In Search of a Cheaper Democracy By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, my submission today is that we need to find a way to plead with, or force, our leaders, to put on their thinking caps urgently before we all perish. The reason for my desperate call is the reckless profligacy being displayed by all tiers of government in our federation led apparently by the Federal Executive. I say without any fear of contradiction whatsoever that no nation can survive the blistering assault on its treasury as we are witnessing now. The plundering has gone out of the roof and does not show any common sense again, if indeed, looting the Treasury can ever demonstrate common sense.
It cannot even be described as greed anymore. It is easier to call it stark raving madness. It takes some heavy dose of lunacy to do what we do here. While it is possible to excuse some infractions here and there, it is sad that we have turned bad manners into a norm. The impunity with which we carry on as if there is no tomorrow is a cause for serious alarm. The atrocious wave of unprecedented crime and violence in our clime is traceable to the acute frustration engendered by the lack of hope for most of our young ones who witness our Leaders’ unbridled licentiousness on a daily basis.
This is why I can’t believe that our leaders can’t seem to be bothered about the state of our nation as they fritter away our scarce resources with reckless abandon. I do not live under the illusion that a day would come when we shall have saints in power but I had expected that our leaders of today would slow down a bit to have mercy on the hapless citizens of Nigeria. Our people are not asking for too much. They just want the basic things of life. Our culture naturally guarantees that our leaders would continue to feed fat on the sweat of others but then the ordinary citizens should have access to something.
All hope in me began to evaporate and vamoose as I scrutinised the 2014 budget prepared by the Federal Government and presented to the National Assembly by Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. With due respect to Madam Ngozi, a woman I admire so much and saw as a potential President of Nigeria, I wonder if she prepared that budget or it was prepared and sent to the Ministry of Finance without any input whatsoever from her. It is very obvious that some politicians sat down to concoct that budget by padding it with all manner of spurious figures that calls to question the intelligence behind some if not most of the sinful allocations.
I have read through this budget again and again and just can’t understand the carelessness that must have given birth to it. I will try to dismantle the humongous construction and show why our country is not likely to make substantial progress in the foreseeable future. This is not a curse but a self-inflicted spell that will not go away very soon. Before I proceed, let me reassure those who are hired to defend every misdemeanour of government, to see mine as a clarion call borne out of patriotic fervour and not for any mischievous purposes. I’m aware that the President may be too busy to scrutinise or notice the rascality of many of his trusted aides but a closer examination of this budget would certainly embarrass any leader with conscience unless he’s an accomplice in this monumental fraud. Even some members of the elite class have screamed blue murder at the sheer audacity of those who packaged such ribaldry of a budget. Nothing could be more extravagant and cruel at a time we needed to cut down drastically on government spending and declare a state of emergency on our economy.
I sincerely thank Senator Bukola Saraki for his submission on the matter, which has been made public, the content of which has elucidated the budget proposal in clearer picture. I shall return hereinafter to ask about the role of the National Assembly itself in this horrific saga because someone needs to explain why an assembly of less than 500 people would have about a third of our annual budget squandered on them. This explains the reason the National Assembly has become a mere rubber-stamp for an odoriferous executive body.
Let’s now examine the meat of this terrible budget. Christened Budget for Job Creation and Growth, it is far from both on even the briefest of scrutiny. It is at best an antithesis of growth and a medley of depressants to sentence us to eternal coma. As for its avowed aim of job creation, that is an extremely wicked joke given the circumstances of the millions of unemployed youths roaming our streets today. As far as I am concerned, the budget is designed to splash a total of N2.4 Trillion on recurrent expenditure and a meagre N1.1 Trillion on capital expenditure. This shows a clear lack of ambition in the area of infrastructural development while we are willing to waste most of our commonwealth on flights of fancy that bear no impact on national rebirth. Our budgets have become mere rituals to fulfil constitutional righteousness. They are hardly implemented or implementable. As soon as they are approved, the spending sprees begin. Sometimes before the mandatory approval, the vaults would have long been opened for merciless debauchery.
Nothing is more incomprehensible than the N700m daily on kerosene without any fluctuation. Someone should please tell me who consumes all that kerosene and if it is even available in such astronomical quantity across the country. It is nothing but an avenue for a free for all bazaar controlled by the almighty NNPC and the Ministry of Petroleum. No amount is too big and intimidating for those rarefied beings to spend. What is the relevance of the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank if NNPC can disclose remorselessly to have spent more than $10 Billion on operations outside the national budget? There has never been any pretence about the squander-mania that has become perpetuated in Nigeria’s most powerful Ministry. It does not seem we know that this oil money we are wasting belongs to both the present and future generations of Nigerians and must be jealously protected.
