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Wednesday, 30 March 2016

MAKING BUDGET 2016 A TURNING POINT FOR NIGERIA'S ECONOMIC REVIVAL

Most Nigerians are aware that our economy is in dire straits. The economic indices bear witness. Low oil prices,foreign exchange scarcity resulting in rationing, low Naira value against foreign currencies, growing inflation, chronic fuel scarcity, electric power scarcity, worsening unemployment and overal low GDP growth. Many other comparative indices are also on the decline; Foreign Direct investment(FDI), Global competitiveness index( GCI),and Ease of Doing Business while the misery index has worsened. Those Nigerians who do not understand the economic jargons experience the misery index. 
This current economic crisis has been caused by the wrong choices we have made. Most in the past and others in the present. President Muhammadu Buhari( PMB ) blamed it on two issues; squandering of our National Patrimony and the fall in oil prices. Squandering of our National patrimony arose from the choices our leaders have made over time. And even the impact of the low oil prices has been aggravated by the poor choices our leaders made including those in power today. For example I know some current ministers and Senators who as governors led other governors to fight the Federal government for establishing the excess crude account. I know some governors who are still governors who led the battle to stop the Sovereign Wealth Fund. They were not interested in saving for the rainy day. They wanted all oil income in the federation account shared so that they could spend them. So it all comes down to choices. We made plenty wrong choices, some criminally wrong, including stealing and embezzling money meant for development at all levels- Federal, State, local ; Public and Private sectors; governmental and nongovernmental organizations.
It is under this miserable economic milieu, that I see the 2016 budget of 6.06 Trillion approved by the National Assembly last week as a unique opportunity to begin the economic revival of our Nation. Since the coming of PMB, many Nigerians have been waiting for the right change to happen in their lives and well being and I am eager that we do not blow this opportunity. I say so, because severally in the past, hopes had been raised at the precinct of a new budget, but miserably dashed by shoddy implementation. Here therefore are a few of my thoughts on how we can make this budget a turning point for Nigeria's economic revival.
1. IDENTIFY, ISOLATE AND QUICKLY IMPLEMENT POLICIES 
Every budget has two sides: income and expenditure; and Policies. Today, if you ask me what is the more important, I will say the policy side. We need the fiscal policies and other policies including incentives that will drive investment Behaviour. Early and holistic implementation of these policies will act as real stimulus to economic revival. To most investors, Nigeria seems to be operating without a discernible policy framework and direction. It is my sincere hope that this budget will change that perception.
2. BUDGET MUST BE CASH- BACKED IN A TIMELY MANNER
We all know that a major bane of our Budget implementation over the years has been the sometimes inexplicable delay in releasing funds for the programs and projects included in the budget. I have found it incongruous to hear that Q2 cash releases are effected in the 4th Quater. So you wonder if we were ever serious to fully implement  the budget. All the years of the Obasanjo Presidency and even during Jonathan's tenure, budget cash releases were often very late and misaligned. With plenty of cash held up in the TSA, and with one quarter gone, I recommend that Q1 and Q2 cash releases should be effected immediately, so that a flurry of activities can resume urgently, creating the needed impetus and momentum for economic revival.
3. KEEP FOCUS ON KEY PERFORMANCE INDICATORS (KPIs)
President Jonathan introduced the innovation of signing performance objectives and standards contract with his ministers, with the urging of the minister of National planning- Shamshudeen Usman. But I did not see a follow through where the performance review was made and actions taken against those falling behind,  therefore, the intended benefits were not achieved. My hope is that our MDAs have sequenced their programs and projects on quarterly basis. The President will have to demand quarterly measurement of their achievements and quickly relieve those that are falling behind. There is so much distance to cover and there should be no space for laggers. At least not in 2016!
