N3.5Million Meal: Lai Cannot Lie
During the 2018 budget defence of the Ministry of Interior on the floor of the Nigerian Senate earlier this year, the Comptroller- General of the Nigerian Prisons Service, Ahmed Jaafaru told the lawmakers that N17billion was allocated for the feeding of all the prisoners across the 244 prisons in the country, at a rate of N450 meal per prisoner per day. This paltry budgetary appropriation drew the ire of the lawmakers. They expressed their disaffection and dissatisfaction over the money being used or expected to be used to feed each prisoner in the country. The allocation was largely condemned as outrageous, unacceptable and unthinkable for an adult prisoner in Nigeria to be placed on a meal of N450 per day.
An axiom says that too much or too little of anything is a problem. In the same vein, it is also ridiculous, laughable and disgraceful to note that a country that keeps borrowing to finance her budget, sells her little national assets to finance budget; a country that cannot pay the National Minimum Wage of N18,000 to her workers, that has the highest population of the poor in the world; is feeding someone in detention with a humongous sum of N3.5million meal every month. Let’s call a spade a spade: this is the height of financial recklessness and indiscipline on the part of the federal executive arm of our government. This government was brought into power by Nigerians to block all financial leakages and wastages in government expenditures witnessed in the past administrations(1999-2015). As such, Nigeria’s resources should not be enmeshed further in any act of profligacy or venality under any guise of promoting or ensuring national security and orderliness in the society.
It is also crystal clear that public administration in Nigeria has been greatly desecrated and transmogrified into an abyss of shenanigans and deceits. For instance, till date, the Nigerian government under the leadership of President MuhammaduBuhari, who equally doubles as the Minister of Petroleum, has failed to disclose to Nigerians how much the country is paying on petrol subsidy. Although, the government has not only made no appropriation for petrol subsidy in our national budget but it has also continually denied making any petrol subsidy payment.However, the report of alleged diversion of NLNG dividend by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to fund the petroleum subsidy is mind blowing; and one can only hope that the Senate would do a thorough investigation as promised, to determine its veracity or otherwise of this allegation.
At this juncture, it is imperative to point out that no one is saying that government should not keep records or secrets. Government should endeavor to keep clean hands by ensuring probity, transparency and accountability in the management of the nation’s resources and affairs. Government should be keeping records that successive administrations in future would be proud of. Government should also be setting good precedents and legacies. No doubt, a huge sum of N3.5million monthly meal for a detainee in Nigeria, irrespective of his/her status in the society could set a bad antecedent for our future managers of public funds.
Furthermore, the principles of fairness and equity must be applied in the usage of our public funds. A situation whereby one prisoner is fed with pittance (N450 meal per day) and another one being fed with N3.5million meal per month negates the spirits of fairness and equity. Rather, it evinces clearly, according to George Orwell that “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Thus, any nation built on the wrong premises of injustice, unfairness and inequality cannot develop or progress. There would always be suspicion, apprehension and demonstrations among the citizens.
By and large, there is no point crying over any spilt milk again. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed had made a consequential gaffe. The cat has been let it out of the bag, willingly or mistakenly. The situation needs to be well managed now. AlhajiLai Mohammed should release the fact behind the figure. This is because Nigerians deserve to know how N3.5million is being used to feed the Shiite’s leader, Elder El Zakzaky, who is presently in the custody of the State Security Service. The National Assembly equally needs to investigate this matter. Our failure to do any of these two options would continue to cause the nation embarrassment in the comity of nations around the world.
ShamsudeenAyeni, a socio political commentator, writes from Akute, Ogun State. He can be reached via: [email protected]