By John Bulus
Even though she is called “the Giant of Africa”, a sobriquet that presupposes greatness in all facets of life, not a few Nigerians still wonder where the impact of her greatness lies.
In any case, her greatness has drastically waned or better still, consigned to the fiefdom of a few elites who seemed to have enthroned selfish interests above greater public interest even as they constantly appear myopic about the harsh economic realities of the present time.
Saturday Vanguard’s JOHN BULUS chronicles reactions of Nigerians over the FCT’s Minister’s decision to build “Party Halls” for President Goodluck Jonathan, his Vice and other government officials. Indeed, it may sound quite incredible, but it is absolutely true.
It’s either most Nigerians leaders or politicians have lost a sense of direction or they are simply not telling the rest of Nigerians the whole truth about the economy or the financial state of the nation.
In a world of stark unemployment and ubiquitous poverty, some people who are privileged to superintend over the affairs of the nation have chosen to play a fast one on Nigerians with the impression that their love for the nation surpasses all.
This scenario aptly captures the present mood of the country on the wake of the Federal Government decision to expend N2.2 billion for the construction of a new banquet hall at the Aso Rock Villa inAbujafor President Goodluck Jonathan.
Minister ofFederalCapitalTerritory, FCT, Senator Bala Mohammed stirred up this controversy on Tuesday during the defense of his Ministry’s budget before the Senate Committee on FCT.
Justifying what keen observers have already termed a wasteful venture,
Bala said “We noticed that it (existing hall) is inconveniencing; it is not in tandem with what is outside the country. Even smaller countries have better Banquet Halls near their Presidential residences.”
That is not all. Senator Bala has also said that the FCT administration is going to construct befitting official residences for Vice President Namadi Sambo, the Senate President/Deputy Senate president, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and his Deputy.
Again, he said: “The projects that will be funded under ongoing projects including the designing and construction of the residence of the Vice President; the residence of the President of the Senate and the Deputy Senate President; the Speaker and that of the Deputy Speaker”.
The projects are estimated to cost about N2.3 billion. While that of Vice President is placed at N2bn, the cost of designing and construction of the residences of the President of the Senate, David Mark; his deputy, Ike Ekweremadu; the Speaker, Aminu Tambuwal; and his Deputy, Emeka Ihedioha is also put at N300m.In fact, the Minister literally told the Committee that the N50bn allocated to FCT in the 2013 budget is rather too small for it as it needed more money to set up more infrastructures within the FCT.
The Federal Executive Council had in 2009 approved N7.1bn contract for the design and construction of a new official residence for the Vice-president of Nigeria. However, Mohammed did not tell the Senate Committee how much has been expended on the building so far.
It could be recalled that the then Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had announced the FEC approval of the project to journalists, saying, “Council gave approval for the award of a contract for the design and construction of the residence of the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in the Three Arms Zone, Abuja, in favour of Messrs Julius Berger Plc. with 20 months as completion period.
“The Vice-President currently resides at the Akinola Aguda House, within the precincts of the Presidential Villa, which is designed as a guest house for the President.”
Similarly, Nigerians have not forgotten that the Speaker and Deputy Speakers’ official residences were said to have gulped 628 million Naira (about US$5 million) on renovations during the regime of Honourable Patricia Etteh and her deputy, Babangida Nguruje.
Explaining why the building of a residence for the VP was considered a priority at this time despite the magnitude of problems facing the citizens of the country, the Minister said, “The Vice-President is staying in a guest house meant for visiting Heads of state. It is not right, it is not befitting for the Vice-President.
The former administration decided to give the house of the Vice-President to the Chief Justice of Nigeria, which was in line with what was contained in theAbuja master plan. It became imperative for us to provide accommodation for the Vice-President.
The Vice-President has no accommodation; certainly you will agree with me that it is unbecoming for any government not to provide accommodation for its Vice-President. We will now embark on the construction of a befitting residence for the vice-president.”
The Minister also on Wednesday after the FEC meeting insisted that there is no going back on the project as it is to ease the burden of office of the president.
Meanwhile, the development is coming at a time Nigeria’s debt profile is expected to hit all time $25 billion by 2015 according to Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, DMO. It is also happening at a time Transparency International 2012 report has placed Nigeria at 35th position amongst the list of most corrupt countries of the world.
Countries such as Togo, Mali, Niger and Benin Republics in African sub-region fared better than Nigeria. Also, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory can not boast of either foreign or local industries that may create jobs to Nigeria’s teeming population. Elsewhere, there is hunger.
Federal high ways are very terrible. The hospitals are hardly stocked with appropriate personnel and drugs, yet the country can afford to embark on white elephant projects.
Just recently, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi unleashed the nation’s frustration on federal workforce, submitting that it should be pruned down by 50 percent.
