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Senators shed their toga as perceived spendthrifts yesterday, hitting hard against the government's budget of N10 billion for the celebration of Nigeria's 50th Independence anniversary. Most of the lawmakers in what looked like a grand irony, towed the opposition line of argument, describing the N10 billion budget as outrageous.

Indeed, the lawmakers want the budget slashed or else it should be used for a purpose that is of more economic benefit to the people.

Their opposition to the anniversary N10 billion budget came even as the review of N4.2 trillion 2010 Appropriation Bill and the N639 billion Supplementary Appropriation Bill 2010 scaled through second reading in the Upper Chamber. But the Bill to amend the 2010 Appropriation was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance for further work with one week to submit its report.

With the Supplementary Bill passing through the second reading, the hope of a pay rise for federal civil servants became brighter as the proposed law provided for the wage increase billed to take effect from this month.

The Appropriation Bill also provided for public service wage adjustment, including the pay increase and arrears for staff of federal universities, polytechnics, colleges of education, professionals; two-month arrears for the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU); allowances for the ex-militants in the Phase II of the Amnesty Reintegration Programme as well as arrears of monetization for the staff of the troubled Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN).

The Senate Leader, Teslim Folarin, has hardly presented his lead debate than the Senators, one after another, faulted the revenue shortfall, which necessitated the downward review and the budget for the 50th anniversary celebration. The legislators argued that the N10 billion was misplaced given that certain critical sectors of the economy were in dire need of urgent financial attention. They argued that rather than spend so much on jamboree in the name of independence celebration, part of the money should be deployed for better uses in the interest of the country.

Senator Buka Abba Ibrahim said the independence budget was high because Nigeria had gone far as a nation and 'I think the money voted for this programme should be seriously slashed. We should consider increase in the creation of jobs and tackle corruption in high places.' In his submission, Senator Andrew Babalola said he was surprised at the huge amount and suggested that the Senate should remove the anniversary celebration and replace it with employment generation. 'N10 billion will go a long way in reducing poverty in this country. We should budget with priorities,' he added.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Olorunnimbe Mamora (AC, Lagos) condemned the N10 billion allocation. He said it was outrageous and not in tandem with the reality of the moment. 'We must get our priority right. We have teeming unemployed youths in the country,' he argued. The Senator berated the PDP for its inability to manage Nigeria's budget every year, saying it had been a situation of motion without movement, which was a poor approach to national issues.

Said he: 'There cannot be supplementary without substantive budget. From 1999 till now, it has been crisis as far as budget is concerned. It has been a situation of motion without movement. There is the need for the executive to bring the budget at least between July and August so that it can be discussed and the implementation starts on time. The present ruling party has no business being in government, it should pack its bag and leave governance for those who have the experience.'

Senator Dahiru Kuta reasoned that budgets had been running into trouble because there was corruption in the high places in implementation. 'We allowed the budget to go without thinking of employment. There are abandoned projects all over the place. Budgeting N10 billion for 50th independence anniversary, I think is on the high side. It should be slashed to the barest minimum.

Some other Senators including Joseph Akaargerger and Osita Izunaso did not see anything worth celebrating with such pomp as to gulp so much. 'Look at the financial status of Nigeria. There is nothing to celebrate, there should be zero allocation,' said Akaagerger.

Senator Izunaso maintained, 'We must know what we are doing with our budget to be able to move forward. Why are we spending so much money on recurrent expenditure? There is high rate of unemployment in the country and even those who are working are not well remunerated.

'What are we really celebrating? Why should we spend N10 billion on 50th anniversary? There is the need to have a proper law that will compel the executive to submit the budget on time to the legislature for prompt passage so that late implementation will be a thing of the past.'