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ECHOnigeria Forum / Naija Info / I Don't Regret Taking Up Govt Appointment - Onigbinde, BudgIT Co-founder (1 Post | 266 Views)
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I Don't Regret Taking Up Govt Appointment - Onigbinde, BudgIT Co-founder by sarah(f) : 10:47 am On Sep 19
Following your ordeal, do you regret taking up appointment as the technical adviser to the Minister of State for Budget?
No. I don’t regret it. I feel that this is one of the greatest things I have ever done in my life, apart from resigning from a commercial bank. If you look on the flipside, would I have had the moral authority to continue criticising the government from outside, if it were said that I turned down an invitation to come and make some changes to Nigeria’s budgeting system? It is like the proverbial man and his donkey. If you say yes or no you’re damned. A man’s conscience is his biggest guide and that is why I will not be discouraged. I satisfied my conscience. It was one of the goals I had when we were setting up BudgIT.
The minister was the one who reached out to me for support. He is someone that I have known for a while. He asked me to support him in the role of budget and planning. Everybody knows that in the last eight years, BudgIT has championed transparency in public spending. And this is not the first time I would be approached. I had turned such offers down twice. I had taken a 10-month operational break in 2018 as an Obama Foundation scholar and I thought it was time to do something new. So, I thought of how I could help in actualising one of the goals of BudgIT, which is helping the government to achieve transparency. That was my own goal.
Yes, some of the criticisms that I have aimed at this government were laced with emotion, but some of them had a context. There were some burning issues in the country at the time. On January 23, 2018, I tweeted about the Benue killings. If you look at it again, you will see that I was emotional about it and I said it must not continue. I don’t hate the government. I don’t hate President Muhammadu Buhari either. I voted for him three times in my life. I didn’t vote for him in 2019 because I was in the United States at the time. So how could I hate a man I had been voting for? But the truth is that we had high expectations of him and we had to ask questions. I don’t think the criticisms were extreme. Public office is an opportunity to serve the people. If you are not needed in that space, you should go back to your private business. I have a young family and I have the integrity of my organisation to protect. I considered all that before accepting the appointment.
Is it true that the Federal Government wasn’t going to pay you for the job?
It was going to be funded by an international development agency and we had not even finalised the terms. They had brought an offer and we were still working on improving it. I didn’t take up the job because I wanted money. I had been working in BudgIT and I wanted to do something different. I am a bit allergic to public funds. I had been in activism and I wanted to go into something different. It was never about the money. The whole time I spent on the job, I didn’t take a single dime from the government.
I have to think through it clearly. I am not against the present government and I don’t believe that we should be civil society advocates forever. At a point in time, you need to step into the ring and act what you preach. If you look back at 1999, you will notice that civil society advocates who had fought for democracy stayed away from the electoral process because they thought the constitution was not perfect or that the military would return in two years. At the end of the day, we handed the country to credit card fraudsters and thieves. We are still grappling with the effect today.
At a point in time, you have to stop theorising and agonising and think of how best to make the change you clamour for. Some people will say I had a lapse of judgment by not thinking this through before taking up the appointment. At the end of the day, I believe in Nigeria and I believe that this country should work for everybody. I am not desperate. I believe that there are exceptional Nigerians who are qualified to do these things.
I don’t know why people call me a critic. We are all emotional. Some things are said out of emotion because we are all human, but I don’t believe in blind criticism. Once in a while, we can say some things out of anger. A lot of politicians will tell you that they can never defect to another party, but you find them doing the opposite the next day. Sometimes, they lose elections and threaten never to contest again, but you find them contesting again. We are all humans and circumstances change. I believe that the citizens of any country should be able to hold their government accountable. That is the fundamental objective of BudgIT and I have to embody that.
I have also commended the President many times and when we felt we needed to ask further questions, we did. But if people paint me with the brush of ‘he is a critic, an arch-enemy of the government, then that is not my fault. I wish the President well. I f I didn’t want his government to succeed, I wouldn’t have accepted to contribute my own quota to its success. I felt the time of politicking was over and it was time for governance.
I founded BudgIT in order to provide free and better data for all Nigerians. The organisation mainly provides data to enable Nigerians to ask questions and interrogate the government. We will continue to put out the information there. We are not investigative journalists. We are not looking for secret documents of the government. It is the same data provided by the government that we simplify and provide to the citizens. We are just an intermediary. We are not worried about credibility, but about citizens effectively using the data that we provide. I am not BudgIT; the organisation is a team of about 28 core staff and 29 project tracking officers. These are people who are distinguished in their fields. We have a CEO, who is even more experienced than myself. These are professionals. People keep mistaking the person for the organisation and we are two separate people.
Did you receive any death threats or threats of attack throughout your ordeal?
I never did. I received pressure from inside and outside. I had strange calls because my phone number was already in the public space, but I also didn’t answer many calls.
In recent time, we’ve seen supposed critics of the government, such as Festus Adedayo and Olu Onemola, being appointed by the Senate President and forced out of office. Now you are the third casualty. Judging by the manner the present administration treats its critics, will you encourage other critics to accept job offers from government?
I won’t advise them not to accept job offers from the government because the call to serve one’s country is always an honourable thing. However, when you get such appointments, you should weigh it carefully. Public office is not a permanent address. It is something you do and when your time is up, you leave honourably. I am not a fan of those taking up public office and there is no opportunity to sharpen your expertise. If somebody had asked me to help in mining or in power, I would have said no. But I took up this one because I knew I would be able to learn and understand the public sector better.
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