Let’s leave this monumental digression and return to the 2014 budget as proposed. As I read through, it occurred to me that the Ministry of Finance is more like a refuse dump for all kinds of irresponsible spending and it is unfortunate that our Minister and those paid to see the glaring inconsistencies and contradictions failed to do so. For example, the Ministry of Works wants to buy desktop computers at a unit cost of N1m while under the same government; the Ministry of Education is willing to spend N2m per unit cost and ready to pay N30m for only 15 computers. All it would have taken the Ministry of Finance was to ask for computer specifications and search for prices online. The country would have been saved from this stupidly over-inflated budget.
Next on our budget of abracadabra is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Ministry plans to buy and service generators in some foreign missions including England. Who uses generators in England, I dare ask? As if that is not absurd enough, the Ministry headquarters will spend a whopping N201.7m on fumigation and cleaning services as if we want to sanitise the entire planet. I’ve been to many of our foreign missions and they all groan under the effect of inadequate funding for the right purposes. How come we have such stupendous money to waste and yet Nigeria is being chased out of properties as it happened a few years ago in Ghana? The same Ministry intends to purchase and freight 40 representational cars abroad at a dizzying cost of N834.4 Million. Where will these cars be purchased? Why can’t these cars be purchased at source? Certainly different countries have different specifications unlike Nigeria where all manner of specifications can be dumped on us.
Now the State House in Abuja plans to build a VIP hospital wing at a cost of N705 Million only. Is it not strangely catastrophic that a government that says it cares for the general well-being of the people would budget N328 Million for the massive refurbishment required at the Obafemi Awolowo University Teaching Hospital, Ile-Ife; N310 Million for that of University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital; N89 Million for the NOMA Children’s Hospital in Sokoto and not a kobo on the Institute of Child Health, University of Benin Teaching Hospital but be willing to spend such humongous amount on VIP’s at the State House? It presupposes that the less than 200 VIPs in the State House are more important than millions of citizens expected to access those strategic institutions. These VIPs already have access to air evacuation and would always fly abroad, anyway, at the slightest headache. General maintenance in the State House is put at N1.19 Billion for the year.
I’m mostly troubled about our Defence and Security Budget for a nation under incredible siege from all manner of malevolent forces. The 2014 budget looks like a pitiable joke when you consider the allocations of N23.6 Billion as stipend and remuneration to 30,000 Niger Delta Militants; N35.4 Billion for the reintegration of Transformed Ex-militants and juxtapose that with the total capital budget for the Nigerian Army put at a paltry N4.8 Billion only. Are we serious? The total capital budget for the Ministry of Defence, comprising of Army, Navy and Air Force is N34.2 Billion only. The most disastrous is the allocation to our beleaguered and ill-equipped Police for which its total capital budget is a miserable N6.79 Billion only. What we must also factor in is the fact that this is a mere budgetary allocation. Most of the money will never arrive at its destination in peace but in pieces. Those who understand the system would waylay them as usual and await the next budget. Is it any wonder that our security forces are dangerously exposed to scurrilous attacks and incurably traumatised by extreme low-esteem?
The lack of sensitivity to capital projects is heavily amplified when you check the recurrent allocations in the following sectors. The Interior Ministry is proud to spend N144.7 Billion in recurrent and only N6.29 Billion on capital. Police formation and commands will spend N285.5 Billion in recurrent and N6.79 Billion on capital. I’m seriously wondering why the Ministry of Education gets so much yet nothing improves in our schools. In 2014, it will spend N443.9 Billion in recurrent and N49.5 Billion on capital. Health would spend N216.4 Billion in recurrent and N46.3 Billion on capital.
The binge continues in the Ministry of Water Resources (I often wonder who receives water directly from government sources) where N40.4 Million would be doled out as welfare packages to God-knows-who. And this is just for the headquarters alone to spend as it likes. Such welfare packages litter everywhere in government spending of public funds. Please, what are we celebrating that N71.6 Million would be spent on anniversaries and celebrations? Why can’t we simply re-order our priorities?
There are many areas I have not covered due to space constraints. But my summary is very simple. This is nothing short of a disastrous budget. It suggests a nation that is very confused about what to do with money amidst wanton collapse of families and institutions, especially in a State where an average citizen lives below poverty line.
It is not enough to blame the executive alone for this short-sighted budget. We need to ask why the National Assembly continues to justify its lion share of the budget. Nigeria must shed this excessive burden or haemorrhage to death. Our leaders must be prepared to make the necessary sacrifice on all fronts. It is not too late to take a more meticulous and judicious look at this wasteful budget and reverse this perfidy. There is nothing to gain by rushing to approve a budget that will not lead the country anywhere but perdition.
I know my epistle is not likely to move those hardened souls who see power as their god but it is on record that we are begging them to reconsider what would ultimately haunt us all. The defenders would swoop on the internet to tell us how the trend was not started by President Goodluck Jonathan. I will agree to some extent but they must know that the President was not elected to continue the strangulation of Nigerians as has happened in the past. Rather he promised to give us fresh air and not this putrefaction that has almost suffocated the nation.
It is up to the President alone. As Commander-in-Chief, the buck stops at his desk. It is time for him to take charge and claim the glory or the shame.
Nigeria needs more prayers than I thought.
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