Nigerians have expressed shock and displeasure over President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of N1.14 billion for the purchase of vehicles for a neighbouring country, Niger Republic.
Zainab Ahmed, minister of finance, budget and national planning, confirmed the approval of the money on Wednesday while fielding questions from BusinessDay, shortly after the Federal Executive Council meeting presided over by the President.
A Nigerian journalist, David Hundeyin, had on Tuesday posted on Twitter a document showing that the President approved N1.145 billion for the “supply of 10 Toyota Land Cruiser V8 vehicles to the Republic of Niger”.
The minister said the President reserved the right to take decisions in the interest of Nigeria, adding that “this was not the first time the country is providing such interventions to her neighbours”.
She said: “Let me just say that overtime, Nigeria has had to support its neighbours, especially the immediate neighbours to enhance their capacity to secure their countries as it relates to us. This is not the first time that Nigeria has assisted Niger Republic, Cameroon or Chad.
“The President makes an assessment as to what is required based on the request of their Presidents. Such requests are approved and interventions are provided. It is to enhance their capacity to protect their countries, as it relates to security and also to Nigeria.”
Ahmed added, “Nigerians have the right to ask questions, but also the President has the responsibility to make an assessment of what is in the best interest of the country and I cannot question the decision myself.
“I have said this is not the first time that Nigeria as a country has provided an intervention to our neighbours. It is in the best interest of Nigeria to do so.”
But Nigerians have questioned the rationale behind the gesture, particularly at a time when several government officials, particularly the finance minister, have consistently raised concerns over low revenues, poor oil income accrual to the federation account due to costly petrol subsidy, and worsening insecurity.
Expressing disappointment over the development, Tope Fasua, a renowned economist and CEO of Global Analytics Consulting, said: “l don’t have any two ways to say it. I think it’s more than obvious a child will know that we are in dire straits in Nigeria and whereas they would hide everything under insecurity and all, each one of those Land cruisers or whatever kind of car costs about N140 or maybe N150 million each; some things are just ridiculous.
“So I think Buhari has revealed to us the limits of how low we can go; a country that cannot feed its people is busy buying cars. This is actually in my view perhaps a small transaction but jarring and annoying all the same, given what Nigerians are going through. Buhari has not spent time thinking about the Nigerian issues, but it’s ridiculous really, and Nigerians don’t want to hear this kind of thing; it’s just very very annoying.”
Ken Ife, a professor and London Enterprise Ambassador & chief economic strategist in ECOWAS Commission, said the government’s action “is hardly justifiable in the current economic circumstance. You have to have a compelling case to take this kind of decision at this time.”
Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), executive director at Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), described the action as ‘laughable’.
He described it as “another proof of the obvious disconnect between President Muhammadu Buhari and Nigerians”.
He said: “It is laughable because the people you are giving the vehicles to do not live the kind of false lives our leaders are living here. Nigerians are not saying we should not help our neighbours, but you must fix your own house first. This is just to tell you the disconnect between Buhari and Nigerians.
“How more insensitive can a leader be; your own economy is having challenges, yet you are doling out funds to please others, when you can’t pay your debts. I don’t know what they really want to achieve.”
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) described the approval of N1.14 billion for the vehicles as “demonstration of the highest level of insensitivity” by the Buhari-led administration.
The National Publicity Secretary of the party, Debo Ologunagba, made the observation in a telephone interview with the BusinessDay in Abuja on Wednesday.
He also urged the National Assembly to urgently investigate the source of the fund used for the purchase of the vehicles.
He said: “If the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning actually has confirmed that, it shows the level of insensitivity of the All Progressive Congress-led Nigerian government, under President Muhammadu Buhari.
“He knows full well that we are being ravaged by near collapse of the economy and several other challenges that such funds would have helped us address. Irrespective of whatever the purpose, It is an irresponsible act, especially at this point in our country’s history. The source should be investigated by the National Assembly, because all funds should be budgeted for.”
Ologunagba, while adding that he was not surprised at the act by the current government , added that “Every policy of the present administration, from exchange rate has always been anti Nigerians, reactions to the ASUU strike and other economic policies had been anti- Nigerians”
The PDP chieftain stated that the policy was in no way made to benefit Nigeria, adding that “it tells you the levels of prioritization of the our national interest”
“My appeal is for Nigerians to go get their permanent Voters Cards, ahead of the 2023 general election and vote out bad governance.”