If the figures posted by Nasir El-Rufai, governor of Kaduna State, on his facebook wall on the Independence anniversary expenditures since 2011 are anything to go by, it then means that the real change promised by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government may have indeed begun.
El-Rufai, a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), had claimed that whereas the current administration of Muhammadu Buhari had last week approved an austere N70 million for the celebration at the Federal level, similar exercise had in the past cost Nigeria N13billion (2011); N15billion (2012); N14billion (2013) and N22billion (2014); all of which took place during the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government presided over by President Goodluck Jonathan.
Analysts say that the approval of N70 million for Nigeria’s 55th Independence anniversary celebration by President Buhari was a clear departure from the ‘squandermania’ that characterised past administrations in such occasions. They also see Buhari’s move as a signal the commitment of the current government to make modesty its watchword.
Chudi Ubosi, Africa president of International Real Estate Federation (FIABCI), said the Buhari’s austere expenditure was yet another indication that the president is in for serious business, especially in the area of managing the economy through prudent spending and reduced cost of governance.
“I have always maintained that Buhari is here to do serious government business”, Ubosi said, in a telephone interview with BD SUNDAY, stressing that what the president needs is just time to put his arts together and get the government running.
He noted that for Buhari to celebrate Independence with just N70 million in a country where previous administrations had spent billions of Naira for the same purpose meant that there had been enormous waste in the past.
According to him, a lot of people had been profiting from the squandermania of the past administrations, contending that over 90 percent of what was approved in the past for same project went into private pockets, but would be passed as independence celebration expenses.
“That is one of the ugly past that we hope Buhari will deal with and it is interesting that he has started this way. I think what the president needs is the support and co-operation of you and I for him to do the clinical job he has set out to do,” Ubosi posited.
In his reaction, Debo Adeniran, executive chairman of the Campaign Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), said the N70 million President Buhari budgeted for Nigeria’s 55th independence anniversary celebration was a clear evidence that the nation’s resources was unnecessarily wasted for frivolities under former President, Goodluck Jonathan.
Adeniran told BD SUNDAY in an interview that Nigerians have reasons to celebrate President Buhari’s style because it means a huge departure from the past when several billions of naira was lavished on government officials in the name of celebrating the country’s freedom from the Colonial masters.
“With the N70m announcement as independence package for this year, it just shows that Nigeria is progressing compared to what we used to spend under former Presidents right from Olusegun Obasanjo to the time of Goodluck Jonathan. It used to be several billions of naira during Nigeria’s independence anniversary. The President has really shown that the nation’s resources would not be unnecessarily squandered under his administration,” he said.
President Buhari has severally said his government would prune the cost of governance and has since ordered a slash in the salaries and emoluments of political, public and judicial office holders.
The move was made public in June by Ibrahim Mohammed, head, Public Relations of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), who said the exercise was necessary in light of the reduction in the country’s revenue due to the down turn in international oil prices.
Nigeria, which got her Independence from the British Colonial rule on October 1, 1960, has since marked the date with pomp and ceremony with a national holiday. Past administrations had also hidden under such celebrations to rip the country off through bogus budgets for the events.
Since 1999, expenditure for Independence celebration, with the exception of the Yar’Adua administration (which was N62million), was shrouded in secrecy, each of them between N1billion and N6.6billion.
BD SUNDAY gathered that the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua did not plan a lavish 50th anniversary as he made no budget provisions for the Presidency, the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) or any other ministries.
According to findings, Yar’Adua’s 2010 budget proposals to the National Assembly in November 2009 for the celebration of Nigeria’s 50th Independence anniversary in October 2010 was only N62 million. In this budget proposal, the government demanded N7.4 million for the Information and Communication Ministry to celebrate Independence Day, N52 million for the Interior Ministry and another N2.9 million for the Police Affairs Ministry.
But in 2010, Goodluck Jonathan raised this amount to a whopping N10 billion. The N10 billion proposal was contained in the 2010 Supplementary Budget proposal sent to the National Assembly by Jonathan. This attracted outcry and obloquy from Nigerians who saw this as indication that the government, which just came to power, would be wasteful. Following the outcry, this was reduced to N6.6 billion in July of that year.
While defending what was described as an outrageous budget, Olusegun Aganga, then minister of finance, said part of the money was tied to capital expenditure in preparation for the Independence celebration.
“We are renovating Lagos and Abuja airports, for example. But airports should measure up to international standards normally. We are doing that and putting in place standard security systems so that the airports will be up to standards. These are places people will visit first. There are many other beneficial projects tied to this budget. Rather than fault the budget, people should ask, what is the money being spent on?” Aganga said.
“I can understand when people say there is no reason for celebration. But it is also a great opportunity to reflect on where we are, where we are coming from, where we want to go, and to take decisive actions on how we want to realise our great potential as a great nation,” he added.
Last Thursday, Babachir Lawal, Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), announced that the Buhari administration had approved N70million and that the celebration would be “low-key” to reflect both economic and political realities of the country, stressing that Mr. President “reluctantly approved” the said amount.
ZEBULON AGOMUO, CHUKA UROKO and Nathaniel Akhigbe