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Financial recklessness of Nigeria’s political leaders

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Politics ordinarily should be a call to serve. So do politicians tell us during campaigns. They claim they want to serve us. However, the opposite is the case. The main attraction to politics in Nigeria is for personal aggrandisement and primitive accumulation of wealth. That is why our elections are very fierce and war-like. It is simply “do or die.” Nigeria runs a winner-takes-all, zero-sum game politics whereby with the slimmest of margin lead, a contestant is declared a winner while the first runner-up, no matter how close to the winner, loses every of his political investments – money, time, material resources including goodwill.

Unlike in the United States where there is no unnecessary indulgence of political office holders, Nigeria’s political leaders, both elected and appointed, live large. They have chauffeur-driven luxury cars at their beck and call. They live in official quarters with stewards, gardeners, cleaners and other domestic servants paid for by the Nigerian state. Thus, they do not have to spend any money from their personal purse while in office. Even their health and those of their family members are maintained with state resources. Only God knows how much the Nigerian state paid to maintain the health of ex-President Muhammadu Buhari who frequently went on medical tourism to the United Kingdom; neither do the people of Ondo State know how much the state had spent thus far on the ailing Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu who has been down with an undisclosed ailment which has kept him away from the Alagbaka Government House in Akure, the state capital.

Over , the 2023 governorship candidate of the Action Democratic Congress in Lagos, Funsho Doherty, wrote an open letter to the Lagos State Governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu. In a post on , Doherty said, “I just wrote an open letter to the Governor on Public Procurement awards reported by LASG for the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2023, highlighting a number of issues for further scrutiny and remedial action. Judicious use of public funds is always important, and is especially so now.”

In the letter, he noted that the sum of N440,750,000 was awarded to the Office of the Chief of Staff for the “procurement of a brand new bullet-proof Lexus LX 600 for use in the pool of the Office of Chief of Staff.” Other items flagged are the “provision of supply items (rechargeable fans, rechargeable lights and fridge in the office of the deputy governor” which was procured under the office of the deputy governor.” The item was awarded to Judkom Enterprises in July 2023 at the sum of N2bn (2,017,840,000). Also pointed out was the sum of N7,475,000 awarded for the “replacement of the liquid fragrance in the Office of Mr Governor, Lagos House, Ikeja.”

The government reportedly approved N152m for the restoration of water supply at Idunganran palace, the official residence of the Oba of Lagos. Records allegedly showed that the state would spend N581m to renovate Saint Andrews Anglican Church in the Oke-Popo area of the state. The Office of the Deputy Governor was awarded N30m for monthly outreach of indigent citizens by the wife of the deputy governor. The office also got another N30m for empowerment programme. In addition, decorations for the venue of political delegates were reportedly done at the sum of N20,084,550.

“Flying hours’ expenses for ad hoc charter plane by Lagos State Government were awarded for the sum of N400,000,000,” he wrote. It added that sundry consultancy services received generous allocations ranging from N2bn to N7bn from the state. The  newspaper (online edition) of November 20, 2023, also reported that Sanwo-Olu approved N73.1m for President Tinubu’s portrait and N44.8m for the clearing of vegetables (whatever that means) within the Epe Mixed Development Scheme.

According to  (Nigeria) of November 20, 2023, it is not only Lagos State that’s involved in financial profligacy; mention was also made of the Oyo State Government who allegedly spent N43.5m to purchase 55 fire extinguishers in the 2023 budget. The newspaper posited further that according to state statistics, Benue State Governor, Hyacinth Alia, has also earmarked N2,040,780,000 for the purchase of cars for himself, his deputy, members of the state House of Assembly, and other state officials. The money was approved on September 5, 2023, according to state financial documents.  said, “It is just one of the governor’s many questionable expenses, which have totaled more than N40bn in just five months.”

Recall that in 2015 shortly after leaving the governor’s office, allegations of financial and personal impropriety surfaced against the then Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola(SAN).  Fashola, who later became a super Minister of Works, Housing and Power under the Muhammadu Buhari administration, was said to have spent N78.3m on the upgrade of his official website, N139m on the drilling of two boreholes at the Government Secretariat and was accused of awarding a N640m contract to a German engineering firm, Julius Berger, for the reconstruction of a car park and other associated works at the Lagos House Marina, his official residence.

Meanwhile, according to  newspaper earlier referenced, Lagos State is sinking into a debt crisis like every other state in the country. As of the end of June 2023 the state government sat close to one-sixth of the total domestic debts owed by the sub-national entities. In absolute terms, it owed N996bn to local debtors captured and managed by the Debt Management Office. Its $1.26bn external debt is also disproportionately higher– almost 30 per cent of the value of external debt commitments of all the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory.

Do I blame the governors for extravagant lifestyles and spending on governance? No! As the saying goes, it is the front horse that the back ones use to pace. The governors are copying from the Federal Government. Was it not recently that news came out that N5bn was spent to procure a Yacht for the president? This newspaper in its November 6 edition reported that, “Despite the unprecedented level of poverty and hardship in the country, a review of the newly approved 2023 supplementary budget showed that the Federal Government allocated the sum of N5.095bn for the purchase of a presidential yacht under the capital expenditure of the Nigerian Navy.” Also in the supplementary budget, N4bn was earmarked for the renovation of the president’s residential quarters in Abuja, with an additional N4bn allocated for the renovation of Dodan Barracks for the President. Moreover, N3bn has been designated for the renovation of the vice president’s official quarters in Lagos, while N2.5bn has been allocated for the renovation of Aguda House.

For vehicle purchases, the breakdown shows: N2.9bn for SUVs, N2.9bn for the replacement of pool vehicles, and N1.5bn for the purchase of official vehicles for the Office of the First Lady. Another significant expense is the construction of an office complex in the State House, with a budget of N4bn. It is noteworthy that it is not only the executive arm that is involved in these spending sprees or jamboree. The legislative arm has also been caught in the same web of financial profligacy. The National Assembly recently budgeted over N40bn for the procurement of exotic cars for official use of members while about N70bn was also earmarked for the renovation of the Assembly complex. Meanwhile, the DMO recently said Nigeria’s total public debt hit N87.38tn at the end of the second quarter, representing an increase of 75.29 per cent or N37.53tn compared to N49.85tn recorded at the end of March 2023.

While this frivolous and mindless spending by the federal and sub-national governments goes on, 133 million Nigerians live in multidimensional poverty while about 40 per cent of employable youths are not gainfully employed. This disconnect between our political leaders and the citizenry is why there is a lot of cynicism about politics being about service. Meanwhile, about 27 states have a life pension scheme for the governors and deputy governors. Why should our leaders be living large on our behalf with little or nothing left for the ordinary citizens? With this profligacy in government, how can the cost of governance be reduced and good governance entrenched? Very unfortunate!

: @jideojong

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