False Alarm – Sam Omatseye

 

Many who view President Goodluck Jonathan as a meek and gentle soul will find it hard to reconcile that image with the news of his hectoring phone conversation with Lamido Sanusi, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

The President was angry, but meek souls are permitted to fly even into rage. The President betrayed impatience, and meek souls have the occasional free rein to fly off their hinges. The President did not understand the law, and meek souls sometimes are forgiven their lack of familiarity with the law, even though it is no excuse.

If meek souls are permitted to infringe on all of these rules, can we allow a president of a republic that kind of latitude and attitude? That was the question I could not live with or live down as I contemplated the story, first carried by Thisday, about the exchange between the President and the boss of the nation’s financial holy of holies.

President Jonathan has a lot in his hands these days. When Rivers State is not stewing impetuously in his pot, he is at war with his party governors who want the head of the head of PDP. And if that is not enough, he is wrestling with the forces of conscience, who want him to fire his aviation dame, or basking or writhing from the after-waves of his letter slugfest with his former mentor Obasanjo. Some may excuse the President some irritability, except that he exercised that emotion without much charity.

How could a President ask a CBN boss to quit without first checking if the law gave him the right? We know the enormous powers of a president in a presidential system. Even then, it has its checks. Philosophers have shown that history has never thrown up an absolute monarch or dictator, from Caligula to Franco. Despots don’t hang in the air. They depend on certain individuals or stakeholders. The presidential system bows to the constitution. Did the President just wake up one morning and flew into a rage about the CBN boss and decided to fire him?

Presidents do not act that way. I like to think the President did not just jump into such an impulse. So, he must have deliberated over the matter with his advisers. He must have discussed with his coordinating minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. With all her pedigree about the interaction between finance and political authority, she could not have advised the President to do so. If she did, she was diabolical. His secretary to the government Anyim Pius Anyim was a senate helmsman, and he too knows that the law does not allow for such presidential arbitrariness. His attorney general Adoke is also knowledgeable in the matter and I expect that he gave no such advice.

Could it then be Gulak? I don’t know. If the president acted on the advice of these aides, then we must expect that they told him the proper thing. So, did the President know the truth and ignored advice and plunged precipitously into that phone conversation? It is either that the President was ill-advised in the sense that he did not seek advice or he was misadvised in the sense that his advisers gave him the wrong counsel. Either way, the President is to blame because, at his level, any advice he accepts becomes his wisdom or otherwise. He made that conversation and not any other person in government, and what a conversation it was.

Many might fantasize about the details of the exchange. What was the decibel of the president’s voice and the counter-decibel of the CBN boss’? What diction did they command, irate, gentlemanly, glum, aplomb? Did they interrupt each other? Did they spit out invectives involuntarily or deliberately? Did it cruise on perfidious calm? How did the conversation end? With a warning, threat or counter-threat?

How did the President feel later when he learned he acted beyond his powers when Sanusi told him he required two-third of the senate to oust him?

One is baffled at the quickness with which he decided to oust the CBN boss when he shillyshallied like a wishy-washy over other matters like the still smouldering matter over his aviation minister Stella Oduah who has also not responded to charges of certificate fraud. That matter has been on his table for several weeks, and he could not fire her. He does not need any senate or house input to fire his ministers but he wants to do same to CBN boss who is not under his control any longer. With Sanusi, does the reader not see the hint of the pharaoh that he forswore in the house of the Lord some time ago?

The issue at contention is the leaked letter Sanusi wrote him over $48.9 billion of crude oil sales he alleged was unaccounted for. Sanusi’s letter was a false alarm. He gave a mea culpa for that misleading missive.

It was a scandal that a CBN chief did not do his homework before writing such a letter, and it makes one wonder what other miscues happen on his watch. He admitted it was an error and, short of resigning, he apologised. We are compelled to accept his contrition since the senate would not fire him and he would not resign. The job of the vicar of our financial sanctuary should not be subjected to such calculations of errors or errors of calculations. He has a few months at the helm and he should sin no more. But he did the right thing to stand up to the President.

Nonetheless, he noted that $12 billion has not been accounted for, but Okonjo-Iweala said it was $10.8 billion. They made it look like it was only $10.8 billion. Newspapers have become addicted to writing in dollars rather than Naira, and sometimes the real sense of the amount is lost on the people. The sum of $10.8 billion is about N2 trillion. That amount of money could have funded the allocation nightmares of last year when the nation could not pay the states their due money.

Yet the NNPC says the money went to operational matters. The group managing director, Andrew Yakubu, said most of the money went to subsidy. That is $8.49 billion, and the balance to pipeline repairs and maintenance, crude oil losses and holding the strategic reserve. Is this not a scandal? I thought we were through with such disbursements on subsidy. The scandal is also that the NNPC has such discretion with our oil funds and can decide on its own how much to spend on what without checks.

No one saw the President’s alarm over that outrage. Yet, he has not relieved Oduah of her job over the car scandal, and was mute over the N2 billion oil minister Diezani Alison-Madueke spent on travels. The President clearly has a good reason to be angry over the leaked letter. However, he received the letter in September but did nothing in spite of its weighty allegations until December when he learnt it leaked.

What other grave matters are on the president’s table that we know little about? That is the real challenge of President Jonathan’s encounter with Lamido Sanusi, the most colourful eccentric to head the CBN.

The President should know our laws and Sanusi our figures. Neither did either. Sanusi reacted with penitence and Jonathan with impunity.

