Lagos 2019 budget of controversy, no fanfare

Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode (right), with National Leader, All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu (middle); Party chieftain, Prince Tajudeen Olusi (left); APC Governorship Candidate in Lagos, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu (middle behind); Speaker, Lagos State House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Mudashiru Obasa (left behind) and member, Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Bayo Osinowo (right behind) during the briefing of the Press shortly after the APC leadership meeting at the Government House, Marina, on Sunday, February 3, 2019. (Photo by ChannelsTV)

For weeks, Lagos State executive and legislative arms were at each other’s throat, ostensibly over the 2019 budget, leading to the washing of their dirty linen in the public. The budget was finally presented last Tuesday. Lagos State Governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode walked into the Assembly hall at about 2:33p.m. to present the budget, with the entire ceremony lasting just about 30 minutes. He walked into the hall with the gallery half empty.

The event was to kick off at 10a.m., but it started some minutes past 2p.m., with the Governor holding a brief parley at the Speaker’s office with some lawmakers present. After the meeting, the Speaker came on the floor of the House at 2:25p.m. And after introductory formalities, the Speaker, Hon Mudashiru Obasa, asked the clerk if there was any message from the Governor; he said no. Thereafter, the House Majority Leader, Sanai Agunbiade moved a motion to quash the report of the committee that was to look at the infractions allegedly committed by the executive arm. Midway into his submission, the sergeant-at-arms signaled that the Governor was around, and led him to his seat.

For many who were used to the fanfare of budget presentations, the scenario this time around was different, the Assembly hall and the environment were devoid of razzmatazz. In the past, entering the Assembly for ordinary citizens would have been a herculean task, as the whole place would be jam-packed with heavy human and vehicular traffic. Also, the hall gallery would have been populated by aso-ebi wearing party faithful and chieftains, but that was not to be as only journalists, governor’s aides and staff of the Assembly were the ones who came to witness and listen to the governor present the budget. Although some members of the nebulous Governor Advisory Council (GAC) were present, party members, especially women who would be fully decked in aso-ebi were not on hand to add colour and spice to the event.

There was also less ceremony and entertainment, as the Assembly choir was not on hand to provide entertainment and interlude as speeches were delivered.

Ambode said they were happy to propose a Year 2019 budget of ₦852,316,936,483, (852.317billion), including a deficit financing of N77.086bn, which is expected to be sourced from internal loans and other sources.

“Consequently, the 2019 Budget is projected to consolidate on the economic gains made so far by capitalising on realistic, budget friendly programmes and projects,” he said.

He added: “We are confident that the revenues of the state will improve this year by consolidating on the already established public financial management and technology-driven revenue reforms; through data integration and use of multi-payment channels.”

On his part, Obasa, who thanked all those who worked to ensure peace between the executive and legislature, debunked the claim by group called Legislative Probity and Accountability (LPA) led by one Olu Fajana, that the Assembly has collected N28.8bn as running cost so far. The Speaker, after listing a number of items that the running cost fund is expended on, failed however, to provide how much it has collected as running cost.

Obasa said: “Fallout of the budget brawl has led to series of negative publications both on social media and in the print media, which are being sponsored by a faceless group calling themselves the Legislative Probity and Accountability. This started immediately the misunderstanding between the Executive and Legislature came up in respect of the Y2019 budget; which means that such could not be ruled out to have emanated from the Executive.

“A section of the media has even been mischievously misled into sensationally writing all manner of write-ups against this Assembly. Some of our friends in the media are personalizing the issue, thereby misinforming the public. The fact of the matter is that the issue is between one arm of government and another. What was at stake then was nothing but the matter of appropriation.”

The Speaker however appealed to the governor and Lagosians to give the Assembly sufficient time to enable the House do a thorough job on a financial document that has great influence on the lives of the people.

Before party chieftains intervened last Sunday in the face-off, it was like the two arms of government were not going to shift ground. The Assembly had threatened to impeach the Governor, and their request for the Governor to come explain his position was not fully complied with by close of work last Friday. Although, commissioners had appeared before the lawmakers, the Governor refused, though he sent his deputy. According to a source, the Governor was ready for battle with the legislatures; which was why the running cost of the Assembly was leaked. This, he said jolted the legislature and their godfathers, who felt that more information about the finances of the state, which will not be good for the image of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the forth coming election. This, it was learnt made the ultimate party leader, Bola Tinubu to intervene.

During the budget presentation, the two principal heads, the Governor and Speaker were very serious about the business of the day. Unlike in the past, whereby the two would provide some joke, this time around, none resorted to comic relief during their presentations. While the governor went straight to the business of the day, the Speaker drew attention to what happened in the past.

A source said: “You saw that the Speaker debunked the claim about the huge running cost, saying what they use running cost for but he refused to say exactly how much they have collected as running cost. That is the hypocrisy in his comment.”

He nonetheless said the Governor has not completely escaped the impeachment plot, which could be activated after the election. “If you were in the Assembly, the tone and the words the Speaker used in delivering his speech, especially the aspect of the financial allegation against the Assembly showed the battle is not over.”

A resident, Ayo Longe said he does not believe Obasa that what Assembly members collect as running cost is not as huge as what was revealed. “Nigeria has weak and redundant institutions, as institutions, which should ordinarily stem corruption are comatose. If not, the allegation would be investigated and the veracity of it would have come out.”

Convener, Coalition in Defence of Nigerian Democracy and Constitution (CDNDC) Ariyo-Dare Atoye observed that Lagos House Assembly since 1999 has operated like a political coven of sort, lacking transparency and accountability.

He maintained that merely debunking the allegation by the Speaker cannot do justice to the concerns that Lagos taxpayers have. “The people of Lagos State must resist this impunity and demand for openness. What is going on in the state is a mockery of democracy and governance?”

For him, the only time Nigerians and Lagosians will know the level of impunity perfected between the executive and the legislature in Lagos State would be when there is a change of political interests in the affairs of the state.

“Lagos is like a territory under the political siege of one political fiefdom.  The people must liberate themselves to know the truth about the administration of justice and governance in the state,” he said.

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