by Dare Lawal
The other time Femi Gbajabiamila spoke recently in the House of Representatives, he referred to the deputy majority leader, Leo Ogor, as the deputy minority leader. That day tempers rose as PDP members took offence and almost physically confronted him.
Of course at that time, Gbajabiamila, who is the deputy minority leader of the House, was still riding on the wave of the APC momentum, expecting that the opposition party will take over leadership of the lower House. Events have since overcome that incident with the PDP grabbing victory from the jaws of defeat and now occupying a relatively healthy 10-members advantage over the APC.
Still Gbajabiamila knows how to rouse his colleagues and titillate or infuriate them depending on their political disposition. When he spoke during the budget debate on Thursday, he described the 2014 budget as “voodoo economics.” That didn’t sit well with the PDP lawmakers.
“What we have here is not a budget but a document of voodoo economics and make-belief”, he said in his opening remarks.
Despite his opposition, the budget passed second reading in the House of Representatives and was referred to the committee stage where the various standing committees of the House would invite agencies to defend their proposals.
After Gbajabiamila described the N4.6trillion budget as voodoo economics, PDP members began to interject his contributions with shouts of “point of order”, “point of order”, “point of order.”
The Majority Leader, Mrs. Mulikat Akande-Adeola, rose to say that Gbajabiamila was using abusive language.
“He is not addressing the House in the language of the rules book. He is telling us that this is not a budget but voodoo economics; what we are discussing here is the budget”, Akande-Adeola said.
Other PDP lawmakers like the Deputy Leader, Mr. Leo Ogor; the Chairman, House Committee on Appropriation, Mr. John Enoh; the Chairman, House Committee on Power, Mr. Patrick Ikharaile; and Mr. Robison Uwak, also kicked against the Minority leader’s choice of words, pointing out that under the House rules, debate on the general principles of the budget should be confined to “ the financial state of the country and the economic policy of government.”
Gbajabiamila, who was also being defended by his APC colleagues however argued that only a budget of “voodoo economics” would allocate 23 per cent of funds (N1.1tn) to capital projects and vote 15 per cent (N712bn) to debt service.
Gbajabiamila said, “Mr. Speaker, it is voodoo economics when you have a deficit of N912bn. By this, you are saying that much of your capital is going to be borrowed. You put N21bn in the Service Wide Vote for election monitoring in the Ministry of Finance. What is that?”
Gbajabiamila added that the government earmarked only 5.6 per cent for the health sector, against the 16 per cent recommended globally.
He also faulted the “paltry budget of the education sector” for falling way behind the 26 per cent recommended by UNESCO as the minimum for all countries.
Some PDP members who spoke however described it as “comprehensive” and enough to improve the lot of Nigerians.
“The government has taken bold steps in this budget by making very comprehensive proposals to key sectors of the economy. In my view, this is a good budget and it should be allowed to pass for second reading”, he said.
Before ruling on the debate, Tambuwal observed that members had debated the budget exhaustively for three days. He noted that some speakers were repeating what others had already said. A vote was taken and the speaker ruled in favour of discontinuing with the debate. The budget was later passed for second reading in a majority voice vote.