• Friday, April 19, 2024
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BusinessDay

N70bn budget: Nigerian lawmakers seek luxury amid constituents’ misery

Ningi saga: Akpabio constituency allocated N90bn by agric ministry

The story of Isola Adeola, a tricycle parts dealer in Ikeja, Lagos is a harrowing tale of anger and hunger, endured in the hope that a customer will finally patronise his store. He daily experiences low patronage, leaving him frustrated and disheartened. Isola laments, “An hungry man is an angry man, but how do you fight without strength?”

Frustrated by the government’s intervention response, he questioned the effectiveness of providing just N8,000 to 12 million Nigerians monthly, labeling it inadequate palliative support.

“What is N8,000? It can’t cook a pot of food, and you would give that to somebody in a month and call it palliative?” he said.

“The funds might even end up in the wrong hands because how will government identify the poor?

Food price in Nigeria per kg (N)
Food price in Nigeria per kg (N)

The situation is dire for millions of citizens of Africa’s largest economy; an alarming 84 million Nigerians wallow in extreme poverty, living on less than $1.9 per day, while 133 million (63 percent of the population) experience multidimensional poverty, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The core of the poverty crisis lies in unemployment, particularly affecting the youth, leading to reduced income levels, minimal investments, and a declining standard of living. Corruption further worsened the situation as funds intended for development are misused and diverted away from productive purposes, depriving the country and the people of potential benefits.

In its 2022 Nigeria public finance review, the World Bank advised that Nigeria needs to improve its spending to promote economic development. “Despite its vast development needs, Nigeria spends only $220 per Nigerian per year, and at merely 12 percent of GDP, this is one of the lowest levels of spending in the world. Unfortunately, low public spending translates into poor development outcomes,” it stated.

However, 2023 has seen a distressing impact on poverty levels, with four million Nigerians falling into poverty within six months, and an additional 7.1 million expected to follow suit if effective measures aren’t taken to address the ramifications of fuel subsidy removal, as highlighted by the World Bank.

“Without compensation, many households could be pushed into poverty by higher petrol prices and forced to resort to coping mechanisms with long-term adverse consequences, such as not sending children to school, or not going to health facilities to seek preventative healthcare” according to the Nigeria Development Update (NDU), a biannual World Bank report series.

“The previous mix of fiscal, monetary, and exchange rate policies, including the naira redesign program, did not deliver the desired improvements in growth, inflation and economic resilience. The new government has recognised the need to chart a new course and has already made a start on critical reforms, such as the elimination of the petrol subsidy and reforms in the FX market.

“With the petrol subsidy removal, the government is projected to achieve fiscal savings of approximately N2 trillion in 2023, equivalent to 0.9 per cent of GDP. These savings are expected to reach over N11 trillion by the end of 2025.

“Similarly, the current move by the government to implement long-anticipated reforms such as the removal of costly and opaque petrol subsidy, and efforts to harmonise the multiple FX windows, are timely and crucial to set Nigeria on the path of economic growth, but it is crucial to complete this important reform by removing FX restrictions, clearly communicating how the new FX regime will operate, and implementing supportive monetary and fiscal policies,” the World Bank report said.

Unfortunately, Nigerian lawmakers, who are expected to address the hardships caused by the fuel subsidy removal and the weakening Naira, seem to be living luxuriously, in contrast to the miserable conditions of their constituents.

Recently, the National Assembly made amendments to the N819.5 billion 2022 supplementary budget, approving N70 billion to enhance the working conditions of new lawmakers. This amendment was swiftly passed by both chambers of the National Assembly, just 24 hours after President Bola Ahmed Tinubu forwarded the request.

A detailed breakdown of the amended budget revealed that N500 billion was allocated for palliatives to alleviate the impact of the recent fuel subsidy removal on Nigerians.

N185 billion was allotted to the Ministry of Works and Housing to address the infrastructure damage caused by the 2022 flooding disaster across the country’s six geopolitical zones.

