“With due respect, we call on Dr. Okupe and his other attack dogs to change their orientation.”
By Imam Imam
Since the presentation of the 2013 budget by President Goodluck Jonathan to the joint sitting of the National Assembly last Wednesday, some members of the President’s media team have come up with what can best be described as hysterical responses to the remarks made by Senate President, David Mark; and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal.
From innuendos to outright insults, the President’s media managers, led by Doyin Okupe, sought to denigrate the submissions of the two leaders of the National Assembly who in their estimation, had the temerity to tell their guests gathered at the hallowed Green Chamber that fateful Wednesday that not all things were right with past budgets and that more was expected from the Executive arm of government in the future.
It worth mentioning here that Mark and Tambuwal’s speeches were made with the best of intentions aimed at finding lasting solutions to the myriad of socio-economic problems confronting the nation.
Speaker Tambuwal, who gave the vote of thanks in his capacity as the Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly, toed the line of the Senate President and Chairman of the National Assembly, Senator Mark, to lay on the table, the fears of Nigerians and how the National Assembly thinks those fears can be better allayed.
The Speaker rightly asserted that as elected representatives of the people, the legislators, representing 469 federal constituencies and senatorial districts of the country, have closer interaction with the nooks and crannies of the nation. In essence, the legislature, more than any arm of government, is privileged to feel the people’s pulse more intensely and feel same on behalf and for the benefit and guidance of all the other arms of government.
It is therefore highly incongruous to now turn around and say such views showed disrespect to the person and office of the President.
It is appropriate to state here that section 81 (1), (4) as well as section 83 (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) classify the proposed budget documents by the President as mere ‘estimate’ and therefore only a constitutional amendment can alter this. The phrase ‘mere’ as used by Senator Mark was not intended to demean, rather it only distinguishes between a document of finality and a proposal. It is therefore mischievous to read meanings other than those intended.
On the oil benchmark which the House made it clear it will set at $80 per barrel, all variables were considered in arriving at the figures. The chairman of the House Committee on Finance, Hon Abdulmumini Jibrin, has since availed the public such superior variables which apparently may not have been countenanced by those who drafted the estimate.
As for the poor implementation of the capital budget for 2012 which Dr. Okupe brazenly attributed to non-utilization of already released votes, there could be no better self-indictment, as all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) that ought to execute these projects are all under the Executive watch and control.
The assertion that the National Assembly will not rubber stamp the estimates as stated by the Senate President was intended to clear the erroneous impression created in the minds of the public by military apologists in the corridors of power that the laying of the estimate by the President is akin to budget broadcast by a military dictator which is only a notice and to enlighten the people. But for the avoidance of doubt, by the clear provisions of section 59 subsection 4 of the constitution, the legislature has the FINAL say on the budget document.
I am sure President Jonathan does not share the overzealous and rather morbid views and sentiments of Dr. Okupe and some of his co-travellers in the President’s media office. If they had cared to carefully study the President’s transformation agenda as it affects the kind of legislature the Number One citizen desires, they will certainly discover their errors.
As clearly stated in the past and for the avoidance of any doubt, Speaker Tambuwal is not on a popularity contest with any official of government. Instead, he embodies the wishes and aspiration of the Nigerian people, and expresses, at every point, only the position of the members of the House of Representatives.
On the rather funny issue of alleged Tambuwal’s disloyalty to the PDP, which one of the aides raised in a newspaper article, nothing can be farther from the truth. It is safe to say here that Nigerians are tired of worn out sentiments dished out to them at every given opportunity in order to justify unnecessary attacks on the person of the Number Four Citizen of Nigeria.
As seen during the budget presentation, of all those who spoke at the event, only the Speaker recognised the presence of the PDP National Chairman in his order of protocol while delivering his vote of thanks. As a matter of fact, this loyal gesture to the largest political party in Africa drew the ire of opposition lawmakers who shouted ‘Nay’ repeatedly to show their disapproval at the Speaker’s recognition of his party chairman.
In conclusion, let me state here that the level of discourse emanating from the President’s public affairs managers is not only unbecoming of the requirement of the highest office in the land, it shows lack of depth in the understanding of public issues and governance generally including even the rudiments of democracy and the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Dr. Okupe especially is proving to have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from his days of political participation during transition of military dictatorships and into civilian democracy. With due respect, we call on Dr. Okupe and his other attack dogs to change their orientation, they can do this by making friends with the copy of the constitution. In the event they feel that this is cumbersome, they should, in the alternative, subject their opinions to vetting by those who are more conversant with the hallowed document.
*Imam is the Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs to Speaker Tambuwal