4. INSTITUTE VALUE-FOR MONEY AUDIT ON A REGULAR BASIS
Most Nigerians are aware that sometimes money is spent and we do not get value as a Nation. Many commentators have shuddered at the dismal performance of the Nation, even after trillions of Naira had been spent over the years. We should therefore institute a value for money audit that will regularly measure expenditure against deliverables. The public procurement act should be implemented in spirit and in truth. Often the whole process is a charade, aimed at deceiving the uninitiated. President Buhari must insist on this, since he is still working with Nigerians and not Angels.
5. DELAY GRATIFICATION FOR PARTY FAITHFUL
It is no secret that many Politicians are in the ruling party for what they will personally benefit. That is why some will never be in the opposition. We know that many who 'invest'their money supporting parties and candidates, do so with their eyes on extracting 'returns on their investment'. It is also an open secret that every party in power must save up money in preparation for the next election and they do so through patronage. All these may be legitimate in the eyes of the politicians. But my recommendation is that we should defer gratification of party supporters and get the best contractors, suppliers, professionals and service providers to implement budget  2016. It is very critical that we lay the right foundations for our economic revival. Luckily 2019 is still 3 years ahead!
6. DELIBERATELY COURT PRIVATE SECTOR INVESTMENT 
The only way, budget 2016 will achieve its objectives and serve as a turning point for Nigeria's economic revival is to have a concomitant bullish private sector investment. Therefore the government must be painstaking in attracting privates sector investments- local and international. And having attracted them, every effort must be made to remove every inhibition, obstacle or bottlenecks. In all sincerity our public service machinery must be so orientated to appreciate this fact. For now we do not have the right orientation. Our President can travel the whole World and our ministers can attend all the investment conferences and road shows around the globe, we will still not have the right quantity and mix of investors, unless we understand how to make doing business in Nigeria easy. Recently a company I associate with retrenched 120 staff and was virtually out of production from September last year to February this year, just because, a user license to enable them clear one of the imported raw materials could not be issued from an agency of government. Were it not for the kind responsiveness of the Minister of Industry, Trade and investment and his staff, the factory will have closed by now. I do not know how we can solve this problem, but we must try and focus on it. Doing business in Nigeria for most people is a harrowing experience. Even the Chinese and Indians still complain!
7. GOVERNMENT MUST DO ITS BEST TO UNITE THE NATION & BRING PEACE
There is no gain saying the fact that without unity and peace in the Nation, the best of budgets or economic policies will never be achieved. It is good that the government is gradually resolving the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East. But they must ensure that the Niger Delta militancy does not rekindle. They need to resolve the seething anger of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra( IPOB). Currently, the Fulani herdsmen or those who pretend to be them seem to have become a major destabilizing force in Nigeria. At one time, the problem seemed to be contained in the middle belt, but it is now spreading dangerously to the South West and South East. These are just some of the flash points that can derail our economic revival. Money for development should not be used to fight internal wars. I advice Mr President to set up an office of HOMELAND UNITY & SECURITY and people it with experienced and detribalized Nigerians who can get to the root of all these challenges and deal with them in a holistic and permanent basis. Threatening the people or speaking in divisive language or taking discriminatory actions will not solve our problems. Let us give every Nigerian a sense of belonging.

Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 21 March 2016

TO BE FAIR, SOME OF OUR INSTITUTIONS ARE WORKING HARD

In our Country, it is popular to criticize our public institutions as being ineffective and inefficient. Infact, some have been fully written off. For example, most Nigerians have nothing good to say about our Police or Customs . They are accused of all sorts of dismeanour but mostly corruption. Recently, our Judiciary has come under severe attack following their decisions on electoral matters. Those who won the cases in court hailed the courts as the last hope for the common man, while those who lost, castigated the courts as being influenced by political and pecuniary considerations. Though the Chief Justice of Nigeria criticized the Appeal Court Judges for giving contradictory judgements which was kind of unusual self criticism or self censorship. I have never seen any police chief criticize another or accept any criticism, they are always on the defensive.
But we must be fair that while it true that many of our Agencies are performing poorly, some of our institutions are working really hard, despite obvious difficulties in our polity. I wish to state without fear of any contradiction, that there is no public sector institution or agency in Nigeria that is completely autonomous. The governments that set them up always try to interfere directly or indirectly or at least by 'body language'. Some times they interfere by underfunding the agencies. Indeed, the level of autonomy or independence achieved by some of the agencies has been a function of the integrity and strength of character of the leadership and their determination to personally resist interference without caring about the political risk .
 One Agency that on the balance has worked hard and continuous to work very hard is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC). From the pioneering days of Nuhu Ribadu, the agency pursued its mandate with extraordinary zeal and competence that was unknown in our Country.  I was personally shocked to learn that Nuhu was a police officer. I could not believe that the much denounced and derided Nigeria Police Force could produce a man in the mould of Nuhu Ribadu. Despite all the challenges from the Judicial system, Nuhu secured judicial indictment of many otherwise "untouchables" in our polity and economy.  It was Nuhu and his EFCC that brought the thriving '419' industry in Nigeria to an untimely death. Though EFCC seemed to have had difficult times during the tenure of Mrs Farida Waziri and her successor Ibrahim Lamorde, the agency remained one of the few that have results to show for the cost of running them. But since this lanky guy, Ibrahim Magu came to power, it seems that Nuhu Ribadu has reincarnated. I am amazed by the number of cases that the Agency is handling at the same time. They have many old cases in court, and since President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB)started his ANTICORRUPTION putsch, EFCC is inundating our courts daily with new cases.   They are investigating many cases at the same time, some involving poring  through tons of documents, including bank statements, cheque books and invoices. Many times, they follow trails to many states and to many Countries. Knowing that they establish prima facie case against any suspect before arresting them or arraigning them in Court, it is mind boggling to estimate the number of cases they are investigating, arresting, arraigning and prosecuting at the same time. Often I wonder how many people are in the employment of the Agency. I wonder how many lawyers are working for them as staff. When I consider the number of cases which each lawyer handles, I wander how they are coping, though I know they also hire private lawyers. Nevertheless, It brings home the reality that these staff are currently over worked. And yet they maintain the zeal and show a high level of patriotic commitment to their jobs.
One would have thought that given the difficulties of the past, the judicial tardiness and the intensity of the present work created for them by PMB, many of the old matters would have fallen off their radar. But it is gratifying to note that once you get into the EFCC net, they are not likely to let you off, unless you have paid for your 'sins' or the court sets you free. Last Friday I was surprised to read from the news that the EFCC won an appeal at the Supreme Court against Orji Uzor Kalu. Orji who governed Abia State from 1999-2007, was arrested, soon after his immunity expired and on July 27, 2007 was arraigned before the High Court in Abuja on charges of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of Public funds  totaling about 5.6 Billion Naira. Rather than submit to trial, On Sept 3, 2007, Kalu filed a motion before the Court seeking an order to strike out all the 97 count charges against him and to vacate the terms and conditions of the bail earlier granted by the Court. The court dismissed the motion, and rather than return to trial, Kalu appealed against the decision in the Federal Court of Appeal.
In its decision of April 2012( about 5 years later), the Court of Appeal , Abuja Division, dismissed the appeal by Orji Kalu against the ruling of the Federal High Court Abuja, dismissing his motion seeking to quash the charges against him and his company , Slok Nigeria Ltd. Justice EKO who read the judgement on behalf of Justices Kayode and Regina  Nwodo noted that the proof of evidence attached to the 97 count charges preferred  against Orji Uzor Kalu and his co appellants by the EFCC disclosed Prima facie case against the former governor and others. Dissatisfied with this ruling or as a ploy to delay or escape facing trial, Kalu approached the Supreme Court.  But a five man panel of the Supreme Court, last week,in its unanimous judgement written by Justice Suleiman Galadima upheld the concurrent decisions of the Federal High Court Abuja and the Appeal Court Abuja and refused the appeal, finally directing Orji Uzor Kalu to go and face trial.
Thus after nearly 9 years of trying to evade Justice, Orji Uzor Kalu will stand trial on the 97 counts bordering on Money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of Public funds in excess of 5 Billion Naira. This piece is essentially to salute the staying power and commitment of EFCC to bring the alleged criminals to Justice . I can imagine what great pressure that must have been put on the EFCC officials to abandon the matter over these 9 years and similar pressure that may have been put on the justices of the appellate courts. It is certain that Orji Kalu is not alone in this effort to evade Justice. There are many cases especially concerning former political office holders and those who think they own this Nation or that they have so much money that they can buy everybody, that seem to have been forgotten. But I am sure that Ibrahim Magu and his highly motivated team will ensure that they face Justice, no matter how long it takes. I encourage them to remain dogged and also law abiding.
In addition to the EFCC, there are other institutions  in Nigeria that are working really hard and producing good results, sometimes without much fanfare. They deserve our gratitude and applause as well. In my view such institutions include, the National Industrial Court, the National Pension Commission, the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission, the Debt Management office, the Federal Inland Revenue Service, the Sovereign Wealth Fund and the Supreme Court. I would have included in this short list, NAFDAC in the days of Prof Dora Akunyili and INEC in the days of Prof Atahiru Jega. These days I am no longer sure.


Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

Monday, 14 March 2016

EXCRUCIATING FUEL & POWER SHORTAGES: WHEN WILL THE CHANGE HAPPEN?

Since this year, we have been facing worsening energy crisis. But in the last two weeks or so, the problem assumed excruciating dimensions. In the many years of Nigeria's unmitigated Nigeria's energy crisis, many people who could not get electricity power, depended on hydrocarbon fuels to fire their generators. But in the current escalation, we do not have electric power and we can not find petroleum products to operate our generators, especially the small and micro operators and most households who use petrol fired generators. It has never been this terrible, except in brief periods of National strikes.

What is most disconcerting is that the present government in Abuja came to power promising change and the suffering Nigerians are asking : when will this change happen?. All we hear is that NNPC is being restructured or reorganized. Sometimes we hear that it will be broken into 30 companies and latter we hear it will broken into 7 companies. Then the House of Representatives charges that it is unlawful to break up NNPC without their approval and Kachikwu retreats into reorganization not restructuring. While all this is happening, the main problem with fuel shortages in Nigeria is not being addressed. Last week, after ignoring the almost total power failure in Nigeria for weeks, the federal government spoke through its spokesman- Lai Mohammed . They offered an apology. The type of excuse-laden apologies we have heard severally in the past: "maintenance by the Nigeria Gas Company affected supply of gas to power stations....the vandalization of the Forcados export pipelines forced oil companies to shut down, making it impossible for them to produce gas... then workers at the Ikeja Disco who were protesting....apparently colluded with the National Transmission Station in Osogbo to shut down transmission". Story!

My late Ghanian Friend, John Tetteh called Such long and winding story passed as excuses 'cock & bull' story. It is similar to what we have heard in the past such as the one that blamed power shortages on the presence of snakes in the turbines in Kainji Dam. The only real difference in the government's excuse-laden apology this time was that they did not blame the past government for the current energy crisis. I thank God that they have discontinued with that worn out cliche and seem to now accept responsibility though they still passed the blame to other people. But the question remains unanswered. When will the people of Nigeria see the promised change in the quality of their lives? It is civilized to offer apologies but it is better to solve problems.
Solving the problems of energy shortages in our Country is certainly not that easy and so also that of getting the economy growing again at decent rates that will create jobs and reduce the growing poverty. I was downcast when I saw that the 4th Quarter 2015 GDP growth at 2.11% was not better than the previous quarters, Infact it was the worst despite the apparent rise in economic transactions during the Christmas and holiday season. The truth is that none of these essentially economic problems can be solved by a magic wand, nor by propaganda. The tragedy is that during the campaigns, Nigerians were given the impression that these problems would be solved over night. Now 9 months into the new administration, I do not know how many Nigerians or sectors of the economy that can say that things have improved for them, except perhaps some of those who have been appointed to new political and administrative positions. Only perhaps.

To be true, my real worry is that except in the effort to bring those who are alleged to have abused their offices to account through the EFCC and the courts, and perhaps some effort to block revenue leakages, no one can say for sure what else is happening. Bringing alleged offenders to Justice and blocking leakages are quite noble and for which we commend the government. I am wondering if we can not apply the same zeal to address other issues plaguing the economy. What is happening to Privatization of the Petroleum sector? What is happening to the PIB or has the reorganization or restructuring of NNPC by Kachikwu supplanted that? When are we going to deregulate the down stream oil operations? We may have stopped subsidy but if prices recover as we have seen in the last week, subsidy will return except we free up the market- liberalize supply and allow market to determine price.Are we at the end of the Power sector reform and Privatization? Have we given up on the issue of appropriate pricing mechanism for the Naira against the dollar in order to attract foreign investments and bring in dollars into Nigeria? What of the Industrial revolution policy introduced by the last government?. I was pleased when the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment Dr Okey Enelamah made good comments about that policy. So how much time is required to study it and restart its implementation? Why is the Ministry of Agriculture not willing to continue the Agriculture Transformation Agenda( ATA) which was applauded by many domestic and international reviewers, an achievement that helped to propel the former Agriculture Minister Dr Akinwunmi Adesina to the Headship of the African Development Bank ( ADB). Must we jettison a successful programme because it was started by another regime? Is government and governance not a continuum? Why abandon or change what is working?

