By Dayo Benson, Political Editor; Taye Obateru, Tony Edike, AbdulSalam Muhammad, Jimitota Onoyume,Â Chris Ochayi, Umar Yusuf & James Ezema
ABUJAâ€”ANGRY reactions have continued to trail Federal Governmentâ€™s plan to spend N10 billion to celebrate the nationâ€™s 50th independence anniversary.
The amount was one of the three items in the supplementary budget which the Presidency sent to the National Assembly a few days ago.
Notable Nigerian, Senator Onyeabor Obi, also a member the Board of Trustees, BoT, of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, argued: â€œAny spending of money at this time should be judicious and judicial. Fifty years is worth celebrating, but not extravagantly.
”However, the breakdown of the expenditure as we have seen shows a wide and varied nature of expenditure including children’s celebration. But, I expect the government to review the level of expenditure in line with the financial and social situation in the country taking into account the hardship and poverty pervading in many parts of the country, if not almost everywhere in the country.â€
Nothing worth celebrating
Relatedly, Professor of Political Science, Kimse Okoko, said it would be very wasteful to celebrate failure. According to him, the nation at the moment had nothing worth celebrating.
He said: â€œQuiteÂ frankly, there is nothing to celebrate about Nigeria. All the indices of development, we are no way close to them. There is nothing to rejoice about. We should be more serious as a country. The new administration should leave celebration and concentrate on addressing challenges in the country. At 50, Nigeria is a big big disappointment.â€
Also, Prince Tonye Princewill, a former Action Congress, AC, 2007 governorship candidate in Rivers State, said: â€œIt is misplaced without doubt to talk of celebration in that magnitude. There is nothing to celebrate. It should be a time for sober reflection. What do we celebrate when funds due the Niger Delta region have not been released? It will be misplaced to celebrate. All the government can do is to mark it in low-keyed manner.â€
A Second Republic federal lawmaker, Dr. Junaid Muhammad, described the proposed spending as ”unnecessary” against the backdrop of absence of social infrastructure in the country.
The former MP who argued that the Presidency goofed for seeking such a huge fund when hunger and starvation rage among the citizenry, questioned the rationale behind the celebration of the national day, stressing,”what do we have up our sleeves to warrant such big treat?”
Muhammad said: ”The decision of the Presidency to approve N10bn for the national day is insensitive, irresponsible and unnecessary at the time the nation is bedeviled with near-absence of social infrastructure and poverty and starvation is prevalent. In essence, what are we celebrating?”
It’s an insult â€”Ndu
However, the National Chairman and former presidential candidate of African Renaissance Party, ARP, Alhaji Yahaya Ndu, described the budgeted amount as a terrible mistake on the part ofÂ the government, stressing that there was nothing to celebrate.
He said: â€œI think this is a terrible mistake and an insult on the sensibility of the long-suffering masses of this country.
This is a country where a majority ofÂ its citizens do not know where the next meal is coming from and you are budgeting such amount to celebrate 50 years of independence when we should be hiding our faces in shame for not being able to achieve anything in that 50 years.
”’What are we celebrating? Have we become self-sufficient in anything, even in food production? Industries are dead, the Ajaokuta Steel Company is comatose; we are not building vehicles in this country and we are budgeting billions for independence anniversary. It is a shame.â€
Also, member, BoT, of Progressives Peoples Alliance, PPA, Dr. Sam Nkire, condemned the approval of N10bn by the government for the celebration, advising that the money should rather be channeled to the productive sector and job creation.
He said: â€œIf the N10bn is invested in creating jobs for millions of unemployed Nigerian youths it would be more rewarding.Â A situation where commercial activities are grounded in Abia State, especially in Aba, due to the activities of kidnappers and, the Federal Government is not investing a kobo in the fight against crime and criminality.”
Time for sober reflection
â€œRather than celebrating, that day should be used for a sober reflection.Â Nigerians should use that day to ask themselves questions as to where we went wrong? Why is the system not working? Why is there more crime now than at independence? Why are the road networks worst than as at independence?
