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The Onomastics of 2024 Budgets

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The futility of budgets in Nigeria was once captured in an X (then Twitter) thread by ‘Laolu Samuel-Biyi. I have twice referenced it on this page. Writing how a serious national economic planning instrument has been cynically subverted, Samuel-Biyi concluded: “If you want to keep hope alive in Nigeria, don’t look at the budget”. Since we are in that season when authorities in Abuja and the 36 states are releasing their budgets for the coming year, the admonition is important for those who seek to retain their sanity. Ironically, the federal government appropriation bill 2024, presented by President Bola Tinubu, was christened ‘Budget of Renewed Hope’ even when the breakdown suggests otherwise. But there is even a more fundamental subtext to that.

During the appropriation process in the National Assembly, Senator Adams Oshiomhole spoke to the social injustice in our country. What prompted his lamentation was the budget allocation for the Nigeria Correctional Service (NSC). “One of the things that has come out is that an unconvicted Nigerian is being fed with N750 (per day) and you feed each of the dogs under your care with N800 per day! So, a dog is better fed in the Nigerian prison than an innocent Nigerian in your custody,” Oshiomhole told the NSC Controller General, Haliru Nababa, before concluding that the challenge is institutional. “It is a major policy issue. We don’t know the intention of the government to allocate more money to feed animals than to feed human beings.”

Before we come back to that policy, symptomatic of the way Nigerians are regarded by officialdom, let’s examine the ongoing budget ‘naming ceremonies’ across the country which should interest onomasticians. Having agreed to represent his N800 billion budget earlier passed by five members in a 32-member House of Assembly, the people of Rivers wait to see how Governor Siminalayi Fubara delivers on his ‘Budget of Renewed Hope, Consolidation and Continuity.’ But for the first time in a long while, the people of Cross River State are being presented with a budget whose title they can at least understand. Whether it makes a difference in their lives is another matter altogether. Gone are the trillion Naira budgets of ‘Deep Vision’, ‘Infinite Transposition’, ‘Kinetic Crystallization’, ‘Olimpotic Meristemasis’, ‘Qabalistic Densification’ etc. fantasised by Ben Ayade whose successor has christened his ‘The People First Budget’, whatever that means.

Even when the revenues expected to fund their (mostly deficit) budgets will be sourced from fresh borrowings, many of the governors have come up with fanciful titles as captured by Statisense, a financial reporting data company: Abia (Budget of New Beginning), Adamawa (Budget of Re-engineering), Akwa Ibom (Arise Budget for Growth and Expansion), Anambra (Budget of Changing Gears), Bauchi (Budget of Consolidation & Renewed Focus), Bayelsa (Budget of Sustainable and Shared Prosperity), Benue (Budget of Infrastructure, Development, Job Creation and Poverty Alleviation), Borno (Budget of Consolidation and Progress), Delta (Budget of Hope and Optimism), Ebonyi (Budget of Innovation and Progress), Edo (Budget of Home Run and Finishing Strong), Ekiti (Budget of Sustainable Growth and Development), Enugu (Budget of Disruptive Economic Growth) Gombe (Budget of Continuity and Consolidation), Imo (Budget of Renewed Economic Growth), Jigawa (Budget of Greater Jigawa), Kaduna (Budget of Rural Transformation for Inclusive Development), Kano (Budget of Restoration and Transformation), Katsina (Building Your Future), Kebbi (Budget of Infrastructural Development and People Empowerment), Kogi (Budget of Consolidation and Continuity for Inclusive Growth), Kwara (Budget of Economic Expansion and Collective Prosperity), Lagos (Budget of Renewal), Nasarawa (Budget of Renewed Commitment), Niger (The Budget of the Future), Ogun (Budget of Sustained Growth and Development), Ondo (Budget of Economic Resilience), Osun (Budget of Reconstruction and Recovery), Oyo (Budget of Economic Recovery), Plateau (Budget of New Beginnings), Sokoto (Budget of Hope and Resilience), Taraba (Budget of Moving Forward), Yobe (Budget of Consolidation and Economic Recovery) and Zamfara, (Rescue Budget).