N19.2 billion was earmarked for the Ministry of Agriculture to tackle the massive destruction of farmlands caused by last year’s floods, N10 billion for critical projects in the Federal Capital Territory Administration, N35 billion for the National Judicial Council, and N70 billion for the National Assembly to support new members’ working conditions.

The allocation of N70 billion to the lawmakers sparked criticism and mixed reactions among Nigerians, with Femi Falana, a Human Rights lawyer, labelling the decision illegal and contemptuous in a statement.

According to Falana, the move directly violates Section 70 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999, which specifies the appropriate remuneration and allowances for National Assembly members.

“Out of sheer insensitivity coupled with impunity, the members of the National Assembly, regardless of political affiliation, conspired to breach the relevant provisions of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 by padding the Supplementary Appropriation Bill, 2023 to provide the so-called palliative of N70 billion for 306 newly elected members.

“While the masses of Nigeria are groaning under the excruciating economic pains unleashed on them by the ruling class, the National Assembly has awarded N228.7 million to each newly elected legislator. As if that is not enough, the members of the National Assembly have earmarked N40 billion to purchase 465 Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) and bulletproof cars for principal officials and members. However, the legislators approved the sum of N500 billion for 12 million indigent people in a country where the National Bureau of Statistics said, “62.9 percent of people (133 million) are multidimensionally poor,” he said.

An observer who spoke to BusinessDay on condition of anonymity simply said: “Anger is in Nigeria right now. The gap between the rich and poor; the have and have-nots is growing wider on a daily basis. While elected political actors may have got a ticket for endless wealth, those who voted them into power are dying daily as a result of economic hardship. The situation is unsustainable.”

Tunde Odesola, in an article published in one of the national dailies last Friday, noted that the Tinubu administration may have decided to tread the Buhari path that left Nigerians impoverished.

“While the noose continues to tighten round the neck of the populace, the Tinubu government, like a drunken Pirate, has earmarked N70bn of the N819.5bn supplementary budget to cater for National Assembly members just as another N40bn has been earmarked to provide 465 Sport Utility Vehicles for the lawmakers, while a whole family is being expected to share N8,000 palliative monthly.

“They populate the Senate, many sleeping senators, who don’t propose a bill in four years, yet they receive humongous monthly pensions having served as governors in their respective states, and currently collect outrageous salaries and perks for doing nothing at the Senate. Of the 13 former governors in the Senate, only former Ogun State governor, Otunba Gbenga Daniel, has declined to receive pensions and allowances from his state,” he said.

He also noted that the “Military service chiefs recently relieved of their duties by President Tinubu each received bulletproof SUVs, personal aides, guards, allowances for overseas medical treatment and other outrageous retirement benefits. Yet, 54 percent of the country’s youth are jobless even as 133 million Nigerians are multidimensionally poverty.”

Read also: Subsidy removal: Palliatives not enough to tackle poverty says Shehu Sani

Likewise, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) expressed its preparedness to take legal action against the Federal Government regarding the allocation of the N70 billion to the National Assembly; criticized the timing of the allocation, deeming it inappropriate.

“We are suing the Tinubu administration over its unlawful giveaway and allocation of N70 billion to the National Assembly at a time when some 137 million Nigerians are living in extreme poverty exacerbated by the removal of fuel subsidy,” SERAP tweeted.

However, two members of the House of Representatives recently defended the National Assembly in the wake of the controversy.two House of Representatives members defended the National Assembly amid the N70 billion allocation controversy in the 2022 Supplementary Appropriation Act.

According to Peter Akpanke from Cross River State and Dennis Agbo from Enugu State, the funds will be used for essential renovations in the new chambers and other necessary improvements. Akpanke pointed out that the current chambers are under renovation, and many offices are in poor condition, requiring urgent repairs.

Both lawmakers emphasised that no member of the National Assembly will personally receive any money. Instead, the allocated funds will be utilized to enhance the working conditions within the complex with Akpanke giving assurance that the National Assembly leadership would provide a detailed breakdown of how the money would be spent.