Ese Affair: Power without responsibility – By Louis Odion, FNGE

Ese Oruru

Though
isolated, the recent budget-padding comedy in Abuja and lately the Ese scandal
in Kano invariably underscore one acute elite affliction in contemporary
Nigeria: an obsession to exercise power and the unwillingness to bear its
responsibility.


The pathology
is what manifests today whenever President Buhari goes about issuing threat to
deal ruthlessly with the “budget mafia” believed to have sexed up
figures in the 2016 appropriation bill in view of the dust raised at the
National Assembly. But a more honest response should have been an acceptance of
responsibility ab initio by Mr. president on whose desk the buck stops.

Apparently
following their principal’s odd footsteps, ministers have, in turn, made a huge
theatre of publicly disowning the numbers ascribed to their respective
ministries, departments and agencies as if vetting the figures was not part of
their briefs as CEOs of the MDAs to begin with. Health minister, for instance,
swore “budget rats” ate up the documents he originally submitted. 

Luiz Odion

No
one is ready to defend the allocation of N3.87b for capital projects at the
Abuja State House Clinic while all the nation’s teaching hospitals individually
got peanuts. Or why a whopping N576m was earmarked for the construction of the
residences of the Vice President’s ADC and CSO among other outlandish entries.

Taken
together, the impression thus created is that whereas the government is
exhorting the citizens with evangelical fervor to tighten their belts for an
exceedingly lean year ahead, its own hierarchs are ironically busy loosening
theirs to take more fat in their mid-sections. Not surprising, various
conspiracy theories have since been mushrooming around the budget fiasco.
Perhaps the most outlandish is the suggestion that the whistle was blown at the
Senate by forces sympathetic to the embattled Bukola Saraki as a fight-back
over his unfinished business at the Code of Conduct Tribunal.


If true,
that only begs the issue. In case the Buhari handlers don’t know, they should
be enlightened that the signature the president appended to the document before
its presentation to the National Assembly on December 22, 2015 is tantamount to
a proof of ownership and, therefore, a provisional claim of responsibility.
Much more compelling is the obligation to admit that the seed of the present
scandal was inadvertently sown with the inexplicable delay in constituting the
federal cabinet last year.


Emir Sanusi Lamido Sanusi

Hence,
the initiative was inadvertently ceded to bureaucrats who, from experience, are
hardly any different from buccaneers. In fact, Buhari unwittingly handed them
the rope to hang him the very moment he announced in faraway France that civil
servants were “the ones doing the real work” while ministers were
mere “noise-makers”, in response to then growing public apprehension
over the delay in raising the federal cabinet.


This
writer had his own fair share of funny experiences as a Commissioner in Edo
State whenever it was time to draw budget for the coming year. I recall that
one fixture that kept resurrecting like a bad coin was the proposal to set up a
“processing studio” for the printing of “official
photographs”. But in my own humble judgement, that’s quite anachronistic
at this age of digital photography. So, each time I had to pore over the draft
drawn up by my directors before the proposal was sent to the budget office, I
never hesitated before spiking it.
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But that
would not stop the same item from returning surreptitiously in the draft for
the next year. Ask the relevant director “Why did you put the studio again
this year?”, the standard defense was “Oh, sorry, it was an
oversight”. Clearly, the guys were already fixated on the formula
inherited from their “ancestors” in the system who invented the
“envelope-based” template. So, once directed to prepare the framework
for the next budget, they would start panting all over the place, as if it was
one hell of a job. Meanwhile, by the time the report was submitted, you would
discover the task that had taken eternity to accomplish was not more than the
triviality of merely adding or subtracting from the figures allocated to a few
sub-heads in the subsisting budget.


To be
fair, the incidence of some expenditures recurring year-in year-out should not
be blamed on the bureaucrats. When this happens, the tendency is for the casual
observer to quickly conclude that the money allocated was embezzled. Often,
cash would not be released to execute such proposals throughout the year. Since
budget is backed by law, the civil servants then assume the items must be
repeated in the next budget until money is provided for them.


From what
is now known, it is safe to assume that the 2016 budget estimate is already
irredeemably trapped in the discredited “envelope”. With its promise
to change the budgeting model to “zero-based” (or need-based), the
Buhari administration should ideally devote the next executive retreat to
re-evaluating its priorities which will, in turn, shape or reshape its policies
and programmes in view of current economic realities. As for the 2017 budget,
it then becomes the responsibility of the ministers to ensure it truly reflects
Buhari’s character and values.


But more
fundamental of all the historic responsibilities before Buhari today is the
urgent need to overhaul entirely the bankrupting assumptions that have defined
the budgeting process in Nigeria, particularly in the last decade. Oil boom
witnessed in the era under reference invariably foisted a false sense of
prosperity not only on the federal but also the state and local governments.


As budget
figures soared from billions to trillions, so did recurrent spend, particularly
personnel costs. Conspicuous consumption characterized by senseless
globe-trotting disguised as “looking for foreign investors” and the
insensate addiction for private jets and helicopters for even routine shuttles
became the new norm in government circles. With the return of hard times, the
capital side of public expenditure has naturally become the first casualty.
Those accustomed to private jets (even when the more economical commercial
flights are readily available) are naturally unwilling to give up their
addiction.


Given his
reputation for frugality, it is part of Buhari’s moral obligations today to
help rid the land of such prodigalities.


