AS controversy continues to trail this year’s budget proposal submitted to the National Assembly for approval by President Muhammadu Buhari, especially regarding the padding of some appropriations, the Nigerian economy appears to be grinding to a halt, with the cost of items rising, amidst biting cash crunch and unfavourable foreign exchange (forex).
While most Nigerians complain of cash squeeze and importers suffer forex scarcity, the non-passage and indeed impasse over the Appropriation Bill (Budget Proposal) and indefinite adjournment of proceedings by the National Assembly (NASS) is adding to the anxiety.
The National Coordinator of Buhari Media Support Group, (BMSG), Muhammad Labbo, told The Guardian yesterday that the development was quite unfortunate, but not beyond redemption.
Labbo said: “Transparency is the guiding philosophy of the Buhari administration, therefore, he would not be part of anything to encourage fraud in any form, let alone anybody using this year’s budget to gain private profits.”
“This is a people’s budget and the budget would ensure nothing untoward derails it. This issue is a temporary hiccup.”Concerning who was responsible for the padding, Labbo said, at this stage, the primary preoccupation of the Presidency is getting the budget passed.
“Nigerians are aware that in the early stages of this problem, the President admitted the errors and amended the budget and re-submitted it.”
“The buck stops at the President’s desk and he is leaving no stone unturned in addressing this issue once and for all.” “If anybody surreptitiously padded the budget for private gain, such people are wasting their time, as the President would deal with any fraud that crept into the budget.”
“He promised to run a government founded on accountability and anybody that breaches this principle in the preparation of the budget would ultimately be found out and dealt with accordingly,” he said.
Former Minister of Transport, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said the Presidency and the NASS should be mindful of the fact that Nigerians are suffering now, like never before, noting that delaying the budget correction and passage is not in the best interest of Nigerians, who are now finding it extremely difficult to have three square meals a day.
National Chairman of the United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, described the impasse as a welcome development, urging the NASS members to quickly address the anomalies discovered in the proposal to pave way for urgent passage.
To former president general of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Peter Esele, the NASS should courageously and patiently look into the budget draft critically, identify all the lapses and work with the executive to produce a workable budget for the country as soon as possible.
“They have to make the passage of the budget a priority, after all, the padding has been removed. The economy is at a standstill now. Individuals and business organisations cannot plan because there is no economic direction.”
“Any further delay in passing the budget may be catastrophic, because Nigerians are running out of patience,” Esele said. On his part, National Chairman of the Africa Democratic Congress (ADC), Chief Ralphs Okey Nwosu, said he is not surprised that the ‘Budget of Change’ is fast becoming ‘Budget of Embarrassment.’
Foreseeing danger in the budget fiasco, Nwosu stated that dealing with issues in piecemeal and being distracted by the issues of the moment merely stops all of us from exploring the bigger picture.
“Yes, this year’s budget has been subjected to all forms of bizarre games, overt and covert manipulations, to serve persons and some cults.”
“At a point, it was reported that the budget was missing, so it was lost and was found. It has also been said to have been miscalculated, and then was adjusted. Then rumours of smuggling in fresh items and finally the mafia within the establishment got the damn thing padded. This much is in the public space.”
“But you can wonder what the ministers of Finance, as well as Budget and Planning are struggling with.”
“The reality is that when it comes to culture of impunity, what is readily visible to the naked eyes is barely 25 per cent of the full spectrum. It is only a tip of the iceberg; the humongous mass is usually buried in the deep sea.”
“There is poverty, exchange rate is high, because foreign currencies are in high demand, we do not export and do not produce our needs either.”
“So it is important that we do not dwell too much on the fog in the atmosphere, rather we need to x-ray the climate as a whole to make better sense,” Nwosu said.
Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ibuchukwu Ezike, described the situation as an “embarrassing development.”
To him, from the current allegation, which is a novel and scientific approach to corruption, it is clear that the budget is a “package of mischievous, deceptive and dubious figures.”
Ezike added: “CLO does not only condemn this reprehensible act, but also demands that appropriate constitutional provisions against such gigantic fraud be invoked without delay, so that people could caution themselves and rest the rules.”
He maintained that copying the old system by the present administration meant that there was no change, as being claimed by the All Progressives Congress (APC), especially when nothing is done differently from the old order.
“Suppose the NASS didn’t discover these frauds, wouldn’t the huge sums secretly run into private pockets?”Across the country, life is becoming unbearable for the average Nigerian and even the wealthy. Apart from the global economic crunch, low earnings from oil sale have meant liquidity problems for the government.
Already, some businesses are either shutting down or downsizing to remain afloat, with none contemplating any pay rise for workers at the moment.
Nigerians had expected a relief from the quick passage of the budget to free the cash crunch, but the current scenario is complicating things for Nigerians and businesses alike.