Why is there more bribery and corruption today than it were at independence?Â Why is there more nepotism today than in the days of Tafawa Balewa, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Obafemi Awolowo? It should be a day for sober reflection and not a day of pumpingÂ Champagne and clinking glasses.
â€œI use this opportunity to call on Nigerians to begin to hold their leaders accountable for their woes and the lavishing of their resources. Nigeria should use that day to say no to rogue regimes that come to plunder the resources of this country.Â We should use that day to resolve to make sure that our votes will count in the coming elections.
â€œN10bn given to production enterprise will serve Nigeria better than giving it to public officers to share in the name of 50th anniversary.Â I see it as an avenue to further enrich public officers and politicians. We donâ€™t need to spend that amount for that occasion, especially as there is nothing to celebrate.â€
Ploy to steal money for polls
A senior lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Film Arts of the University of Jos, Dr. Jacob Agaku, viewed it as a ploy to siphon money for next yearâ€™s political campaigns, describing the planned budget as outrageous.
He said: â€œI see the N10 billion budget as a conduit to channel the money to their campaigns and not for the good of Nigerians. I feel the budget of N10bn is a complete waste considering what is on ground, what has been left undone and what the people are going through.
Agaku advised government to opt for a low-key celebration and do more of reflection on where the country is and where it should go.
Similarly, a civil servant, Philip Gyang, wondered why the same government that had been unable to provide employment for the countryâ€™s teeming youths or that has not been able to guarantee steady electricity would throw money away on frivolities.
‘Our leaders are shameless’
Gyang said: â€œSome people just want to use it as a smokescreen to steal money as they have always done. What are they celebrating with a whole N10bn when most Nigerians cannot afford the basic necessities of life after 50 years of independence? Our leaders are truly shameless; if not, they would have known that there is nothing to celebrate. It will just be another opportunity for the world to laugh at us.â€
For Isaac Johnson, a university student, President Goodluck Jonathan would be starting on a wrong note if he approved such a bloated budget. He said many Nigerians put a lot of hope in the President to do things differently and advised him not to blow the goodwill he currently enjoys among Nigerians away.
‘Don’t celebrate poverty’
Chairman, Niger Delta Civil Society Coalition, Mr. Ayankwe Nsirimovu, said: ”I think that, first, there is absolutely no need to spend that kind of money. Our external reserve is going down; our economy is in bad state.
So much of our money has been stolen by politicians, workers are asking for better pay. Where will the money to celebrate come from?
”You donâ€™t celebrate poverty. The government will be celebrating poverty if we go ahead. At a time when our people are killing our people, see Jos. It will be sad to celebrate. There is no electricity and you want to celebrate.
What are we celebrating? It is a slap on the people of this country if the Federal Government goes ahead with the celebration when a majority of the people live below poverty line. We should use the occasion to reflect on how to change the country for the better.â€
High Chief Anabs Sara Igbe, a foremost Ijaw activist, said: â€œTo me, that money is unnecessary. They should be able to tell us what we have achieved as a nation. I donâ€™t expect the Federal Government to spend such money. It will be a waste.â€
In the same vein, Conference of Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, condemned it, arguing, â€œthe proposed N10bn for the 50th anniversary celebration is what the Americans would call building a bridge to nowhere.
Because, actually, what are we celebrating? We went for the West African School Certificate, WASC, examinations and only two per cent passed.
â€œIt is wasteful, and it is not found in any budget either. So, President Goodluck Jonathan has to tell us where he is going to get that money out from. Unless he is talking of security vote and the security vote is not mentioned in the budget.â€
Amount too small for anniversary
A former commissioner in Adamawa State, Mr. John Ngamsa was of the view that N10 billon for the forth-coming anniversary was too small if it was really meant for the purpose intended.
Ngamsa said that for all the Armed Forces of the country to display their military technical know-how involved a lot of money that the N10 billion being proposed might not be enough, adding that more money should be added to the proposed amount to ensure that all school children in primary, secondary and tertiary schools were involved in the anniversary cerebration.
On his part, a frontline labour leader in the state, Comrade Edgar Simon, described the proposed N10 billion for the 50th anniversary as an attempt by the political class to siphon money while the workers are languishing in absolute poverty.