Nigerians react: Indeed, the lone development has prompted a galaxy of reactions from among Nigerians and the opposition members who flayed the government’s apparent extravagance.
President Jonathan is a spendthrift –Yinka Odumakin.
“President Jonathan is a spendthrift and he has become far in mood from the Nigerian reality and he can no longer be touched by the sayings and the anguish of the Nigerian people. He only looks at his own interest.
When you are building N2.2b dining hall, how can you tell agencies that Nigerians need their assistance when you are living such a reckless lifestyle? He is behaving like somebody who just got to power and say, oh, this is how life is; let me live it to the fullest.
His indulgencies are getting too much and he should know that Nigerians are watching and if the President continues to fibble , he will invite the reaction of the people. Look at what is happening in Egypt; this is the second President they are accusing in about three years. He should not push Nigerians to that point”. Other Nigerians who spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the issue berated the decision of the Federal Government.
The contract is insensitive — Aturu
Human rights activist and lawyer, Bamidele Aturu flayed the decision of the administration saying, “It is unbelievable really that the Federal Government would be talking about spending such a huge amount of money on a hall or enjoyment for owambekind of partying and hall at this time.
I think it is quite insensitive, it does not demonstrate that the government wants Nigerians to believe that the economy is not buoyant and that the government cares about the welfare of the majority of Nigerians given the immediate needs that Nigerians suffer in other areas of life due to the general decay of infrastructure, the lack of good roads, the fact that our educational system has collapsed and the miserable wages that workers are paid.
And this gives a lie to the kind of comments made by people like CBN governor, Sanusi Lamido that they should reduce the size of the workforce. This shows that Sanusi lives in the moon, he does not know the problem with our economy, he does not know that the problem with our economy is waste and corruption and this kind of extravagant, reckless spending by government. I am expecting his own comment on this kind of spending. So, it is wrong, it is unacceptable, this government must listen to Nigerians and suspend this kind of indefensible expenditure with immediate effect.
Govt is visionless — CPC
A situation where many Nigerians are hungry and you are constructing a N2.2 billion Banquet Hall shows this government has more or less gone out of order. I think they just wake up in the morning and think of what to do. They don’t seem to have any plan, when you deal with plan less people and visionless leaders, these are the kind of plagues that can envelop any nation.
Govt has beaten its own record in profligacy —ACN
Speaking through its national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, said the government has beaten its own record in extravagance.
“It is interesting that a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is comparing the country with ‘smaller countries’ when it comes to justifying a project that will only benefit a few elite.
Does the Minister know that the citizens of the so-called smaller countries enjoy uninterrupted electricity supply? Does he know that the citizens of those countries don’t have to queue up endlessly for petrol and kerosene; that they don’t have to depend on Okada for transportation; and that they have no road as terrible as Lagos-Ibadan expressway? “In any case, nothing can justify the decision to spend such a huge amount of money on a Banquet Hall in a country where many go to bed hungry most nights, where youth unemployment is at a high 46.5% and where projects that could make Nigeria to achieve the MDGs, less than three years to the target date, are almost non-existent.”
It’s a wasteful project — Sagay
Constitutional Lawyer, Professor Itse Sagay described the proposed amount for a banquet hall at the villa as a wasteful project.
According to him, “I am shocked because right now, the impression we have is that the government is short of money. And you know there is this big debate going on now on whether the civil service should be reduced so that there will be more money for development.
So, I would have thought if we have N2.2 billion, we will use it either for roads, hospitals, universities or other developmental projects rather than a banquet hall. In my view, it is a wasteful project for now given our tight financial circumstances.”
It’s a big time fraud— Bugaje
On his part, Alhaji Bugaje, a former National Secretary of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN, lampooned the Federal Executive Council saying “do you even need to hear my reaction? To me, it is reckless, senseless and it is a big time fraud.”
The President is insensitive —Adebanjo
Afenifere leader, Chief Ayo Adebanjo said the move “shows the insensitivity of the president if at this time he is budgeting N2.2 billion for a banquet hall when everybody is shouting about the high cost of living and poverty in the land.
What special function will it perform that will warrant the new one to cost that much? All our roads are already dilapidated. Instead of building roads for us, he is busy
looking for money to build a new banquet hall. It shows the insensitivity of the president.”
It’s embarrassing and scandalous — Uko
National President of the Igbo Youth Movement, IYM, Evangelist Elliot Uko said at a time the country was facing huge socio-economic problems, the N2.2 billion contract for a banquet hall was embarrassing.
“It is very embarrassing. The country is sick; we are being bombed everyday and Nigerians are in despondency.
For us, the contract is embarrassing and scandalous because there is frustration in the land with a large army of unemployed people roaming the streets and nothing is being done to provide them a source of livelihood.”