Wale Sokunbi CURRENTS: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja’s 2013 Budget proposals tabled before the Senate, last Thursday, has been generating ripples across the country. The N253 billion Appropriation threw the Upper Legislative Chamber into an uproar, even as it unsettled many Nigerians with its provision for N5 billion for the rehabilitation of prostitutes and the destitute; N7.4 billion for construction of Abuja City Gate, and N4 billion for the building of the First Ladies Mission office. Another N150 million was earmarked for revamping of the Vice President Namadi Sambo’s Guest House at Asokoro, Abuja.
These allocations stand out like sore thumbs in the budget, which allocated N155 billion to capital expenditure, N49 billion to overhead costs and N48 billion to personnel expenses. Many senators, among them, Senators Babajide Omoworare and Babafemi Ojudu, spoke the minds of many Nigerians with their firm stance against the wasteful allocations. There are so many reasons why the spending plan for these four controversial items in the appropriation stands reason on its head. With regard to the allocation of N4 billion for the First Ladies Mission office, there is no reason why the construction of this office should be the responsibility of the FCT Administration, or any level of government in the country.
The office cannot be a government project because both the person, and the office of the First Lady in Nigeria, are not recognised by the laws of the land. They are strange to the extant Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999. The First Ladies Mission is a non-governmental organisation. Any allocation of public funds to such an office is an aberration. It is clearly illegal and the government at any level in Nigeria has no business allocating funds for the office. The N4 billion allocation to that office is, therefore, indefensible in the eyes of the law, especially in the face of much more serious areas of need to which the funds could be deployed. Again, the N7.4 billion allocation for the Abuja City Gate is strange, indeed. For one, not only is the allocation of a whopping N7.4 billion for a gate unduly profligate and outrageous, the construction of a City Gate for Abuja was reeled out recently as one of the projects planned for the celebration of the nation’s centenary, which begins this month. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, who presented the centenary celebration plans to the Senate, recently, said the centenary projects would not be executed with public funds but through private sector contributions.
The allocation of N7.4 billion to this “wonder gate” in the Abuja 2013 budget is, therefore, questionable. This is more so as Anyim earlier said that a contract for construction of the gate was awarded sometime ago, but was not executed. Even then, it is decidedly insensitive to commit such a huge sum to the construction of a city gate that is, more or less, merely for decoration. Such ridiculous expenditure is unjustifiable in a country where poverty is rife, critical infrastructure is dilapidated, electricity supply is epileptic and unemployment is fuelling serious social and security concerns.
There is no sense at all in committing such an amount to a City Gate for any reason, and the senators who kicked against the proposal were right when they described it as scandalous. The amount earmarked for the revamping of the Vice President’ house is also unreasonable, and the Deputy leader of the Senate, Senator Abdul Ningi, is right to have spoken against it. It will be recalled that a recent allocation of N9 billion for the building of the Vice President’s official residence generated uproar amongst Nigerians. Generally, the allocation of huge sums to construction of public buildings by the different tiers of government in Nigeria is always mind-boggling. It does not portray the nation’s leaders as good managers of public funds. It is, indeed, necessary to ask how much would be used to build a Guest House for the Vice President, if as much as N150 million is being allocated for its renovation?
It is important that allocations for public structures should be done within the bounds of reason. It should not be an avenue to waste public funds that should be committed to projects that would have greater impact on the people. Again, the idea of the construction of a residence or Guest House for the Vice President by the FCT Administration is an aberration under the Federal system of government operated in Nigeria. It is another demonstration of lack of proper understanding of division of responsibilities under federalism. Senator Omoworare rightly described this as “maladministration”.
He also noted that it is wrong for a nation that allocated only N1 billion to each of the three new Federal Universities, which will cater to thousands of students, to allocate N7.4 billion to entrance gates to Abuja City. The proposed N5 billion expenditure on rehabilitation of prostitutes and the destitute in Abuja is another allocation that is not well thought-out. According to the FCT authorities, the Abuja Environmental Protection Board will be charged with the removal of prostitutes and the destitute from the streets of the capital city.
Their rehabilitation will be handled by the Social Development Secretariat and they will be made to undergo training in various skills such as hairdressing and yoghurt production, for a minimum of three months. While it is good to take prostitutes and the destitute off the streets, this particular plan is not properly worked out. It is based on the premise that the prostitutes are not highly educated, and will be willing to undergo the proposed training. This may not be so, as many of them are highly educated and not short of skills with which they could make a living, if they choose to do so. This plan has to be properly worked out with accountabilities embedded in the programme.
It is questionable to allocate huge funds to such a nebulous plan built on shaky grounds. The FCT authorities should first work out a good way to rid Abuja of prostitutes and the destitute before seeking approval for this huge allocation. This particular plan is omnibus, being neither here nor there. Overall, these huge budgetary allocations to these projects are hardly defensible. There is no arguing the fact that they are mostly wasteful, and will not serve the best interest of the Abuja population.
They are a clear case of misplaced priorities. Senate President, David Mark, admitted this much when he noted that the FCT Administration does not usually get its priorities right before earmarking funds for projects. Since the proposed budget has been passed to the Senate Committees on Appropriation, Finance and FCT for further legislative action with a directive that they report back to the House in two weeks, the Committees should do all that is needful to ensure that these contentious proposals are either expunged, or fine-tuned as appropriate.
The Senate should not condone the frivolity and profligacy that informed some of these proposals. There are far better uses to which the billions of naira earmarked for some of these projects can be put. 08079992860 (Texts only)