Sleazy details of ‘budget padding’ emerging from the NASS has spurn extensive debates on the inappropriateness and legality of the ‘padded’ sharing of our national cake. Different interpretations from pundits have emerged over its short life span. Uncertainties surrounding the legality of ‘budget padding’ is diverting attention from other pressing national issues. Now that the presidency has finally broken its silence the comments that ‘padding’ is not an integral part of the legislative lexicon in that when budgets are presented before the legislature, the legislature is at liberty to consider and pass it as they deem fit re-echo position taken by the leadership of the lower chamber. Such utterance from government will send a strong signal to the foot soldiers of corruption that is now business-as-usual. Interestingly, the EFFC and Police are still carrying out independent investigations on the allegation thereby creating the ambiance of all organs of government working in cross-purposes. Thus will have profound consequences for the anti-corruption agenda of Buhari’s administration.
In a polity where extensive uncertainties exist, one thing is certain: the ‘budget padding’ impasse has opened a new vista in our political space. Rebranding of corrupt practices as ‘padding’ by the ruling class is a phenomenal expression of the decadence in society. Undoubtedly, padding is the new normal of legislative budget appropriation lexicon. But it is an aberrant situation forcefully projecting interest of the dominant class on the vast majority. The primary goal of ‘budget padding’ is the looting of resources from the civil public to the primordial public. Padding as a new entrant into our rent seekers’ lexicon is all the insertion of superfluous figures into the budgets for the purpose of concealing the real intention of the person engaged in padding. Thus, ‘budget padding’ can be said to be a chicanery of the elite to lure impressionable Nigerians of the inevitability of an illegal act for the mere fact that it is sanctioned by law. Premised on this, padding is a political tool just as it is equally a term referencing the act of misallocating resources using the budgets.
As a political tool ‘budget padding’ is capable of uplifting society while simultaneously acting as an instrument for appropriation of the commonwealth. However, its transformational potential is skewed favouring the position of those engaged in padding or an ethnic group in the political economy. Given this, padding re-echo the ghost of our parochial identity politics that Nigerians are struggling to exorcise.
Conflicts emanating from the reinforcement of identity politics is evident from the want of equity and distributive justice intrinsic to the budget process which is a direct affront on the consciousness, responsible and engaged appeals of Nigerians for minimization of private gains in the guise of ethnic agenda. The concretization of identity politics in a padded budget serves two ends. In the hands of a morally upright politician, budget padding can bring development closer to the people whereas in a weak state it is a prebendal act capable of only generating immense benefits for the ‘rent seeking’ class.
Today, these benefits are far more acute in the 8th National Assembly where a legislator serves two publics: the primordial and civil public. Here, a ‘good’ politician is expected to steal from the civil public in order to give to the primordial public. As of late, the primordial interest has been subordinated to private end.
Certainly, the ruling class are no longer interested in sharing proceeds of the loot with their kinsmen rather politics is a winner takes all zero sum game. With the anti-corruption knot tied around economic neck of the elite tightening daily, their core values are now undergoing gradual change. One of the ‘change’ can be gleaned in the no holds barred war to untangle their pecuniary enterprise from the hangman’s noose. As a matter fact, corruption is fighting back driven by those who claim to have incorruptible credentials. What we are witnessing today is the outcome of an unholy alliance of estranged lovers. A matrimony conceived in greed, nurtured by greed and for the greedy and the engine which drives this quest is their inflated ego.
Two major categories of politicians are at war over ethical soul of our the appropriation instrument. On one hand are anti-corruption forces incapable of surmounting the monumental decadence in society; while on the other side are corrupt politicians orchestrating the rebirth of corruption. Whereas the former group are suffering from the pangs of still birth; the latter group who belong to the bastion of corruption are suffering from the throes of death. These stewards of capital are like greedy piglets fighting over the share of milk from their mortally ill mother. Instead of co-operating on how they should help their mother, they are all carried away by the fight for their share thereby making their mother even more ill. With their mother’s death, they have all of a sudden found that they have lost their only source of milk and as such there will be no more milk to live on (apologies to He Teburoro Tito, President of Kiribati).
The realization of the irreparable consequences of their nefarious activities by some so-called repentant looters is not driven by patriotism but by the lure of lucre- an attribute borrowed from their ‘kill and divide’ neo-patrimonial forebears. Unquestionably, patriotism and greed are two strange bed fellows least of all when driven by the new Age piglets schooled in the act of pilfering. These new act of rent seekers have proven to be far more insatiable in desecration than their ancestors we bemoaned for institutionalizing and redefining corruption in glowing attributes. Their mastery of plunder is evident from conscripting our constitution to do a honest day labour for these greed apostles. But in their haste to hijack constituency projects to private ends, they have forgotten the vital lessons of history to dine with long knives. To the delight of many Nigerians, they have gone to the feast with short daggers and are now stabbing each other where they are most vulnerable. These ‘honourable’ men who are meant to find equitable formula for re-allocation of scarce milk from their dying mother or at worst sustain the flow of milk amongst the ruling class are now enmeshed in democratic hara-kiri- the outcome of their failed reappropriation agenda of turning the budget to another ‘kalu-kalu’ in our new Age of ‘bole kaja’ democracy.
In a setting where dividends of democracy has become source of milk for sacred piglets neglecting the vast majority who are real owners of the pig, what do you expect? Nothing, but conflict over spoils of the battle. But in every contest there is a winner. From every battle won there are challenges. And when there are challenges, it means the winner has found a stabilizing factor. From the legislative aide’s statement it is obvious a winner has emerged in the padding impasse. For the ordinary man at the receiving end of all policy deficits, life will continue to be rough, lonely and short. We see in this statement the reinvention of greed as competition between strong politicians. In this war, the fittest politician consume the weakest and must eliminate many competitors in the sharing chain. However, the weakened class, the ordinary man bears the brunt of all deteriorations in the economy orchestrated by the warring forces.
These warlords, rather than fleshing out new pathways for transformative ‘change’ are out on a total war for their mother’s carcass. Even death cannot separate them from the evil plan of carving-up their dead mother. Like the mad dog they are destined for their early graves either as an upshot of their ritual dance or from the real owners of the pig who are becoming more restive from the cacophony of discordant tunes emerging from the citadel of corruption.
Their macabre dance in the market square is a lesson for all. The piglets’ implosion is a diurnal reminder of consequences of greed and it also highlights our vulnerability to machinations of the political class. Their tragic endgame underscores urgent political action on purging the sacred chambers of our illustrious ‘padded’ legislators. For now, there is no such luck in the horizon as it is game-on; a victory of sort for corruption. But all hope is not totally lost as corruption has just won its first major battle. There are many turfs for anti-corruption battles in the coming months. But how Nigeria extricates itself from the asphyxiating stranglehold of these new Age rent seekers will determine how these battles are won. Hence, how the future smiles on us and our political class.