Late President Yar'Adua apportioned $62 million to be spent on celebrating Nigeria's 50th anniversary, it's 'Golden Jubilee' as many call it. Many hoped that this celebration would provide a pivot for the country to turn the country from its troubled path to a better future. However, Nigeria's Daily Trust newspaper reports that current President Goodluck Jonathan increased the Golden Jubilee budget to N10 billion, with his wife receiving at least N70 million for activities during the celebration period. In a country where contracts and budgets are inflated so as to funnel public money into private hands, many have become suspicious and highly critical of Jonathan's action. Is this inflation of the Golden Jubilee budget just one more corrupt move to ensure that politicians have the money they need to thwart their competition in the nation's upcoming elections?
Pre-election season is a busy season in Nigeria with politicians amassing large sums of money by any means. Politicians such as Eme Zuru Ayortor who swallowed 100 cocaine parcels and attempted to fly abroad with them in a futile effort to raise campaign funds. He was thankfully arrested before boarding his flight. Some politicians even stockpile weapons in preparation for violence that often erupts during election season.
Politics is a 'do or die' affair with incumbents doing everything to hold onto their power and opponents doing as much as possible to clinch their desired seat. And, it is easy to understand why. Members of the National Assembly become automatic millionaires once they enter the legislative body as they earn millions of Naira from their salary, more millions from their government-issued allowances and possibly billions from brown paper bags and duffel bags containing the occasional bribe.
SUSPICIOUS SPENDING & SALARY INCREASES
For these reasons, it is absolutely fair to criticize President Jonathan for increasing the Golden Jubilee budget by a whopping 161%. In fact, it is unconscionable given the fact that Nigeria continues to suffer from epileptic power supply, unemployment hovering anywhere between 19% and 28.57%, 10 million child beggars in the north and a host of other problems that the federal government needs to address. Further suspicion is warranted given that within one month of becoming acting President in February 2010, Jonathan gave $3 billion from the Excess Crude Account to governors. This move could unfortunately be interpreted as a payoff because his ascension would have been impossible without their help. Additionally, Nigeria's Senators recently increased their allowances with the Speaker set to receive N83.33 million per month (over $55,000) or N250 million quarterly ($1653977.41 as of June 2010). This in a country where 90% of citizens live on less than $2 a day!
THE GOLDEN JUBILEE BUDGET BREAKDOWN
Here is a breakdown of the new budget:
- Anniversary parade - N950 million
- National Unity Torch tour - N350 million
- First Lady's package (to visit select orphanages, National Children's Parliament session, party for 1000 children) - N90 million
- Presidential banquet - N40 million
- Cultural, historical & military exhibitions - N310 million
- 'Food week' - N40 million
- Secretariat equipment, accommodation, logistics & utilities - N320 million
- 50th anniversary logo - N30 million
- Ministry of Information & Communication (adverts in local & international press) - N1.52 billion
- Guests transport & accommodations - N700 million
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs (anniversary parties) - N105 million
- Party favors for foreign dignitaries - N450 million
- Variety Gala night & fireworks - N210 million
- Football friendly matches (international & local) - N200 million
- Event planners - N120 million
- Publication on Nigeria - N400 million
- Publication on Legislature - N150 million
- Publication on Judiciary - N50 million
- Golden Jubilee Plaza - N10 million
- Tower of Unity in 36 states - $540 million
- Debates, essays, conferences, lectures & colloquium - N150 million
- Concerts and carnivals - N60 million
- Masquerades, cultural events and durbar - N100 million
- 10 symbolic monuments of Nigeria's founding fathers - N80 million
- Tafawa Balewa Square memory tone - N40 million
- Security and protocol - N500 million
- 'Medicals' - N25 million
All these new changes made less than 4 months away from Independence Day. That only reinforces suggestions that the money is intended for something other than what is stated and will be used to line the pockets of the corrupt. The irony is that Jonathan got approval for the new budget from the National Assembly in the same letter in which he requested a 40% cut in the 2010 national budget. For that budget, Jonathan based the request on falling oil revenue due to the decline in the price of oil. That being the case, how doe sit make sense for this same government to afford the first lady N20 million to host a party for only 1000 children at N20,000 per head? The list of expenditures appears excessive given the economic realities and the fact that only a select and already financially fortunate few will benefit. There will be no long term benefits for Nigerians such as better electricity or road infrastructure.
It is unfortunate that Goodluck Jonathan seems to be using the same handbook many of Nigeria's corrupt political elite have used to fleece the nation while in office. Jonathan came to power during a period of uncertainty and was seen as a possible opportunity for transforming Nigeria. His promises of free and fair elections now lacks credibility given that his actions are seemingly funneling money to himself and others in anticipation of elections. Jonathan once said that "electoral fraud is the worst form of corruption". But, Jonathan should keep in mind that misappropriation of government funds is just as horrible particularly when such funds will likely be used to commit electoral fraud.
Thanks to fellow bloggers Shubby Doo, Medianemesis & Danny Bagucci for their mathematical assistance on this post.