After
Abuja, we proceed to Kano where the story of Miss Ese Oruru freed Monday after
seven months in captivity and sexual enslavement has continued to prick the
conscience of an irresponsible nation. After the national outcry was
spear-headed by The Punch newspaper last Sunday, how pathetic that the Kano
Emir, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi II, would resort to plumbing deep into the cesspool
of illogic in an attempt to evade responsibility for the seven-months-long
atrocity that transpired at least to his knowledge, if not under his watch.


To be
sure, Sanusi is not just another monarch in Nigeria today. His reign as CBN
governor would perhaps be remembered by future historians more for its muscular
activism on issues that transcended the boardroom than policy-formulation and
execution that should ordinarily define it. A crusading temper he seems to have
transposed to the Kano stool with his progressively radical posturing on
cultural to civic engagements.


This
precisely is what then makes Sanusi’s implied complicity in the Ese infamy and
his tenuous denial of responsibility very unacceptable indeed. The nation’s
worst fears were confirmed Wednesday following reports that the abducted girl
is now 5-month pregnant after being examined by a medical team at the police
headquarters in Abuja. That perhaps explains why the under-age girl had to be
mummified with a white hijab before being presented to the public for the first
time Tuesday.


Perhaps,
we should have sensed this when those hiding Ese started the argument earlier
in the day that she was 18-years-old. It explains why her abductor(s) hoarded
her against commonsense and why they won’t let her parents see her all this
while even after a tortuous road journey from Bayelsa. It also explains the
conspiracy of silence, the buck-passing, in high places: from the Kano emir’s
palace to the Inspector General of Police’s office.


The
shock-waves that the discovery of Ese’s pregnancy triggered Wednesday had not
simmered when a report came that another under-age girl named Patience Paul, a
Christian, was similarly abducted from her parents’ home same time last year
and, more sensationally, now allegedly “warehoused” in the palace of
Sultan of Sokoto. If true, I would be surprised if the Sultan’s own excuse
would be different from the Kano emir’s. God, what is Nigeria turning into?!! A
hell-hole of pedophiles, depraved sex predators?


From the
Kano’s sordid narrative, two critical facts can easily be distilled: the Kano
emir became aware of Ese’s case as far back as August and, in one instance, the
little girl was whisked to a palace court over which he presided. In fact, in
an interview published in yesterday’s The Sun, Ese recalled she was brought to
the emir’s council.


In his
own statement Monday, the emir admitted that once he became aware he, in turn, directed
the Sharia council to treat the case with a view to “repatriating and
reconciling” Ese with her parents. Sadly, Sanusi thereafter chose to blame
the police authorities – the Inspector General of Police to be precise – for
his own historic dereliction.
  Assuming (without conceding) that the matter is for the
Sharia council to handle as the emir suggested, how then do the Nigerian Police
come in? When did the police of the Federal Republic of Nigeria become the
enforcer of the Sharia council’s resolutions or rulings?


So, is
Sanusi telling us he, as a father himself, was not sufficiently outraged enough
at the sight of little Ese in forced betrothal shawl at the palace forecourt
way back in September 2015 to summarily order the arrest of Inuwa Dahiru Bala,
the abductor, and his prosecution for a clear case of abduction and sexual
exploitation? That precisely is what this case is.


Responsibility
to right a wrong is never a favour, but a duty. What should have compelled the
emir to action urgently the more is partly the ethno-religious identity of the
victim. The least expected of the Kano emir in the circumstance is assume the
responsibility of personally ensuring Ese’s liberation from captivity in
September and reunion with her parents without further delay. That is how true
statesmen behave. The true test of integrity is, let it be said, not mouthing
thunderously sanctimonious words on the national stage before media
klieglights; but quietly doing the right thing when no one is watching. Had
Sanusi acted timeously, perhaps Ese would not today be bearing this unwanted
pregnancy.


Referring
the matter to the Sharia council, as the Emir lamely explained Monday, is
shirking his responsibility not only as the cultural head of Kano but also its
ultimate moral authority. Even dragging the Sharia council into the matter is
no less reprehensible. On what legal or moral basis was that body being
mandated to entertain Ese, a Christian? According to her family, Ese, until her
abduction, was a staunch member of Scripture Union (SU) – that species of
Christianity distinguished by its own intensity of worship. So, bringing Ese in
hijab to Abuja, to say the least, religiously provocative and culturally
offensive on its own.


Overall,
stripped of all semantics, there is a clear similarity between what Yinusa
committed in broad-day light in Yenagoa in August 2015 and what those beasts
addressed as Boko Haram did on a certain night in April 2014. Perhaps the only
difference is the number.


To add
insult to injury, we were later inundated with side stories that Ese would have
preferred to stay in Kano. How more bestial and foolishly unimaginative can
these manipulators be! Before Yinusa and his enablers unleash their next stunt,
perhaps they should be reminded that the tactic is not new. That precisely was
what Boko Haram did in view of the international outcry that followed the
kidnap of the 270 Chibok girls. The next thing we saw on the YouTube was a
crisp video recording of a cross section of girls cynically reciting Koranic
verses, obviously to create the false impression that they were happy and
fulfilled in their new station. But has that stopped us or the rest of the
world from demanding the girls be rescued and reunited with their parents?


It is
still not too late for the Emir to say sorry for his own monumental
indiscretion in this scandal. Contrition can, in fact, be initiated by agreeing
to underwrite a comprehensive welfare/rehabilitation to support not only Ese
but also his traumatized parents. Beside this, every other actor connected
directly or remotely should be apprehended and brought to justice as a
guarantee we won’t walk this crooked path again tomorrow.


Meanwhile,
Ese urgently needs the best medicare and moral support at this trying moment.

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