It seems that it is taking this government too long to show discernible results and I am afraid that it may soon run out of its store of goodwill . It is better we told the President the truth. These past two weeks, many Nigerians slept in the filling stations and many have gone broke buying expensive fuel to fire generators day and night. Many Nigerians are hurting and they do not seem to feel that the government is responding fast enough to their myriads of  problems. Yes, some of the current problems and challenges preceded the present government but they were hired by Nigerians to fix them, because they claimed they were capable of doing so. Traveling around the World and attending global conferences and summits is good but Nigerians need to see how that changes things for them- brings regular electric power, makes fuel  readily available at competitive pricing, creates more jobs and allows their businesses to grow, enables them to send their children to school- home or abroad with minimum stress, and have regular meals( square or rectangular). In reality, some of these things can actually be sorted out essentially by enacting new policies or twicking some old policies.

Human beings measure progress by where they are today against where they were yesterday. According to my understanding , People desire progress and if they can not get it,  they would prefer to be left where they were than to be taken to a worse situation.They can not just keep waiting and hoping or keep suffering and smiling .Nine months is the time it takes to conceive a baby and bring it to life. It is not a short time. Ask any mother!
 Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR



  
  

ELECTORAL ABRACADABRA & THE TALE OF TWO LGAS

 Desperation to win elections in Nigeria is not in decline one bit. After the gracefulness of accepting defeat without a whimper by GEJ last year, one thought that politicians would take a cue and begin to take it easy with trying to win elections by all means, the do or die syndrome. My hope was buoyed by the ANTICORRUPTION credentials of PMB, his personal experience of the malady and the belief  that electoral malpractice would decline in a regime that preaches discipline and anticorruption. But as can be seen, old habits die hard.
Last December at the Gubernatorial elections held in Bayelsa, South-South Nigeria, the desperation to win was evident. Governor Seriake Dickson of PDP had won in Six out of the seven local government Areas of the State. He won in Yenagoa, Sagbama, Ekremor,Brass, Ogbia and Nembe. Then Timipre Sylva and his APC party went extremely desperate and was prepared to cause maximum mayhem in the only outstanding LGA- Southern Ijaw. Elections were held in the middle of the night with candles. Ballot boxes were snatched and delivered by militants to the collating centre. There was violence resulting in injuries and death. With a voter register containing over 120, 000 voters, APC was hoping to upset the cat. They hoped to use the votes from one local government to offset their losses in six other local government areas. It was preposterous.  But thanks be to God that good sense eventually prevailed. 
While the Returning officer wanted to go ahead to announce the results from Southern Ijaw, the Resident electoral Commissioner refused and decided to cancel the election in Southern Ijaw. That saved what would have been a major calamity in Bayelsa State with Southern Ijaw as the epicenter .
When the rerun was held on January 9, this year in the day time and with everybody watching, APC pooled 10216 votes as against PDP's 23081, giving Seriake Dickson overal scores of 134,998 votes to beat Timipre Sylva who had a total of 86857 with a margin of over 48000 votes. I believe we need to commend INEC for doing its overal best to be an impartial judge in that election, despite the apparent compromise of some its staff. Had they succumbed to the partisan pressures, the story would have been a bad one to tell.

This past week end another electoral abracadabra took place in the Bende local Government area, in Abia State in the South East Region of Nigeria. The PDP's candidate for the Abia North senatorial district  won the election held in March last year beating the APGA and PPA candidates to the 2nd and 3rd positions respectively.The losers were not satisfied and so they went to the Tribunal. The Tribunal confirmed the INEC's result, affirming Senator Mao of PDP as duly elected.

