INSIGHT: Much ado about Tinubu’s ’empty’ budget box

Elizabeth AtimeDecember 7, 20236 min

The controversy over the content of the budget box laid before a joint session of the National Assembly by President Tinubu was stoked by a combination of ignorance, misstep, and mischief

budget box

Public discourse, especially on social media, was inundated with the controversy over the alleged empty budget box presented to the National Assembly by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu on Wednesday, 29 November 2023, during a joint session of the Senate and House of Representatives. The box was widely believed to contain estimates of the 2024 budget. Until words started swirling around that it was an empty submission with no content on details of the proposal.

Some Nigerians, mostly youths, lampooned members of the National Assembly, especially those of the opposition, for not standing up to demand details of the budget. They accused them of sycophancy, clownery and failing to represent the voices of the common Nigerians who are wallowing in hunger and poverty.

Rep Galambi on budget box
Rep. Galambi

How Jigawa Rep ignited the fire…

These reactions followed the shocking revelation by a member of the House of Representatives, Rep. Yusuf Shittu Galambi (NNPP, Jigawa), who accused President Tinubu of laying an empty budget box. He claimed that there were no details of the budget laid. He may have taken a cue from the fact that the president’s speech to the joint session did not give a detailed breakdown of budgetary allocations. 

He further blamed the leadership of the National Assembly for alleged complicity in covering up for the president. The Jigawa lawmaker hugged the limelight for what many termed a bold disclosure. But he was spurned by colleagues, including Rep. Akin Rotimi, spokesperson of the House of Representatives, who chided his colleague and denied that it was an empty box the president submitted. “It is not true that the President laid an empty box before the joint session,” Rotimi told OrderPaper in a telephone chat, adding that Galambi was not in attendance at the said sitting so was not in a position to make the claim of an empty budget box.

What the budget box means…

Mr. Peter Onochie, a Public Affairs Analyst, explained to OrderPaper the significance of the box and the officer responsible for opening it up.

He said: “The box traces back to the British Parliament as a portfolio. The portfolio contains estimates of a budget. The box is like a purse, you open it and you find what you intend to buy with your money, so that is basically the significance of that box (laid before the National Assembly during the budget presentation by the President). 

“Presentation of the budget is just the ceremonial aspect of it- what the constitution says is that the President shall lay before the National Assembly the estimates of the financial year so to us it is ceremonial. You and I know the world has gone technological so there’s nothing wrong with the President presenting the budget in hard copy or flash drive in the box too. But like I said, I am not a lawmaker, neither am I a presiding officer or the Clerk. The most important thing is that there was content in the box, be it hard copy or soft copy of the estimate in the box.

“However, I would not want to believe that the box was empty but if it was without the content of soft copy or hard copy then it is a breach of the provisions of the constitution which suggests and provides that a President shall lay. I don’t think the constitution is ambiguous to say the President shall lay an estimate of the budget. Except you are telling me that the box is the estimate and I beg to disagree that it is not a big deal except the box contains a gadget with an estimate or hard copy.”

According to him, “the question is who opens the box right. If the box is to be opened then it has to be the Clerk who is seen to be the administrator of the National Assembly who is responsible for the day to day runnings of the management of the National Assembly. Mind you, when bills are passed by the National Assembly members then the Clerk of the National Assembly forwards it to Mr President for assent. It then means that it is the Clerk that should open the box except the member who so alleged was with the Clerk or was informed by the Clerk that the box was empty.”

Clerk on empty budget box
Clerk of the NASS, Tambuwal

National Assembly reacts…

In a reaction to the budget box controversy, the National Assembly Director of Information, Mr. Audu Bil-Allah, said anyone insinuating that the President submitted an empty box is not telling the truth.

“The box in question is the budget proposal. The budget is a bulky document you can not carry it in your hands so the box as submitted contains the budget empty and that is why it is always put in a box,” he told OrderPaper in a chat.

He further explained that the presiding officer or Clerk has the mandate to open the budget box. “The Presiding Officer might go ahead and open the box otherwise they will just ask the Clerk to open it. Do not assume that there is nothing in that box because it is the budget proposal that is in that box. How will anyone imagine that there will be nothing in that box? So, whosoever that is insinuating that there was nothing in that box is his figment of the imagination but for us here we believe that box contained the budget estimate of 2024.”

Elizabeth Atime

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