Monday, July 6, 2009

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.

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.
Senator Iyiola Omisore,
Distinguished Senator of the 6th Assembly (2007 -2011) 
Some Senators criticized the cuts. These criticisms came from all political parties including that of Omisore, the PDP. Senator Ahmad Lawan (ANPP) said,
"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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TheAfroBeat said...

For a country that already competes at the bottom in terms of expenditure on education and health, we sure do have our priorities mixed up (As usual). As you rightfully point out, line items such as the governor's security allowance for 2009 could easily take care of that road project. And as for horse and stable allowances, i'd best keep my mouth shut lest i step out of line.

Thanks for bringing this issue up!

Beauty said...

Nigeria's government says it is happy with a UK plan to help refurbish their prisons to allow Nigerians in Britain's jails to be sent back home. The cost savings to Britain where the welfare of prisoners is almost equal to that of those outside the system will be enormous. We now await those out of the 800 Nigerian prisoners in the UK that will apply for a judicial review of the plan to move them to hell on human-rights grounds.

The Brutish Airways treatment might have been terrible but compared to the proposed deal that would allow Nigerian convicts to be sent home to jails that are seriously congested and often damage the health of prisoners and without their consent is a bit too far. There is a lot wrong in Nigeria but without the rule of law, there cannot be hope hence an appeal to our ignorant senators. Please wake up! said...

Why would anyone be surprised? It's like robbing Peter to pay Paul...trying to solve the Abuja road malaise while creating a phlethora of problems in an already decaying educational and healthcare sector, by allocating funds meant to benefit the general citizenry into just catering for a select few; so the senators & their wives & cuncubines can drive their benzes and royces all on the backs of ordinary Nigerians...wonder why these imbecile senators and Yar'dua are not having a pay cut on their do-nothing-exhorbitant-salaries + kickbacks to fund this extravagant lifestyle they're living in Abuja?!

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