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While we can leave experts to dissect these budgets, even laymen like me can see that when you juxtapose the amount earmarked for debt servicing with allocations for recurrent expenditure as well as projects considered priorities in many of them, the only conclusion to draw is that resource allocation resembles a distribution of spoils rather than a serious plan for growth and development. What is even more worrisome is that for many of these states, the Fiscal Sustainability Index presents a distressing picture. Not many can meet salary obligations to their workers from internally generated revenues.

Indeed, the 2023 States Fiscal Sustainability Index Analysis by BudgIT, a civic organisation that applies technology for citizen engagement to facilitate societal change, paints a dreary picture. “While at least 50% of the total revenue of 33 states were federal transfers, 13 states relied on federal transfers for at least 70% of their total revenues,” according to BudgIT 2023 State of the States report, based on 2022 records. To dig ourselves out of the collective hole in which we have now found ourselves, only a bipartisan approach can help. Luckily, we have in Tinubu a president who can forge such consensus though the question remains – to what end?

As earlier stated, there is something broken in a nation that would allocate more money to feed a dog than to feed a human being. To be fair, the NSC has for years been advocating an increase in the feeding allowance for inmates. The total number now stands at 81,354 nationwide, out of which 53,352 are awaiting trial. But Chairman of the National Assembly joint committee and former Labour leader, Oshiomhole could see the bigger picture. “About 53,352 or more (inmates) are awaiting trial. They are not guilty of any offence known to law; they are innocent under our laws. For an innocent Nigerian who is being held in a correctional home, N250 per meal is grossly inadequate. I wonder what you are feeding them with,” said Oshiomhole who then spoke to the injustice of our system. “Many of them are there for an offence they knew nothing about. Somebody said if (the late Mr Nelson) Mandela was in a Nigerian prison for 27 years, he would have lost his sanity by the time he was released to govern South Africa.”

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That should compel a rethink. Meanwhile, given that the dire economic situation has pushed the nation in the direction of an aggressive tax drive, authorities in Abuja and the states should also be aware that such monies are meant to fund critical infrastructure and social services. Not to feed the vanity of political office holders who continue to live large at the expense of poor citizens. As The Catholic Bishop of Sokoto Diocese, Hassan Matthew Kukah reminded the president in his Christmas homily, hope has worn thin in our dear nation. “Nigerians have almost lost hope in the fact that a government can really and truly care for them. Nigerians have lost hope in the fact that our politicians will put our interests first.”

That message is not only for President Tinubu, but for all the 36 governors as well.

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The Herods in Our Midst

With pounded yam aided by ‘Wara’ and other delicacies peculiar to our people, it’s been fun since we arrived Ilorin, Kwara State last weekend as we do every year. But since there is more to this season than eating and drinking, I had to be in Church on Monday for the Christmas service. Instead of joining my wife to attend the family’s Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) church in Osere, I chose to attend First ECWA on Taiwo Road along with my cousin, Wale Banmore. It turned out to be fortuitous.

The sermon was preached by a visiting Pastor Godwin Adeboye, who is currently the African Regional Coordinator at Shepherd’s Academy, Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, United Kingdom, where he is also conducting his doctoral research as a Langham scholar. He took his text from the book of Matthew chapter 2, verse 16 to 18: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more’.”

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The young pastor said he chose the story which is hardly emphasized at Christmas (even though central to it) so we could draw lessons from a central character and the massacre he orchestrated out of insecurity and sheer wickedness. While, as the pastor said, Christmas is not about Herod, Nigeria is what it is today because of the Herods that populate critical areas of our national life in both the private and public sectors. And he cited a few examples and named names to buttress his point. It is not from my mouth that anybody would hear that teacher’s mother is a witch so let’s leave out the names, although the pastor also stated that there are Herods everywhere, including in the Church.

