By Yemi Adebowale; firstname.lastname@example.org
Nigerians are persistently regaled with stories of massive loot recoveries by agents of the Buhari administration. The latest was last Sunday by the Information and Culture Minister, Lai Mohammaed who said that the government’s whistle-blower policy had yielded $151 million and N8 billion within two months. Of course, the recovered Andrew Yakubu’s $9.7m ‘gift’ is also still fresh in our memory. The former NNPC GMD does not look like one who would challenge the seizure. The burden of proof has shifted to this joker. Millions of USD has also been recovered from erstwhile defence chiefs, former oil minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke and other politicians. By my estimation, about $300 million must have been recovered in the last 21 months. In terms of Naira and property confiscations, perhaps, another N200 billion should be in FG’s kitty. Ordinarily, these massive cash seizures should be pleasant news to Nigerians. This is why many celebrate whenever agents of this government display huge cash seized. For me, making a show of seized cash in newspapers and on television is unnecessary grandstanding. This is an issue for another day.
As for the recovered loot, many celebrate without asking how these have impacted on the lives of traumatised Nigerians in the last 21 months. Has this been able to put food on our table? In practical terms, our dilapidated hospitals, schools, roads and other infrastructure have not benefited from these huge recoveries. Of what use are stories of recoveries that are not impacting on our lives? At times, I wonder if those celebrating think deeply before doing so. For example, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed just one hour of public electricity supply in my house but daily, they splash stories of millions of USD retrieved. This government that is splashing these stories owes electricity generation and distribution companies billions of Naira, which is hindering their activities. So, why can’t the government pay this debt with part of the retrieved loot so that we can have improved electricity supply?
The story this administration told us last year was that the federal government couldn’t spend the retrieved money because courts had not convicted the accused, with forfeiture of the money legalised. Haba! This is preposterous. The bulk of these retrievals won’t be challenged in court. Some good examples here include the $153 NNPC fund recovered from some banks. Diezani has told the world that the money is not her own. The N111 million recovered from INEC officials in Rivers State and the$1.30 million recovered from the Abuja home of Air Commodore Umar Mohammed (rtd), a member of the Presidential arms probe panel, are clear cases that will not be challenged by anybody. Again, most of the cases presented to us by the government do not look like ones that they will ultimately lose in court except there are things they are not telling Nigerians. It is a fact that the cases will take years in the court because of the Nigerian factor. This is the more reason the recovered loot should be spent on specific things now. Let’s even assume that the government ultimately loses all the cases in court and it is ordered to make refunds, I don’t think this would be a problem. Why? Because this country takes foreign loans running into billions of USD and we still manage to make repayments.
This talk about the recovered money being used to partly fund the 2017 budget should be jettisoned. For me, the money should be set aside as a special intervention fund to be managed by a committee of eminent Nigerians and used to tackle infrastructural challenges in school, hospitals and roads. It is a shame that the capital budget of our 16 federal teaching hospitals for 2017 is just about N4 billion, while we have over N1 trillion recovered loot locked up somewhere. Hospitals, schools and roads across the nation are also in tatters. Such schools and hospitals can draw from the special fund.
Suddenly, they are telling us that a number of key road projects like the Lagos-Ibadan road repairs can only be completed when the proposed dodgy $30 billion foreign loan is secured. This government must regard the retrieved money as a loan and start spending it now. Nigerians are desperate to feel the impact of the repossessed loot. Many have sent a clear message to the Buhari administration with the recent gale of protests against economic hardship. As we can see now, propaganda has its limits. The hunger in the land is becoming unbearable and the Buhari administration must respond appropriately. Showboating about repossessed loot is clearly not an appropriate way to respond to this.
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, was apt when he remarked that the worsening economic indices are indicative of the anguish which Nigerians are dealing with. “The double quarters of negative growth, high levels of inflation, worsening purchasing power of the naira and the increasing levels of unemployment are all strong indicators that all is not well. Today, some of our people can no longer afford to feed. Some school children are dropping out of school due to inability of parents to pay school fees. Transportation, power and health care are difficult for the ordinary citizen. There is general anguish on the faces of Nigerians due to poverty and hunger,” remarked Dogara.
