The Catholic Archbishop of Abuja, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, yesterday asked President Muhammadu Buhari to expose those he unmasked as the brains behind the embarrassing padding of the 2016 budget if his change mantra is to be taken more seriously.
The President recently expressed shock and dismay that the over N6 trillion budget he presented to the National Assembly last December had been inflated by some persons, he later hinted to be civil servants, and vowed to have them punished.
Cardinal Onaiyekan demanded that the government should be more open and accountable, rather than running governance in secrecy.
He also asked for greater responsibility from civil servants and other public office holders, demanding that they handle their duties with greater responsibility.
The revered cleric opined that public officers should be prepared to resign when they commit obvious blunders as in the case of the padding of the
2016 Budget which was acknowledged by the President.
The Cardinal also advised the All Progressives Congress (APC) government to brace up to fulfilling its campaign promises, stressing that Nigerians voted for change and are desirous of experiencing the changes they were promised rather than the recourse to blaming every encumbrance on previous governments.
He called on President Buhari to fasttrack the investigations and prosecution of looters of public funds and to disclose the full identities of every person who returned money, as there were dangers in covering up such issues.
He added that except the system drives governmental processes, issues bordering on looting from the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), Budget padding or other forms of obvious infarction would continue to resurface even after this administration.
Said Cardinal Onaiyekan: “My own problem is not so much about Mr. ‘X’ or Alhaji ‘Y’, who has stolen so much from the public vault. My problem is the environment that has facilitated this mind-boggling stealing.
I suspect that what these people are doing is what was happening before they arrived on the stage; maybe carrying on their business as usual.
“If there has not been a change in government, probably we would not have been talking about it. Therefore, the real change we need now is to look into our system which makes it possible for an individual to steal billions of dollars, including presidents.
“A system which permits a president with just signature, to allow so much money to be taken out without any checks and balances, is improper. For as long as that system is still there, we will be looking for miracles hoping that the next crop of people taking over from them will not simply take advantage of same loopholes.
“I am not saying that we shouldn’t pursue monies stolen but in my own opinion, the greater priority is to look into the system and change it quickly.
One is not going to be able to remove every people in government and replace them with new people; people imported from Paradise.
They will still be Nigerians who have been working with this old system, but once they know there is a paradigm shift, they will begin to do better.
“What this means is that once the new system is on, anybody who continues to behave irresponsibly, without realising there is a new system, should immediately be held accountable and punished adequately.
“For example, the whole scandal of the budget: first of all, it is not right to keep people in the dark about the budget, but unfortunately, the whole thing is being treated as a secret affair. We want to know the whole story.
“Whatever the storyis, what is evidently clear is that the President has admitted that somewhere along the line, his own plans for the country have been sabotaged by a group of people within the system, who have ended up presenting to the National Assembly, a document the President never wanted. This is serious.
They told us that they have identified those people but we are not told who they are. We should know their identities. And then, they tell us they have been redeployed and I ask myself: is that all?
Because redeployment means they have been asked to go back. I don’t know whether they lost seniority or whatever punishment that was meted out to them, but these are people who somehow, did what they told us they did.
“If the acceptance that aides of the President altered the budget was a face-saving device from the President as you alluded, I will be surprised. No, I can’t accept that; where is the change you are talking about? It is not possible that Mr. President is deceiving everybody.
“If it was the document he approved, he should admit he approved it but that he didn’t look at it very well. After all, a budget is not cast in stone. It is an estimate of what one wants to do. The president has the to present the budget and he can also change it.
“What could happen is that having presented the particular budget and it came to his attention that there were certain issues, he cannot pretend he didn’t approve it, he would have said: I approved it based on the advice from my advisers and then, he will go back and look at the caliber of his advisers. That is what normally should happen.
“In Europe when such a thing happens, you find out that somebody, a Minister or somebody up there tenders his resignation.
“There is no way that one man can be held responsible for everything even if you are Muhammadu Buhari.
There must be levels of responsibility; people who take decisions on behalf of everybody.
“This is the problem we have in Nigeria, that people in government are not responsible to anybody, they do whatever they like. When things go wrong, they are not accountable; they simply say it is government, a government that is faceless. At the end of the day, everything points at the President.
“This is why the civil service should be properly restructured, sanitised. Civil servants should be given responsibilities and not just working like robots, especially as civil servants are the brain of the public system. They should be given that regard and let every civil servant take responsibility wherever they are and if anything should go wrong, they should account for it”.
Speaking further on the budget, Cardinal Onaiyekan wondered the rationale for the huge allocation to Defence and Interior Ministries instead of greater allocation to the social sector, especially as “Nigeria is not fighting any external war, but internal war”.
He stressed that what is even more important is for the government to make public detailed sector-by-sector allocation of resources as outlined in the budget, instead of keeping such details secret.
The Catholic Archbishop expressed disappointment concerning his expectations of the Buhari administration in respect of living up to his electoral promises, but urged Nigerians to continue to exercise patience with the administration.
He also expressed worries over the handling of bail-out funds to state governments to pay workers’ salaries, as the monies may not have been properly utilised.
“Up till now, we have been asking Nigerians to be patient; we still have to continue to ask Nigerians to be patient. While realizing that sometimes, it is not easy to be patient: when one is hungry, when salaries are not being paid for months, when one is looking for job and hoping that the new government will create employment and that has not happened.
“Be that as it may, we cannot rule out the need to be patient and also to be law-abiding, apart from the fact that Nigerians should also try their best to get out of the challenges, not expecting that government would employ everybody,” he said.
He however, said the major responsibility rests with those who asked Nigerians to vote them into government and are now in control of their affairs, resources and security and enjoined them to wake up to the realities of the suffering masses.
Onaiyekan further asked people in government not to see Nigerians as being mischievous when they demand a fulfillment of electoral promises, especially as the bailout funds have not made significant impact on them.
Several governments are “still unable to promptly pay workers’ salaries, in addition to failure in the provision of social services”, he said and enjoined those occupying sensitive positions in government to put on their thinking caps.