Lai Mohammed, Buhari’s Factsheet And Wolf-Crying Opposition

Casmir Igbokwe

Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila spiced up Nigeria’s democracy mood last week. He gave a befitting birthday gift of Mercedes G-Wagon to his wife, Yemisi, who turned 50 on May 27. The car is said to be selling for between N75m and N100m in Nigeria. The man, who is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, named the gift “Assurance”.

Last Thursday, Nigerians got a better assurance from the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed. Brimming with pride, Mohammed listed some of the achievements of the present administration. They include, among others, taking power generation from 2,690MW to 7,000MW; moving Nigeria closer to self-sufficiency in rice; feeding 8.2 million pupils in 45,394 schools in 24 states, and employing 87,261 cooks in the process.

Others are paying conditional cash transfer of N5, 000 monthly to 297,973 poorest and most vulnerable households; building roads, rail and power; spending an unprecedented N2.7 trillion on infrastructure alone in just two years; and raising capital expenditure in the yearly national budget to an unprecedented 30 per cent on the average. Also, Nigeria’s economy recorded 1.95 per cent growth in Q1 2018.

The Information Minister said the administration was fighting corruption like never before with the Whistle-blowing Policy yielding N13.8bn from tax evaders, as well as N7.8bn, $378million, £27,800 in recoveries from public officials. He slammed the political opposition for downplaying the achievements of the Muhammadu Buhari administration, describing them as very disdainful of the truth, crying wolf where there was none and spewing out fake information at the speed of light!

The Peoples Democratic Party had raised some issues about corruption in high places. The opposition party, for example, urged the Presidency and the ruling All Progressives Congress to immediately account for trillions of Naira they allegedly frittered away to finance their opulent lifestyles and political interests.

The PDP also asked the Presidency to address Nigerians on the leaked memo detailing alleged corrupt oil contracts to the tune of N9tn ($25bn) at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Ministry of Petroleum Resources.

It also alleged looting from the Treasury Single Account as evidenced in the reported stealing of N10bn from National Health Insurance Scheme’s account in the TSA; the frittering of fresh N25bn under questionable ‘deals’; and the reported stealing of N18bn Internally Displaced Persons intervention fund. The PDP also wants answers to the source of the N671m allegedly stolen from the APC account by some of its national officers.

Like Mohammed, the APC’s response to some of the allegations is to simply say it is increasingly baffled by the PDP’s alleged new found proclivity for constantly spewing falsehood without any iota of proof in the name of opposition rhetoric and politics.

To reinforce Mohammed and the ruling party’s statements, the Federal Government just released facts and figures of Buhari’s monumental achievements in three years.  The 41-page factsheet highlights successes in economy, security and the fight against corruption.

Nevertheless, my problem with some of these facts and figures is that they usually conflict with the realities on ground and the views of some international experts. Early March this year, the International Monetary Fund reported that more Nigerians got poorer under the President Buhari government despite the country’s slow recovery from recession. It added that Nigeria needed urgent economic reforms.

Last Month, the World Bank gave its own verdict, saying unemployment and poverty rates increased in Nigeria despite an exit from recession in 2017. The apex global financial institution, in its report, added that the decline in the non-oil and non-agriculture sectors continued as aggregate demand remained weak and private sector credit low.

Besides, the Co-Chair of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Bill Gates, recently admonished the Federal Government not to concentrate on physical infrastructure to the detriment of human capital development.

As if to downplay the reported progress in our economy, Gates said Nigeria was one of the most dangerous places in the world to give birth, with the fourth worst maternal mortality rate in the world. We are ahead of only Sierra Leone, Central African Republic and Chad. Also, one in three Nigerian children is chronically malnourished.

Obviously, the FG needs to redouble its efforts. Its N5, 000 monthly conditional cash transfer and school feeding programmes are a drop in the ocean. Rather than waste billions of Naira in the name of feeding pupils, the government should find ways of empowering parents of these children to provide better food for them at home.

