The Way Of Previous Governments

Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun
Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun

Ever since he took over the mantle of leadership from Dr Goodluck Jonathan on 29 May 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be expending enormous energy in retrieving stolen tax-payers’ money from public office holders who were there before him. Yet, only three months ago, by 28 November 2015, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun told journalists in Abuja after a meeting with the Federation Account Allocation Committee that her ministry was yet to get details of recovered stolen money from the Presidency.

Journalists had asked her what she knew about the recovered looted money that the President alluded to while he was on an official visit to Iran. Even as we speak, there is no evidence that the President is keen on opening up to Nigerians on how much has been recovered so far, from who and where the money is being kept. These, incidentally, are the issues that most Nigerians want Mr President to clarify for them, and they are anxious to have an explanation expeditiously.

In one of my recent articles titled “Truth spoken to Authority” and published by various tabloids across the globe on 8 September 2015, I pointed out that “initially, there had been speculations that the Buhari administration could go the way of so many other administrations before it. In the past, the first thing any new government would do was to saddle itself with the onerous task of retrieving money stolen by the previous administration.

At the end of the day, when all was said and done, one major characteristic stood out clearly: Nigerians were not really bothered about retrieved money or whose individual bank account it went into afterwards. Not that they would care now, any more than they cared in the past.Experience has shown that they are not so much interested in retrieved stolen money that ended up, as usual, in the pockets of the shot-calling politicians of the day as they are in wanting to see transparency at work in the decisions and actions of the government in power.Nigerians voted for change.

They want to see that change come through an enhanced quality of administration by their new leaders who took over from the past government. In the opinion of most Nigerians, that would be the sort of change they would like to look up to in the Buhari administration.”

So, when President Buhari presented his first annual budget proposal on Tuesday 22 December 2015 which he ambitiously called “The Budget of Change” many Nigerians earnestly believed that the change they voted for was indeed beginning to happen. Buhari had explained that the economic challenges the nation was confronted with, due to the precipitation of oil price, had made it imperative for the budget to cut down on wasteful government spending. Buhari assured Nigerians that available funds would be used basically for public good.

He emphasised that his government is determined to ensure that the nation's resources are managed prudently and utilized solely for the public good. To set the proper tone, one of his early decisions was the adoption of a zero-based budgeting approach, "which will ensure that resources are aligned with government’s priorities and allocated efficiently."

Despite this assurance, recent developments clearly show that the priorities of Buhari’s government are hundreds of miles apart from the dreams and aspirations of the millions of Nigerians who defied torrential rains during the election period to troop out and vote for his party, and for the change they thought they needed from the ways things appeared to have been done in the PDP government of Dr. Jonathan. Buhari’s assurance to the nation does not seem to be the fact on the ground right now, if we must judge from the discrepancies that trailed the 2016 budget proposal recently submitted to the legislature by Mr President. A cursory look at some aspects of the 2016 Appropriation Bill indicates that the President cannot be further from the truth he promised Nigerians.

Mildly put, the budget proposals were at best a collection of fraudulent financial allocations, most of which were obviously designed to sustain the flamboyant lifestyles of public office holders. Some of the allocations were repeated several times in the budget. Some were over-priced. Some were misplaced priorities. In acknowledgement of these discrepancies, a top official of the Presidency defined senior civil servants in the country as “budget mafia” who would comfortably sneak frivolous items into the budget.

Nigerians who had always believed in the ability of the duo of President Buhari and Professor Osinbajo to bring sanity back into the country saw the budget proposal as a worrying development. To think that the office of the Vice President was allocated more money for books than institutions of higher learning in the country is quite preposterous. While the office of the Vice President was allocated over N4.9 million for the purchase of books, the total allocation for books for eleven of the 22 Federal Polytechnics in the country was little in excess of N3.8 million.

Tongues have kept wagging. Nigerians are not only talking, they are still asking questions. Why must such huge sums of money be allocated to the office of the Vice President for the purchase of books when only a year ago, over N7.5 million was allocated to it for the same purchase of books? Nigerians want to know why and how most of these thoughtless proposals in the budget even found their way into the items marked for the State House.

If we look at the figures marked out for the renovation of the State House, for instance, we observe that over N3.8 billion was earmarked for the State House Medical Centre alone. Of this amount, N308 million would go to the construction of a new VIP wing at the clinic. N3.21 million was allocated for health equipment and supplies for the Medical Centre. Over N203 million was budgeted for drugs and medical supplies. In addition to all that, the Vice President was also allocated an additional N7.54 million for medical expenses. How does this compare favourably with the slightly above N2.6 billion that was proposed in the budget for the construction of hospitals nationwide?