Still dissatisfied,  APGA and PPA went to the Appeal Court. The court in its wisdom decided to cancel the entire election, notwithstanding that the litigants were actually only disputing the elections in two local government areas, and asked for a rerun. The PPA candidate who is a past Governor of Abia State,and one time aspirant to the Presidency of FIFA and who owns two newspapers raised the ante on the election. He raised a senatorial election in only one district in only one State of Nigeria to an international event. All the Igbo in the United States and UK, including those in China were said to have  endorsed him for the elections. He claimed that Ohaneze Ndigbo endorsed him and indeed all the political parties in Abia and many more had chosen him as their candidate. Everyday, he had a page in his newspapers to attack and impugn his opponents. One day one of his newspapers reported that the APGA candidate had been disqualified by INEC from participating in the rerun. It took a vigorous appearance of the APGA candidate  - Bourdex on several TV stations to debunk the false stories, just as Ohaneze Ndigbo and some other respectable organizations whose names had been dragged into this desperate bid to return to Political relevance, did, distancing themselves. What desperation! 

On Saturday, 5th March, the electorate in Abia North went to re elect their Senator. As at the close of voting, results from the primary results from pooling booths showed that the PDP candidate had won in all the five local government Areas that make up the senatorial district. Indeed the report indicated that PDP won even in the two wards in Igbere, the hometown of the PPA candidate- Chief Orji Kalu. Apparently Orji and his party sensed danger and saw defeat facing them in the face, despite all that they had done to 'buy ' everybody to their side and the desperation increased. As the results were being collated in the district headquarters - Ohafia, everybody was surprised when the INEC LGA collation officer who had disappeared for over five hours arrived with a bloated result sheet from Orji's Local government Area- Bende. PPA was said to have won 14300 votes!  Unlike in Bayelsa,the INEC officials accepted this bloated figure that did not match the primary figures gladly. Thus PPA was said to have scored very high votes in only one local Government area- Bende with intent to offset all their losses in the other four local Government areas- Arochukwu, Ohafia, Isuikwuato and Ummunneochi. 14300 votes in Bende alone while they had 3599 in Arochukwu, 3733 votes in Ohafia, 2304 votes in Isiukwuato, and 1878 votes in Umunneochi. The claimed votes in Bende was not only out of sync but was higher that the total of their votes from the other four LGAs. Preposterous!

With no INEC official apparently ready to act to stop the injustice from Bende, our Almighty God stepped in, disappointing Orji Uzor Kalu and PPA. So despite the manifest over loading of the Bende votes, PDP still won with overal 26009 votes and Senator Mao is on his way back to the Senate as the popular and authentic choice of the electorate in Abia North. To God be all the glory!!
   Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR 

TSA, BUDGET DEFICIT , BUDGET PADDING & THE FALLACIES

My friend Lai Mohammed is running the risk of losing some of his followers and becoming difficult to believe.Following his translation from the Spokesperson of a Fiery party( APC) to the Spokesman of all Parties( Nigerians) as Minister of Information and Culture, I had given advice to him in this column to try and shed his extreme partisan toga. He was a great party spokesperson but he needs to be a great spokesperson for Nigeria. The two require different skills and slant. I just hope he found time to read the piece. I knew that the transition was not going to be easy, but I just hope and pray that he will continue to try. I also know that some level of propaganda and spin are inescapable in the job of National information management, but it is critical that he knows where to draw the line. I wish that he will leave partisan matters to the party spokesperson. Or is he combining both jobs? If so, It will be nice for APC to appoint its partisan spokesperson, so that Lai can focus on serving Nigerians- partisan and not. Secondly, it will be helpful if he leaves clarifying or defending the President to the Presidential media team of Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu. I find him trying to do all and I am getting worried that he may wear himself out too soon. Lai should do his best to try and stand with the people of Nigeria at least most of the time, telling them the untainted truth so that he will remain believable over a long time. It will be tragic to have a minister of information whose pronouncements will often be discounted or discredited or seen as only speaking for his party. Our National Minister of Information though belonging to a Party should always be believable to all Nigerians. 