The opinion expressed is that of the writer(Sam Omatseye) and not that of amdegreat.wordpress.com

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The Budget: Why Some Animals Are More Equal Than Most Nigerians – Japheth Omojuwa

There are over 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school.
It may be a New Year but as far as Nigeria’s 2014 budget goes, it is the same old absurdity. If there is anything that stands the 2014 budget proposal out from those of recent years, it is that our budgets are getting better at getting worse. Many New Year resolutions are likely to have been made by Nigerian public officials, easing the burden of poverty on Nigerians is definitely not one of them.

This is not a statement without an empirical background. If the budget is the most important document of a government’s commitment to its people and their well-being, the 2014 budget tells one a lot about where the government’s priorities lie. According to the 2014 budget proposal, the State House will have two animals delivered to it this year for N14.5 million. That’s about N7.25 million for each animal if they come at the same price. At least 80 per cent of Nigerians must understandably be jealous of both animals because 80 per cent of Nigerians don’t have N14.5 million in any form, cash, liquid, in form of animals, properties or whatever. Those animals will come in already richer than most Nigerian citizens. At least one cannot say the government is not committed to animals. All animals may/may not be equal but some animals are definitely more equal than Nigerians. Most Nigerians will never get a chance to look through the windows of Aso Villa, so there will never be a thing about seeing the animals, men and women dine on the same table, let alone see them share a semblance.

While you may never have earned N14.5 million your whole life, two animals will be bought for the entertainment of our President and his friends. The job of a president is a tough one and we must understand that. Marie Francoise Marie-Nelly, World Bank Country Director for Nigeria, said that 100 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty conditions. The Federal Government has understandably faulted that claim. To emphasise the fact that it does not believe such claims, the government rather than look to unburden these Nigerians from the weight of poverty, has instead dedicated more money towards the continued beautification of the seat of power. You cannot say Aso Rock does not need beautifying. How many Nigerians even know what Aso Rock looks like so how will they even know if the President even lives in a poor environment? To ensure that is not ever the case under this administration, N1.5 billion will be used to upgrade the facilities at Aso Rock villa this year. If you don’t know what Aso Rock looks like, you at least know what N1.5 billion sounds like and if that is what will be used to upgrade Aso Rock this year, you must begin to have an understanding of the worth and look of Aso Rock itself.

If the cost of upgrading the facilities gets you remembering the fact that your next house rent is due soon enough, I believe knowing that N8 million will be used to upgrade the zoo at the Villa will get you upbeat about the fact that, if these animals can have their zoo upgraded with N8 million this year, maybe you will one day at least find that amount of money to build your own house. You probably don’t have a car yet or your car is as tattered as the cars of most of the people in government before they got government appointments, don’t be sad about that. N25 million has been dedicated to track the cars in the Presidential fleet. Who wants to go and steal cars in Nigeria’s most guarded Villa? There is a new jet on the way, which will bring the Presidency’s fleet to 11 jets. At that number, if the Federal Government decides to float an airline with those aircraft, they’d immediately be the second biggest airline in Nigeria. Who says we can’t rent jets to African Presidents like Malawi’s Joyce Banda who sold the country’s only presidential jet and about 60 cars? You cannot blame President Joyce Banda for caring about her country’s poor citizens. You cannot exactly say our President does not care either. For instance, the 2014 budget dedicates N76.3 million to the purchase of crested cutlery, flatware and glassware. Whoever says we are no longer the giant of Africa has not been reading up on our 2014 budget.

I will confess to you right away; it was depressing enough to see some line items in the budget, it is even more depressing to remember them all over again just to write this piece. In case your children are wondering whether they will ever see typewriters again, please let them know the Interior Ministry intends to spend N3million on the purchase of typewriters. You would have to agree computers are too mainstream for these ones but do computers even cost up to N3 million? Na wa o. The Ministry of Information will spend N300 million to wash the government’s image in the foreign media during the year. This particular line certainly makes sense considering how much washing the image of our government constantly needs. Something dirty is always going on and the washing needs to meet the rate of the dirtying.

The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adokie, is not left out of the budget bazaar. His ministry will spend N181.3m on uniforms in 2014. You’d have to expect those uniforms to come with gold, diamond and Emerald studs. N1.8 billion was earmarked to connect Bayelsa State to the national grid but alas! Bayelsa was already connected to the national grid almost a decade ago. This N1.8 billion if passed, will not be misappropriated, it will be swallowed altogether. You cannot say all of these absurdities are not in line with the transformation agenda that has since emphasized the government’s commitment to the promotion of impunity and unheralded corruption. Stella Oduah’s Aviation Ministry expects to spend N208 million to plant flowers and trees in the country’s five major airports. This is marginally less than N255 million for two BMW cars so you cannot say things have not improved. They have improved from cars to trees.

So then what will Nigerians do? These are just a few of the absurdities in what has to be the country’s worst budget in decades. Recurrent expenditure has increased, capital expenditure has reduced. Virtually every dime allocated to the former will get spent, this administration has never reached 40 per cent performance level for capital expenditure since coming on board.

The lawmakers will sit over this budget proposal and you would expect them to do the right thing; remove the weeds from this budget. That’d of course mean reducing the National Assembly’s N150 billion allocation. N469 citizens of the National Assembly get to have a bigger budget than 23 Nigerian states of about 120 million Nigerians. If any political party that means well and wants change has any form of representation in our National Assembly, now will be the time to take a stand for the Nigerian people. If they pass the 2014 budget, as dysfunctional and as anti-ordinary Nigerians as it is, we can safely say, whatever political party we vote for, of the current parties represented in the National Assembly, it will still be the same faecal composition of just another bull. Let’s admit it; we the common people of Nigeria need help! These folk are more equal than us.

Japheth J Omojuwa jj@omojuwa.com | @omojuwa