These negative economic indices pop up daily. Just on Tuesday, the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, increased by 18.72 per cent (year-on-year) in January from 18.55 per cent recorded in December, 2016. The CPI, which measures the average change over time in prices of goods and services consumed by people, for day-to-day living, is 0.17 per cent points higher from the points recorded in December. Only righteousness can exalt Nigeria. We must all insist that the right things be done at all times by the Buhari administration. Spending recovered loot on infrastructure and social security is one of such steps.
Musings on Buhari’s Medical Trip
I am horrified by President Buhari’s persistent medical trip abroad but unfortunately, there is no law stopping him from doing this. The burden on him is more of a moral one, considering that he had doggedly preached that we should look inwards for our needs to strengthen the Naira and save our limited forex earnings. Buhari has disappointed many by running abroad for holiday and medicals. My foremost issue with our dear president is that he is spending public money abroad for his medicals. Our lawmakers must rise and put in place laws to stop this kind of profligacy, more so in a recessed economy. This must not be allowed to continue in a country where millions of Nigerians are wallowing in abject poverty. The other day, our President spent about $50,000 treating ear infection. Only God knows how much of public fund had gone down for his ongoing medicals. Since Buhari himself had clearly stated that taxpayers’ money would not be used to pay for foreign medicals of public servants, I demand that he should make refunds as soon as he returns to the country. As a reminder, Buhari announced in April 2016 that his administration would no longer provide allowances for medical trips by government officials, unless the case can’t be handled in Nigeria. He stated this at the opening ceremony of the 56th Annual General Conference and delegate meeting of the Nigeria Medical Association in Sokoto. The President, who was represented by the Minister of Health, Prof. Isaac Adewole said: “The government would not encourage medical tourism with the nation’s resources. While this administration will not deny anyone of his or her fundamental human rights, we will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard-earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria.” We have not been told what Buhari’s current health challenge is, but with focused investment in equipment and manpower by a forward-looking government, I doubt if there is any health challenge that can’t be handled in this country.
On the flip side, Buhari’s media team has been a big disaster in the management of the crisis arising from this medical trip. The team failed to manage the message from the outset, by being economical with the truth. This is responsible for the stream of wild speculations we are experiencing. There has been so much confusion in the information flow, with the media aides contradicting each other. Of course, too many cooks will always spoil the soup. This is exactly what we are getting in this case. Buhari has a retinue of media aides, resulting in confusion. The long list includes Femi Adesina, Garba Shehu, Tolu Ogunlesi, Lauretta Onochie, Bashir Ahmad, Sha’aban Sharada and Naziru Mohammed. They all have all sorts of funny titles. I still can’t fathom how our limited public fund is being used to pay a retinue of media aides amid recession. We should be cutting the cost of governance as being preached by Buhari. The reverse has been the case. Then, there is also the Buhari Media Centre (BMC), which has been creating all sorts of confusion too. The BMC with headquarters in Abuja has a large number of journalists, bloggers, media analysts and all sorts of “experts” contributing to the confusion in the information flow concerning Buhari’s medical trip. The BMC gulps millions of Naira monthly. Where is the money coming from? This is a story for another day. I hope to “deal” with this extensively very soon. Many will be shocked.
A Word for FRSC Corps Marshal, Boboye Oyeyemi
My dear Boboye Oyeyemi, the decision of the Kaduna State Government to bar FRSC check points in Kaduna metropolis and inner streets did not come as a surprise to many. I won’t be surprised if other state governments take similar action. Your men have joined our notorious police in inflicting pain on Nigerians at check points. It is not just traffic jams that they cause at these ignoble check points. They also use it to extort money from hapless Nigerians. I am sure that you know what I am talking about. Just send special squads round and you will catch these Corps from hell in the act. Boboye, your beloved FRSC is dominated by corrupt elements. Their nefarious acts have been on for years. You must crack down on these elements; else, the FRSC will become as hopeless as the police. Those who have turned these check points to toll gates must be fished out and dismissed. Your check points must also be limited to highways. The situation where we now have FRSC check points virtually everywhere, including inner streets, must come to an end. If you fail to swiftly reform the FRSC and act decisively, the repercussion will be disastrous for you and your men.