When the story of the padding of the 2016 budget broke, with minister after minister, including Lai himself denying the figures that they were asked to defend at the National Assembly, Lai turned around to tell Nigerians that there was nothing like padding. That because the total sum of figures in the budget equalled 6.08 Trillion Naira, it was wrong for anybody to talk of padding the budget. But last week, President Muhammadu Buhari in his characteristic candour admitted to the entire world that the budget was really padded and promised to deal with the 'padders'. That is why the President will retain the respect of many for a long time. He speaks his mind and the truth as he sees it,even if the truth may not be convenient always. He comes clean with Nigerians and non Nigerians. He said that he would not treat those who gave him 95% votes as those who gave him only 5%. That was not convenient, but that's  the truth as far as he was concerned. He goes abroad and informs the World of the level of corruption in Nigeria, that's not convenient, but thats the truth as he see's it. Infact some people are not happy with that, saying that the President is de-marketing Nigeria. May be, but as the Bible says only the Truth can set us free.

 What I believe is that we need knowledgable, sincere and courageous advisers who will tell the President the truth and the correct position of things so that when he speaks, he will not only speak the truth which is natural with him but the truth will represent the correct state of things. One place, I suspect that the President is not being presented with all the facts is the matter of the Treasury Single Account( TSA). I have heard him say many times that the money now sterilized in the TSA was money Public and Civil servants hid somewhere waiting for the year to end and then they would sign them off in cheques for their private uses. I am neither a public nor a civil servant, but I do not think that is the full story. Again there is the popular view that most of the money in the TSA was hidden money. I ask hidden by who and where? The fact as I understand it, is that the Ministries,Departments and Agencies (MDAs) of Government which I understand number up to 900 had several accounts in different commercial banks. Most of those accounts were opened with the approval of the office of the Accountant-General.Those accounts were opened in the names of the various government agencies and both the Banks and the CBN knew those accounts existed, reported on them regularly and the MDAs transacted legitimate government businesses with these accounts. Now government asked them all to transfer all the money in the different accounts to one single account in the central Bank. And most if not all have complied. And this includes both money earned on behalf of government by those MDAs that earn revenue for government and the appropriated money for projects and programs,hitherto released to the MDAs. Therefore to give the impression to Nigerians or the whole World that the 2.5 Trillion Naira now domiciled in the TSA was money that was already lost or hidden to be stolen will not represent the true reality. Iam not saying that some fraction of it may not have been put away for some ignoble intention or objective but I believe that most of the money now locked up in the TSA can not be so categorized. As long as they remain sterilized, the money in the TSA will continue to increase because some of the MDAs earn daily or regular income which now flows directly into the TSA. So it is no mystery that the figure is growing!

Another area I believe that the President needs to be properly and truthfully advised, is in relation to the recent statement by the President that with the money in the TSA, our deficit is wiped out. I would have jumped up and shouted Alleluia, if this were exactly so. My thinking is that some of the money in the TSA is money already committed to ongoing projects. I can bet that some of the money in the TSA is money owed contractors and other vendors for jobs already done. I feel that before we can determine  how much of our deficit in the 2016 budget that can be wiped out by the cash in the TSA, we need to discount current liabilities tied to the TSA. Otherwise we may only wipe out one deficit and create a new one simultaneously. For sure the TSA is good policy but it is not a perfect policy. I had drawn attention to its downsides in a previous despatch. Its ability to present a bird's eye view of Goverment's cash  flow is unparalleled and will at least in the short run prevent government from borrowing from banks when it has apparently' idle'money lodged in another account in the bank. But it presents an administrative nightmare which must be astutely managed to prevent a situation where one has money in his account and yet his children are sent away from school because of default in school fees or his family has no food to eat or can not pay house rent. Many MDAs are in this kind of situation now!

 There is a lot of work for our information managers to ensure that the people of Nigeria and indeed the whole World are told the truth about our Country in the most positive and beneficial manner. Elections are over and so partisanship and propaganda must be minimized. Much more work is required to keep the President properly briefed with the true, correct and current situations and reality,so that when he speaks, we will not go through the painful process of trying to explain what he actually said or meant. Or at the worst, trying to contradict the President or the President contradicting his minister of Information.

 Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR