• Wednesday, February 28, 2024
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BusinessDay

Angst, outrage as National Assembly allocates hefty budget to self

National Assembly seeks self-serving budget hike amid cost-of-living crisis
…while diseases, poverty send citizens to early grave

Angst, outrage are the order of the day in Nigeria today as citizens bemoan the humongous budgetary allocation to the National Assembly as recently passed by the bicameral legislature and assented to by President Ahmed Bola Tinubu.

The mood in the nation over this rape on the citizens’ commonwealth is not unexpected in a country where hunger, diseases and out-of-children population are all on the increase due to poverty that has become a native in most homes and the country at large.

Out of the N28.7 trillion budget which is supposed to serve the needs of country’s over 200 million population, the National Assembly which harbours just 409 members, comprising 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members, has cornered N197 billion for itself.

This is the case in a budget that has allocated only N1.3 trillion to the entire health sector at a time when diseases are sending many citizens to their early grave because hospitals have no drugs and many doctors have abandoned the hospitals because of inadequate funding by the government.

This paltry allocation, representing less than 5 percent of the total budget, failed to meet the 15 percent yearly budget allocation to the health sector agreed by member states of the African Union (AU) at their April 2001 meeting in Abuja, which was also adopted by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The National Assembly’s humongous budget is also pathetically higher than the allocation to education which is a critical sector of the economy. It received N1.54 trillion for the Federal Ministry of Education and its agencies, including N50 billion for the Students Loan scheme.

An analysis of the N197 billion for the Legislature shows that it is higher than the combined budget for 26 federal universities. This amount is also higher than the allocations for 41 polytechnics. Some of the allocations to individual federal polytechnics are as low as N1.7 billion.

This is a sector that frequently cripples the entire national economy with uncontrollable social upheaval that follows lecturers’ strike over poor funding of the universities and unmet agreements and unfulfilled promises to the lecturers by the Federal Government and its agencies.

In the face of all these, Nigerians are not only miffed, but also feel cheated, disappointed and even ridiculed by just a few individuals who, according to social commentators, are using their positions as legislators to rob the country and its citizens by guise.

The citizens are, therefore, reminding the legislators that the National Assembly is not intended to make them richer but for legislating for better lives for all Nigerians.

Augustine Anucha, a community leader in Abia State, said that awarding themselves the wealth of the country by arm-twisting the Executive puts the legislators on the same pedestal as those who “obtain by force.”

According to Anucha, “What is the difference between forcing someone to surrender one’s possession at gun point and what we are witnessing in government? Just because you can hold another arm of government to ransom does not give you the right to make demands that are illegitimate and nonsensical.

“If we call ourselves leaders, we must be leaders indeed. We must be reasonable and responsible. You do not arrogantly award yourself a salary that makes your fellow citizens begin to question their stake in the country. How do you justify the kind of money we hear the lawmakers allocated to themselves vis-a-vis the paltry N30,000 (thirty thousand naira) minimum wage? It is pure injustice.”

Morning shows the day

In October last year, news broke that each member of the National Assembly was to receive the sum of N200million each for SUV cars. Although the legislators tried to explain the reason for the choice automobiles, they complicated the matter when they claimed that it was because of the poor state of the Nigerian roads.

Some of the allocations that annoy Nigerians

A total sum of N127.8 billion was allocated for Senators and members of the House of Representatives in the 2024 Appropriation Bill passed on Saturday.

A breakdown of the budgetary allocation shows that out of the amount, the Senate got N49.144 billion while the House of Representatives gets N78.624 billion.

The National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) was allocated N12.325 billion and the National institute for Legislative and Democratic Studies: (NILDS) got N9.008 billion.

Legislative aides to the lawmakers in both chambers were allocated N20.388 billion.

The newly built National Assembly Library Complex was allocated N12.123 billion as Take-Off Grant while N3 billion was provided for the purchase of books for the library.

National Assembly car park project in the Senate and House of Representatives was allocated N3 billion each while N4 billion was allocated for the building of a ‘Recreation Center’ at the National Assembly.

The National Assembly Hospital project was allocated N15 billion.

The completion of NILDS headquarters was allocated N4.5 billion while the ongoing construction of National Assembly Service Commission (NASC) building gets N10 billion.

Copying the bad example

Recall that last year, in Kenya, the remuneration of MPs became a serious issue that observers insisted they did not deserve even a Cent more.

The 13th Parliament had made demands for more money even before they were sworn in or put in an hour of work.

They were accused of demanding hefty salaries in order to satisfy their crave for posh cars, and other outlandish lifestyles, including marrying more wives and adding to their harems.

Like the Kenyan MPs, it would seem that the 10th National Assembly members have shown their intent- “They are here to ‘eat’ not work.”

The refrain in society these days is that the current National Assembly is profligate and has been so brazen about feasting on public money.

“They have gone beyond greed this time. Now, it is ‘daylight robbery’. The Nigerian federal legislators have gobbled up funds meant for the key sectors that needed to drive the economy.

“Although available data show that in the past few months, the Federal, State and Local governments have received more money from the Federation Account than they have ever done, the dividends have not trickled down to the grassroots,” an observer said on condition of anonymity.

Cornering everything juicy?

An unconfirmed story trending on the social media has it that “President Bola Tinubu ordered the Ministry of Agriculture to allocate 100 million Naira worth of rice and other grains to each of the 360 House of Representatives members to share to their constituents in December. For the 109 Senators, the allocation was 200 million worth of rice palliatives to share.”

These were reportedly meant for their constituencies for the Yuletide, according to a member of the House from Edo State.

Bola Bolawole, a newspaper columnist, in his recent published article titled ‘When Nigerians lose interest in democracy, what next?’ marvelled at the brand of democracy that is being practised in Nigeria.

In his view, Nigeria has hit the rock bottom since 1999 and he noted that the anger in the polity was palpable and could lead to something dreadful if the situation of things remained the same.

He said: “If we put the Fourth Republic, which began to run on May 29, 1999, on the utilitarian scale, what would the outcome be? 1999 to date has been the single longest stretch of, well, democratic experiment, that we have had in this country but has it translated into the delivery unto the people of the so-called dividends of democracy? What is the worth of a democracy that decreases, instead of increasing, the happiness and well-being of the citizenry?

“Mark my words: Nigerians are at the breaking point and need a change for the better. If our politicians keep standing in the way of peaceful revolution, they will make violent revolution inevitable (JF Kennedy). You will say I said so!”

While the lawmakers are busy helping themselves with the common wealth, some other state and non-state actors are doing the same through oil theft and oil bunkering, which have virtually crippled the economy of the country.

Despite the disclosures about those behind the economic sabotage, the Federal Government has been unable to muster the will to rein in the monsters.

While the bazaars go on at the National Assembly, the country is collapsing- industries keep folding up by the hour, many of them relocating from the country; unemployment is at an all-time high; crime wave has hit the roof; youth restiveness and “japa” syndrome has sapped the country of its energy, cultism and ritual killings, cybercrime and sundry crimes have become the alternative industries for the youth.