Although Nigeria's Senators blatantly violated their Constitutional obligation to 'sit' for at least 181 days last year, they are working overtime to ensure that their presence is felt in 2009. On July 1st, the Senate cut N6.2 billion in budgetary allocations for education and healthcare spending in the capital city of Abuja also known as the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). That money was instead funneled to finance the N25 billion Abuja Road project. N250 million was also slashed from a N350 allocation in the FCT budget to buy "horses and stables" of the FCT for the road construction project. While it is understandable that Nigeria faces a budgetary deficit, and has been racking up more international debt, some of the Senate's budgetary changes are questionable.
THE MAN (MEN) RESIDENTS OF ABUJA HAVE TO THANK
This initiative to fund the Abuja Road project stemmed from the actions of Senator Iyiola Omisore. He defended his actions by stating that the budget cuts "would reduce the existing pressure on the existing facilities in the main city."[sic] Omisore is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations. He represents Osun State and is a member of the People's Democratic Party (PDP). According to his personal page at the National Assembly's website, his "legislative interests", (and we can only assume that these issues were the one's upon which he campaigned upon and pledged to his constituents that he would work on), include "Legislation on poverty alleviation, poverty supply welfare issues." If there is any truth to the Senator's publicly asserted commitment, then, the question to be asked is exactly how does cutting spending in education and healthcare achieve his stated goal of "poverty alleviation"? It must however be noted that President Yar'Adua also plays a role in this mystery because his office initially requested that N4.18 billion be cut from the FCT's education budget and that N2.1 billion be cut from the health budget to satisfy the funding needs of the two major road projects that constitute the Abuja Road project.
Distinguished Senator of the 6th Assembly (2007 -2011)
MY THOUGHTS"We cannot wait until 2010 before we treat our citizens and we cannot afford to keep our children or wards illiterate and that they should not go to school until 2010..."
During tough economic times, it is understandable that funding for very important initiatives will be cut. That is the reality of a global economic slowdown and Nigeria is like any other country that must tighten its belt. However, one cannot ignore the fact that if certain initiatives had not received as much funding in the first time, there just might be more money for the the things that matter the most. The funding for horses and stables at this time seems trivial in comparison to the need for educational and health funding in Abuja. It is understandable that horses are a crucial aspect of northern and therefore Nigerian culture that should be preserved, but what is unclear is whether that is something the federal government and not private investors should back with millions of Naira.
Additionally, Abuja is a city adjusting to its growing popularity and population. As such, roads and other transport-related infrastructure must be maintained and improved upon. Despite this, should education and health be secondary to transportation issues? Considering that quantifiable benefits in education and health are crucial for the President's promised Vision 2020 plans, it is preposterous that the same President who preaches not just Vision 2020 but advocates re-branding would demand a cut in spending for education and healthcare. Particularly if little to no mention was made about alternative sources of support for education and healthcare in Abuja. Add to that, the fact that the individual who presented these cuts in the Senate has publicly committed himself to "poverty alleviation". The unfortunate irony of all this is that the people for whom this money for education and health could have benefited may never even know of these developments as a consequence of their socio-economic position. Something that could have been aided by the money that will now go towards building better roads for all the shiny new cars that many Abuja residents are fortunate to own.
It is no secret that education and health care are key to creating an environment where entrepreneurs can do their part to create employment and other tools necessary for a progressive Abuja and indeed, a progressive nation. Even though the cuts are only from the 2009 FCT budget, it is quite possible that the ramifications of this action will be felt for years. Nigeria cannot afford to not educate its citizens, especially because Nigerians need the educational tools to continue to compete in the global economy. At present they are facing a challenge, what with Nigerian school teachers regularly on strike, educational institutions churning out graduates that are considered ill prepared for the work force and schools apparently churning out more 'prostitutes' than employed graduates. Without the necessary funding and support, how will these Nigerians be able to create and sustain a better Nigeria?
Not to mention that road projects tend to be inefficient, with cost rising quicker than one can anticipate. As such, did it really make sense to take money from education and health care to fund a road project? Could money not have been taken from the various "allowances" afforded the Distinguished Members of the National Assembly? Or, from their still exorbitant salaries?
Cutting funding in the FCT's 2009 budget for education and healthcare seems to make little sense considering the challenges all areas of Nigeria face during these tough economic times. There is still time to announce an alternative source of funding for these initiatives in the near future. Hopefully, some balance can be found between paying for Nigeria's very needed infrastructure and essentials like education and funding that the nation's future will desperately depend upon.
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