The budget allocated over N618.2 million which is in effect N1.6 million daily for the installation of lighting and fittings in the State House. Then there is another over N377 million for the installation of electrical distribution boards and other cables. The general renovation of the State House Guest House was billed to cost nearly N388 million. Furnishing the rooms in the Guest House alone was put at N45 million. Fine. But Nigerians are eager to know when the existing furniture was procured and why there is need to change them so soon. A mind-boggling N3.91 billion was earmarked for the annual routine maintenance of facilities in the villa. A breakdown of that budget showed that N10.72 million was earmarked for daily routine maintenance. This amount was apart from the nearly N2.8 million proposed for villa office and residential maintenance.

More than N20.2 million was proposed for sporting and games equipment for the Presidential Air Fleet. Over N39 million was budgeted for the purchase of recreational facilities at the State House. In addition, the budget also recommended the sum of over N193.5 million for the purchase of recreational facilities for the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation. In the draft budget, a total of over N436 million was allocated for meals and refreshment, canteen and kitchen equipment, foodstuff and catering materials for Mr President and his Vice.

But that was not all.
The budget proposed an expenditure of over N904 million for the year for the acquisition of a new fleet of automobiles for Mr President and for fleet equipment maintenance. When broken down, this equals spending about N2.5 million on the maintenance of its fleet of automobiles every day. This does not include the over N259 million allocated for the purchase of tyres, batteries, fuses, toolboxes, car jacks, tyre changing ‘machines’ and kits and N27 million for the purchase of C-Caution Signs, Fire Extinguishers, towing ropes and booster cables just for the Aso Rock fleet of automobiles.

Nor were these types of discrepancies in the draft budget limited to the presidency. Many such spurious allocations littered the entire budget. And many Nigerians are wondering. Could it be that Buhari was unable to put his priorities right as the President of Nigeria and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces? Could it be that he is being sabotaged by his subordinates? Could it be that the Opposition Party has its got sympathisers to infiltrate the Buhari government to insert figures that would make President Buhari look stupid in the face of the National Assembly and less "holy" and "innocent" than many Nigerians believe he is? Could it be that he is being sabotaged by his own insiders who want to see him go so that the next office holder to him can take his place? Or would all this be true of the man many Nigerians would have readily vouched for was the best man to bring sanity back into the country?

For Instance, how come the budget is proposing a whopping N1.39 billion for the Ministry of Defence to spend on the procurement of a Houseboat in Abuja, a floating house used for relaxation which doubles as a dwelling place by top officers at a time in the history of the nation whenits armed forces are desperately fighting a dangerous insurgency in the Northern parts – a war that has left many officers and men killed or maimed and members of their families infested with untold anxieties and unsettled minds?

The budget appropriated N415 million for the purchase of tables and N585 million for the purchase of chairs for the Ministry of Communication Technology. Under this ministry, the budget talked about “Procurement of the Equipment and its Accessories”. But it did not specify what this equipment was or the accessories it needed. Yet a whopping N2.9 billion was allocated to this item.

The budget provided over N99 million for the Ministry of Information and Culture to expend on the procurement of 1,600 chairs at the National Theatre and over N140.9 million for the procurement of computers for National Troupe of Nigeria, but budgeted nothing for costumes and other relevant equipment. Compare this with the over N91.3 million allocation to the Ministry of Science and Technology.

The budget provided for the Ministry of Works, Power and Housing to spend N140 million for the construction of a single solar borehole and N161.5 million for the construction of a motorised borehole. It also made provision for the Ministry of Interior to expend N576.5 million for the construction of electricity, N595. 6 million for repair and rehabilitation, and a whopping N6.2 billion for research and development. The Nigerian Prison Service was to get N500 million for “capacity building.” In the 2015 budget, the allocation for security equipment for the Nigerian Immigration Service was slightly above N86 million but suddenly it plummeted to N2.12 billion in the 2016draft budget. The list of fraudulent allocation goes on and on.

All this calls for President Buhari to cut down on his frequent international shuttles, sit down for a while, and ask for results from his subordinates after these many months. Unless he is willing to take periodic stock, like every quarter, to know how the various departments of his government are performing and what extent they are delivering of the APC campaign promises, Buhari is likely make the same mistakes as his predecessors made.

There is a possibility that he could join their bandwagon with time, if and when those experienced civil servants he trusted so much to work with before his appointment of ministers and even his own family members put pressure on his office and on him. Who knows? Truth, however, is: it is too early for the APC government of General Buhari to go the way of previous governments.

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Articles by Emeka Asinugo