for-budget scandal were Ibrahim Azeez, (Chairman, Senate Committee on Education), John Mbata (Appropriation Committee chairman), Badamasi Maccido, Chris Adighije, Emmanuel Okpede, Shehu Matazu (Chairman, House Committee on Education), Gabriel Suswan (House Appropriation Committee chairman, who later became Benue State governor).

Others involved were then Minister of Education, Fabian Osuji; Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Education, P.S. Abdul; five directors; VC of Federal University of Technology, Owerri, Jude Njoku; Executive Secretary of National University Commission, Peter Okebukola; and others.

Mr. Obasanjo, in a nationwide broadcast, said investigation revealed that Mr Osuji and others from the executive arm bribed the lawmakers with N55 million to increase budgetary allocation to the ministry.

He also said that while the directors raised N35 million from votes under their control, N20 million was provided by the NUC.

On March 22, the former president dismissed Mr Osuji from the cabinet while Mr Wabara subsequently resigned from his position after much pressure.

Mr. Obasanjo said the other six lawmakers would be reported to ICPC for prosecution.

Late Umaru Yar’Adua’s 2008 budget

Late President Umaru Yar’Adua, who led Nigeria between 2007 and 2010, also had his share of the brushes with the legislators over budget padding.

In 2008, the late president prepared a total national budget of N2,944,601,095,668. It was his first since assuming power the previous year.

But while working on the budget, the legislators raised the allocation for some items.

For instance, the harmonisation committee set up by the two chambers raised the figures to N34,034,890,457 for the Senate and N59,523,828,960 for the House.

The committee pegged the capital expenditure at N15,617,953,761, which included N5,831,953,761 for the Senate and N9,786,000,000 for the House.

The figures for the meal and refreshment were also increased. In the Senate alone a total of N120 million was allocated as non-regular allowances. The outrageous increase resulted in the president refusing to sign the budget.

This angered the president who refused to sign the budget into law. As a result, the nation was almost shut down until April that year when the president eventually signed the document. That was after the feuding parties agreed that the president should send a budget amendment bill. He did.

The president then forwarded a Supplementary Budget of N683,301,968,287 to the National Assembly .

Goodluck Jonathan’s 2011 budget 

Perhaps, most outrageous of the conflicts was the one between the National Assembly and President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011.

The padding of that year’s budget was largely to enhance the lawmakers’ salaries and allowances.

That year, the National Assembly increased its budget from about N120 billion to N232.74 billion while working on the N4.48 billion budget presented by the former president.

Mr. Jonathan refused to sign the budget prompting series of meeting for negotiations. In the end, both parties settled for N150 billion as allocation to the lawmakers.

The allocation to the legislature was to remain so for the next four years.  It got N150 billion allocation each from the N4.89 trillion budgeted for the nation in the 2012, the same amount in N4.98 trillion budget of 2013; and the N4.96 trillion budget of 2014.

The allocation only dropped marginally to N115 billion in 2015 in the nation’s budget of N4.42 trillion due to public complaints that the legislature was becoming too expensive to maintain.

Strangely also, from that year the National Assembly stopped providing details of its allocations in the budgets.

Courtesy: Premiumtimes

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