However, in expanding that thesis, Dr Babatomiwa Moses Owojaiye, the host pastor, said Herod in the story represents more than a person: “It is an idea, a philosophy, a way of life” and that no society can progress when you have so many people with the spirit of Herod. Indeed, it will take people with the spirit of Herod to orchestrate the kind of massacre visited on 23 villages in Bokkos and Barkin Ladi local governments of Plateau States last weekend. With dozens killed, vehicles and houses razed, the Beron Youth Moulders Association spokesman, Rwang Tengwong summed up the tragedy: “On a day meant to celebrate love, compassion and togetherness, the perpetrators of this dastardly act have brought untold agony, suffering and grief to the affected communities.”

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On the paradox of celebrating the birth of Jesus, in the context of Herod’s slaughter of innocent children, Melinda Quivik argued that the story of salvation amid cruelty is crucial rather than something to avoid. “A shallow religiosity will not want to hear about the murder of children, but such horrors are not endured by failing to hear about them,” she wrote. “What overpowers the bloody spectacles human beings create is the overwhelming truth that God gives not only a means for responding to evil but also a reason: God’s creation is holy, intended for good.”

In the ‘Heartlight’ devotional piece that is also based on the same passage, the writer confessed to his dislike of the children’s massacre because “It spoils the sentimentality of the birth story of Jesus.” He, however, added that it also contains a message that should not be lost on society. “The slaying of the innocents reminds us of how easily we can slip into a mentality that puts personal protection, reputation, and position above the rights of those who are vulnerable and powerless.”

As I pray God to deliver us and our country from ‘the spirit of Herod’, I wish all my readers a prosperous year 2024.

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Opinion

Consultations on reopening of borders in progress –Customs’CG

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The Nigerian government is making progress in consultations regarding the reopening of the country’s land borders, according to the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Adewale Adeniyi.

He spoke after the inauguration of the National Single Window Project.

He said he has been in touch with his counterparts from Benin Republic and Niger Republic, discussing ways to address the issues that led to the border closure and prevent similar occurrences in the future.

He commended President Bola Tinubu’s commitment to securing Nigeria’s economy, particularly through the launch of the National Single Window Project, of which he is a member of the Presidential Steering Committee.

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He explained that consultations on the reopening of the land borders are ongoing, with high-level interactions taking place over the weekend between himself and his colleagues in Benin Republic, as well as earlier interactions at the Nigerian borders with Niger Republic.

The CG Customs emphasized the importance of securing Nigeria’s borders and ensuring their efficient management, stating that the deployment of the Single Window at ports and border stations will contribute to these goals.

He assured the public that steady progress is being made in the consultations and that the guidance of President Tinubu will continue to be sought in this matter.

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Stand with Tinubu or exit, Matawalle tells northern appointees

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The Minister of State for Defence, Bello Matawalle, has called on all northern appointees to either support President Bola Tinubu or step down from their positions.

Matawalle’s call came after Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, who formerly served as the spokesperson for the Northern Elders Forum and currently holds the position of Special Adviser on Political Matters in the Presidency, expressed a differing opinion regarding the Minister’s defence of Tinubu’s administration.

On Saturday, the minister slammed the NEF for saying it regretted supporting Tinubu in the 2023 general election.

He described the action of the NEF as a political burden on the North.

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This comment, however, did not sit well with Baba-Ahmed, who said Matawalle was ill-advised in his X post on Sunday, noting that a better defence could have been presented.

He wrote, “Scathing criticism of NEF by a junior minister of defence, Matawalle, is ill-advised. He could have done a better job for this admin if he identified the contributions of especially northern ministers and other appointees like me to improving security and reducing poverty in the North.”

However, in his defence, Matawalle in a statement on Monday, said as an appointee of the current administration, Baba-Ahmed needs to work towards its success and protect it from unwarranted criticism rooted in ethnic or narrow interests.

“Consequent to my position on the recent attack on the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR by a spokesman of the Northern Elders Forum, it has come to my attention that Dr Hakeem Baba-Ahmed who once served as the Spokesperson of the group and currently a Special Adviser on Political Matters in the Presidency took to his page on it to express a different position.

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“According to Dr Baba-Ahmed, my stand against the unjust and spurious attack against the new administration of President Tinubu which is working very hard to reposition our country and economy for the better is ‘ill-advised’. He suggested I could have done a better job in my defence of the administration where I have the rare honour of serving as a Minister.

