As all eyes are on the House of Representatives over allegations and counter allegations of budget padding, the question that has not been posed, much less answered is whether padding is exclusive to the House or Representatives or it also goes on in the state Houses of Assembly across Nigeria. Nigeria has not raised, not to talk of answering the question. Yet, there are 36 states in the republic, some of them several times richer than many sovereign nations. State governors in Nigeria are widely believed to be in total control in the states as for any House of Assembly to have the autonomy or leverage to pad budgets or insert constituency projects. But, is that what is on the ground across the country? Is it all the governors who are so successful in tightly controlling the State House of Assembly and the legislative processes as to stall a replica of the padding and other sharp practices generally associated with the federal legislators? Or is it only some governors?
Intervention understood that padding goes on in the states but the magnitude and the approach are completely different. In fact, a consensus emerged from respondents to our questions that the major difference between padding at the federal and state level is the amount of money involved. The Federal Government has too much money that so much can happen and yet, no one would notice. “The federal budget is so much that all sorts of sub-heads clash with each other with amounts that will make heads turn in any other African country and even outside Africa”, a well versed contact told this newspaper. The argument is that it is in the context of such excess cash that contracts could be wilfully varied, in one particular case, from N2b to N39b within so short a time.
At the state level, the general trend, according to investigations, is that most of the governors operate by cash flow expenditure. A respondent from a South-South state in Abuja explained that, after paying salary, the governor knows what is left and what is most urgent in terms of the use of that money. In that circumstance, neither is it possible for any legislators to throw their weights nor for the commissioner of the ministry this money is given to for one specific government business or another to play any games with it. It is rare for legislators to go to a ministry direct at the state level was how the situation was summed up. So, the closest to padding at the state level is what the governor ‘contributes’ to get the budget passed. The other access is the pressure the legislators could put on the governor for cash gift, ‘welfare’ or to fund a particular exercise such as a recess.
Civil society activists who work on the NASS corroborated this narrative, adding that there are very few exceptions where the state Houses of Assembly could assert themselves to the point of padding the budget in any other manner save going cap in hand to the governor. Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, the Executive Director of Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC) listed such exceptions as follows: the time in Anambra State when the governor and the legislators were from different political platforms; Lagos State by its very nature even when the state government is controlled by the same party and a time in Kano State when the legislators had a reason to assert themselves against the governor’s line. Rafsanjani told the story of when civil society activists pushed the case for financial autonomy for state Houses of Assembly very far only to be stopped on their track by the speakers who say they did not need it. His analysis is that the speakers must have been warned by the governors against the idea of financial autonomy.
A close watcher of the process concluded that, but for God, Nigeria would have gone under. He described the level of pilfering as beyond belief and gave just one mind boggling example before ending the interview.
Another key difference between padding at the federal and the state level is that no padding or ‘padding’ can take place without the executive knowing at the state level which is not the case at the federal level. At the federal level, the executive is rather hamstrung. The powers of the House of Representative to approve budget estimates presented to it by the executive has its humbling effect on the executive unless an executive headed by a headstrong president ready to do battle as Intervention was told Obasanjo was doing between 1999 and 2003.