With regard to the fight against corruption, Transparency International has become a spoilsport. The other day, it said in its latest annual Corruption Perception Index, that corruption in our country worsened between 2016 and 2017. Last Monday, this same Transparency International released a report which revealed that federal and state governments spend N241bn on security votes annually. It is from these security votes that politicians siphon a lot of money to fund campaigns and other extravagant lifestyles.

The report titled, “Camouflaged Cash: How security votes fuel corruption in Nigeria,” was unveiled in Abuja by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre. It said the security votes were more than the annual budget of the Nigerian Army, Nigerian Air Force and the Nigerian Navy combined. The federal-level total spending on items identified as security votes reportedly increased by 43 per cent in 2018’s budget from 2017.

The National Assembly that should act as a check on the executive is even worse. There, money has become a non-stop smooth-flowing river. Just last week, the former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Prof. Attahiru Jega, alleged that the members of the National Assembly, especially committees, were in the habit of demanding bribes with impunity. A good example is the alleged pressure many vice chancellors go through during budget defence and so-called oversight assignments. He suggested that the fight against corruption should be intensified in all its ramifications.

Though the Senate has denied Jega’s allegation, it is yet to effectively respond to allegations of budget padding that has been levelled against it. Last week, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered President Buhari to “urgently instruct security and anti-corruption agencies to forward to him reports of their investigations into allegations of padding and stealing of some N481 billion from the 2016 budget by some principal officers of the National Assembly.”

The Court also ordered President Buhari to “direct the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN, and/or appropriate anti-corruption agencies to without delay commence prosecution of indicted lawmakers.” The judgment was delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris following a mandamus suit brought by Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP).

Also padded are the lawmakers’ salaries and allowances which have been variously described as being the highest in the world. Every member of the Senate, for instance, receives N13.1million monthly as running cost and a consolidated salary of N750, 000 per month. Each Senator is also given the opportunity to execute constituency projects to the tune of N200 million per annum.

As Senator Shehu Sani put it recently, “The National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government.”

State governments are not left out in this wastage of the national resources. Many of them, for instance, spend billions of Naira to settle pension entitlements of former governors many of who are serving ministers or lawmakers. Lagos, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Gombe, Kano and Zamfara states are some of the culprits here.

In his Democracy Day speech, Buhari boasted that tackling corruption was one of his major achievements. He vowed to win the war against it, and appealed to all well-meaning Nigerians to continue to support his government in this fight.

My own little support is to advise the President to start the anti-corruption fight by eliminating wasteful expenditures from the budget. A civil society group, the Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, recently said about N467.4 billion, or 5.43 per cent of the expenditure proposed in the 2018 Appropriation Bill of N8.612trn was frivolous, inappropriate, unclear or wasteful. Some of the wasteful expenditures include maintenance of office building and residential rent as well as computer software acquisition. Must government buy computers and software every year?

Worthy of emulation here is the shining example of the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB). Since the inception of the leadership of Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, JAMB has not been receiving capital votes from the government. Yet, it remits billions of Naira regularly to government coffers. In 2017 alone, the agency generated N12bn and remitted N7.8bn to the Federal Government after deducting expenses. Before Oloyede came, the total amount JAMB reportedly remitted to the government coffers between 2010 and 2016 was N50million.

Hopefully, we shall get it right some day. Only last week, a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Guru, sentenced a former governor of Taraba State and clergyman, Jolly Nyame, to 14 years in prison for criminal breach of public trust. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had charged Nyame, whose trial began on July 13, 2007, with 41 counts for criminal misappropriation, diversion of public funds, and breach of public trust.

While handing out the sentence, an outraged Justice Adebukola Banjoko, said: “There’s no moral justification for the level of outright theft, and the Court must therefore, impose a statement, hopefully as a deterrent to other public officers, who may be similarly inclined.”

There is nothing more to add.

  • First published in The Sun of Monday, June 4, 2018

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