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“Dr. Baba-Ahmed’s relationship and affinity with the NEF is well-known. The fact now is that he is an appointee of the administration as Special Adviser and it is incumbent on him to work for the success of the government he is part of, protect and defend the government against unjust and vicious attacks from those who hide under ethnic and other primordial interests to heat the polity for myopic reasons

Matawalle emphasised that every appointee under Tinubu carries a significant responsibility to promote and highlight the government’s achievements across all sectors.

He stated, “It is pertinent to state that every appointee of President Tinubu including Dr. Baba-Ahmed owes the government a copious duty to promote, elucidate and advance the good works and commendable efforts of the government across all sectors.

“As appointees of the government from the North, we must all take a stand, be unequivocal and be counted in the roll of honours for our support and work for the success of the administration we are serving.”

The minister warned that this is not a time for silence or acquiescence in the face of intimidation or misrepresentation but rather an opportunity to demonstrate loyalty or make way for others who will.

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“This is not the time to keep quiet in the face of intimidation and misrepresentation of the efforts and achievements of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu GCFR. We must stand up to be counted for being on the part of the government or take our exit,” he added

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Why is Odunmbaku Baba Eto’s name on every lip?

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Cardinal James Omolaja Odunmbaku, the Celestial Church of Christ (CCC) cleric and political engineer, is one of a kind who stands in a unique class of his own.

His types don’t happen too commonly. Infact, in our clime, he is a rarity, to have one person clothed in celestial and terrestial robes so fittingly.

Only few of his peers can honestly say they don’t envy his sartorial elegance whenever he appears in his ecumenical garments. And when he sheds that, to adorn the political regalia, he’s also a people’s delight.

Few of his type readily come to mind anywhere – in Africa or in any continent. I think of Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and, elegantly speaking, Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus who ruled from both the pulpit and the polity in his life time.

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Odunmbaku, better known as “Baba Eto”, is a mortal, but given the extraordinary gift of the garb and demonstrable style that is uniquely his own, he’s fast assuming the status of an indispensable human specie.

His type acquire larger than life status that is bound to attract positivity and negativity.
Those who are enamoured of him present to the world a cult-like image of him. To them, he can do no wrong. One such person, before the satanic instinct in man, reared its ugly head in him, was so fanatical of the man, Eto, he registered some of his personal vehicles “Aremo”, for which he used to tell those who cared to know, that he was “heir-apparent” to Eto. Today, that person is singing new tunes, as if his new listeners cannot decipher sychophancy and crass opportunism in his new drumbeats.

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Another was said to have appeared at a political interview panel where, when asked what credentials she had to seek a position, she matter-of-factly told the panelists “Eto”. And when repeatedly asked what qualifications did she have to think she was fit for the job, she retorted: ” Eto ! Eto !! Eto !!!

That secured the job for her !

Such a person is bound to attract envy, jealousy and disdain, dislike, or even hatred to himself. That is the fate of Baba Eto !

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There must be something extra going for the “priestly-politico” that the talent-discoverer, otherwise known as Bola Ahmed Tinubu, identified him to drive his gubernatorial campaign in Lagos State; and has ever since held on to him so fanatically that he has solely led the campaign of other guber candidates like Babatunde Raji Fashola, Akunwunmi Ambode and Babajide Sanwoolu to roaring successes.

If beneficiaries of Baba Eto’s gifts turn round to paint scurrilous pictures of the man, such people can only be consigned to the dustbin in which immortal Chief Obafemi Awolowo put those he described as ingrates of his large-ness of heart. As the late sage declared: ” There’s no escape for those who deny benefits”

Let the person without any blemish come out and cast the first stone. If we put aside belly-aching, jealousy and such-like vices, you cannot encounter Odunmbaku, Baba Eto, on the pulpit or the political rostrum and not doff your hats for this quintessential orator, mobiliser and professor of political mobilisation.

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If some see him negatively from the positive binoculars with which Tinubu and many more view Baba Eto, then such minority must be wearing blurry blinkers in their faces.

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