Insensitive is too mild a word with which to describe moves by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) to spend N15 billion in constructing a new residence for the Vice President. Such tackiness is the unkindest cut of them all in the governance style of Nigerian leaders.
It is more so when it is coming at a time the patience of the citizens is now at an end as they grapple with the untold hardship occasioned by the removal of subsidy on petroleum products.
FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike, while defending the N61.5 billion 2023 supplementary budget of the FCT, told the House of Representatives Committee on FCT that the new VP’s residence is one of the projects captured under the budget.
“The VP residence that was awarded in 2010 at the cost of N7 billion was abandoned. It is embarrassing that a country of this nature cannot in 13 years, complete the VP’s residence. N7 billion, now the contractor is saying well, we cannot continue to do it without review. Now they are saying N15 billion. We have taken it upon ourselves to say that we will complete it and Mr President will commission it by May,” he said.
Curiously, the decision to construct what Minister Wike described as befitting residence for the Vice President is followed by the allocation of another N2.5 billion for the renovation of the current residence of the VP. The amount was conspicuously quoted in the supplementary budget recently passed by the National Assembly and signed by the president.
It is true that the Federal Executive Council, sometime in 2010, approved a contract for the building of new residence for the VP. Of course, the project was abandoned perhaps because it wasn’t much of a priority then and it still isn’t now. Why Wike sees that as a priority at a time like this is what I find difficult to explain. But it only goes a long way to confirm one thing: we have serious problems with spending.
Former military leader, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), was reported to have said the problem of Nigeria is not money but how to spend it. Several decades after Gowon reportedly made that statement, successive leaders have proven that indeed the problem is how to spend the money.
Or else, how can we be talking of such an expenditure under a government that plans to spend N8.25 trillion (about 30%) of its 2024 budget on debt servicing and is even planning to take a loan of over N7trillion to finance the budget?
Is Wike and every person in a position of authority not worried that the cost for debt servicing as captured in the 2024 budget dwarfs the allocation for capital expenditure?
To say Nigeria’s economy is gasping for breath is an understatement. The poor, like the nation’s economy, are also gasping for breath in the face of a sustained rise in prices of essential commodities. Yet the leadership is preoccupied with needless expenditure. If this is not cold-heartedness then nothing else is.
In a nation where the health facilities have collapsed, unemployment is at an all-time high, with many youths deserting the country in search of a better life, we have a government that is predisposed to wasteful spending among other inanities, instead of prioritizing spending,
One of the trending stories in the week is the size of the country’s delegation to UAE for the COP 28. There were reports that no fewer than 1,400 delegates from Nigeria are attending the conference. This further exemplifies reckless spending.
The federal government, through the Minister of Information and National Orientation, Mohammed Idris, said only 422 of the delegates are sponsored by the government. Even that list is unwieldy. A closer look at the list will confirm this.
According to Idris, federal government-funded delegation comprises of: National Council on Climate Change (32), Federal Ministry of Environment (34), All Ministries (167), Presidency (67), Office of the Vice President (9), National Assembly (40), Federal Parastatals/Agencies (73).
There is clearly no need for 422 delegates, especially when virtual attendance is an option. How we indulge in this sort of reckless spending only to resort to seeking loans defies logic.
It is this type of thinking that has teleguided Wike to find it fitting to earmark N15 billion for the VP’s residence at a time like this instead of committing that amount to combating the rising insecurity, deplorable state of roads, poor healthcare facilities, dearth of infrastructure in schools, among other myriads of challenges besetting the FCT.
FCT’s Messy Infrastructure
There are mounting concerns over the deplorable state of infrastructure, including lack of water supply in most rural areas and even in parts of Abuja metropolis. Some public secondary schools and health centres are grappling with serious infrastructure decay owing to long years of neglect. Also, Kidnap for ransom is assuming an alarming proportion in the FCT. For instance, bandits recently released six persons, including the wife of a village head in Kuje Council area after collecting N6 million ransom.
Already, the FCT supplementary budget has scaled through second reading at the lower chambers of the National Assembly. As the budget progresses through the National Assembly, it’s crucial for lawmakers to reallocate resources to areas of genuine need, prioritizing critical issues over trivial expenditures. The lawmakers must be reminded that allocating N15 billion for a VP’s residence amid pressing infrastructure needs is a grave breach of public trust and constitutional responsibility.
Undoubtedly, the plan seems not just extravagant but also tone-deaf to the current pressing needs of the FCT. Wike should perish the thought and, instead, re-channel the funds to other important areas. There is clearly no justification for such a humongous expenditure. Full stop!
Lesson From Malawi
Indeed, Nigerian leaders have some lessons to learn from some smaller African countries like Malawi, for instance, where the president has put in place some belt-tightening measures aimed at cutting down the cost of governance in the face of a deplorable economy.
There is no way the government can expect citizens to endure current hardships without it leading by example and embracing austerity measures in spending taxpayers’ money.
It’s crucial for the government to engage in responsible and prudent spending, especially during challenging times, to gain the trust and cooperation of the citizens. When public officials practice fiscal responsibility, it sets a precedence for accountability and reinforces the shared commitment to using public funds judiciously for the collective benefit of society. As for the N15bn, it can do a whole lot for the FCT!
Tame The Looming Cash Crunch
It started like rumours which, as should be expected, was refuted by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). But it seems the return of cash scarcity is real. Its return, despite the CBN’s directive to banks regarding the issuance and acceptance of both old and redesigned naira banknotes, has triggered concerns as customers face limitations on over-the-counter cash withdrawals amid constraints at Automated Teller Machines (ATMs).
The Apex Bank needs to promptly investigate and address the underlying factors contributing to this scarcity. It’s essential to ensure that adequate measures are implemented swiftly to prevent further inconvenience and suffering among Nigerians. Clearly, this scarcity catches Nigerians off guard and it is imperative for the CBN to take prompt action to halt it. Nigerians are not prepared for yet another episode of cash scarcity.
Therefore, the Apex Bank must urgently intervene to rectify the situation and alleviate any potential hardships faced by the public. Prompt action and transparent communication from the CBN regarding the steps being taken to mitigate this scarcity will help reassure Nigerians and restore confidence in the financial system.