| Maureen Chigbo |
THE year 2013, started without any remarkable or ominous signs of things to come. If anything, the harmattan breeze in the New Year made everything seem so bright and beautiful and the year, like a new born baby, brought so much joy, great expectations and hope. Hope for better things to come. Hope that politicians will live up to promises they made to everyone and no one in particular. Ardent hopes on the part of the masses that this year will simply be different because the pastors, mallams, seers, prophets and prophetesses have looked into their crystal balls and prophesied that this is a year of divine manifestations. Yes, 2013 is, indeed, bound to be remarkable, full of ups and downs, twists and turns that have become the hallmark of the human race.
In the political scene, there are already snippets of a larger picture of what 2013 will be like and these can be discerned from the joker-poker-game starter that campaigners for President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term bid in 2015 threw at the public on New Year’s Day. From the resultant furious reactions from Jonathan lovers, haters and bashers alike, I knew straight away that most people have missed the point and are caught in the very bait they should have been smart enough to ignore. As the saying goes, silence is the best answer for a fool. By taking the bait and making Jonathan’s New Year posters the subject of the debate, critics unwittingly admitted that Jonathan is not a fool afterall. They have made him the issue in the national discourse for the better part of January, dissipating unnecessary energy that should have been used to make better plans for the year. I am not going to get caught in the same bait, but it’s worth pointing out that the timing for the display of the campaign posters elicits certain germane questions. For instance, what is the motive for the action as the first thing in the year? Why did it happen only in Abuja? Could it be that Jonathan is gauging the public mood about himself? Could this also be one of Jonathan’s strategies to cage his opponents in the PDP? If this is so, it appears that he has succeeded because no serious contender from PDP has openly challenged or criticised him. It appears that, through this indirect action, Jonathan has publicly announced to Nigerians that he is submitting his humble, “shoeless” self for re-election. Anybody, who is waiting for a direct action from the president is surely wasting his time.
My reading of the various reactions and the bold hand writing on the wall of the political landscape is that this indirect action of the president may have effectively silenced those in various camps in PDP who might be harbouring any idea whatsoever of making surreptitious schemes, plans or nocturnal manoeuvres to contest the presidency in 2015. If anybody is bold enough to try, I will bet that the machineries of the state will be unleashed to checkmate the person by fair or foul means. Needless to say that the campaign posters are the answer the doubting Thomases need to know that Jonathan is surely in the race for 2015.
But as I said, I am not going to waste so much thought on this. There are more dusts that the Harmattan breeze has raised in the political circles that are worth more attention. It has to do with the unfinished business of budgeting for the country. The year ended with most people hailing the Executive and the Legislative arms of government for breaking the jinx over budget delays. But unknown to many, there is a cold war raging between the two arms of government over the 2012/2013 budget. Both the Executive and the Legislature are smarting over the budget which is yet to be signed into law by the president. Never mind the hanging threat that after 30 days the National Assembly, with two-thirds majority votes, can override the presidential assent for the budget to become law. But I doubt that the President or the National Assembly will allow their quarrel over the unfinished budget business to deteriorate to that level. Of course, both arms of government have been trying to keep their sour relationship away from public glare unlike before when budgeting process used to be a shouting disagreement for the duo under previous governments. None of the combatants wants to fire the first salvo publicly by accusing each other of padding up the budget like before. The matter is being handled in a mature and Machiavellian way which only the end can justify the means of settling this cold war. The problem which is yet to blow open has to do with the caveat emptor the National Assembly slammed on the Securities and Exchange Commission. The National Assembly, before it passed the budget, put a clause stating that: “All revenue, however, so described, including all fees received, fines, grants, budgetary provisions and all internally and externally generated revenue shall not be spent by the Securities and Exchange Commission for recurrent or capital purposes or for any other matters, nor liabilities thereon incurred except with the prior appropriation and approval by the National Assembly.”
The Executive has not publicly reacted to this development. But it has effectively retaliated by putting a spanner in wheels of constituency projects budgeted for in the 2012 which the National Assembly said should be rolled over till March 2013. Apparently angered by the stance of the National Assembly on SEC, the executive marshalled its own counter action asking the accountant general to issue a statement directing the ministries to return any unspent money in the 2012 budget to the treasury contrary to its previous agreement with the National Assembly. Expectedly, most of the capital votes, which were between 25 percent and 40 percent unspent, affected projects which were executed in the constituencies of the legislators. The presidency took this action while the legislators were on Christmas and New Year recess.
This action has angered the members of National Assembly who are unhappy with the president. As one of the Senators told me: “We are not happy. We have been at our constituencies and contractors are waiting to start work to complete the projects only to be told that the budget has been stopped.” But the senator believes that they will have to discuss the matter in the Senate and with the president when they return to Abuja. He also said that the SEC issue can also be discussed.
For now, both the Executive and Legislature seem to have their deck stacked with cards full of bargaining chips. Bear in mind that National Assembly has not submitted the details of the budget to the president. Could it have been deliberate to enable it have a wager should the president try to act smart? Whatever the situation, Nigerians will be watching and waiting for the negotiation to begin soon. And by then, we will know who has the ace that will win this ensuing political game in the first quarter of the new year. Until then, the budget 2013 remain in abeyance as the politricks continue.
— Jan. 21, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT