Buhari’s Puzzling Power, Social Intervention Expenses

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Ring True with Yemi Adebowale, Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com; Tel: 07013940521 (text only)

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Email: yemi.adebowale@thisdaylive.com

A whopping N1.7 trillion! Yes, that is the amount of tax payers’ money injected into the power sector in the last five years as intervention fund by the Buhari government; yet, there is no corresponding improvement in electricity supply. This figure was unveiled during a recent public hearing on “the power sector recovery plan and impact of COVID-19 pandemic,” organised by the Senate Committee on Power. I thought, perhaps, there was a mistake somewhere and that the Executive would come out to debunk the statistic. But over two weeks after, this has not happened; meaning we can go with this figure.

The contribution of Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, during the inquiry was instructive. He said: “Government cannot afford to just spend money that you hardly understand why it is given… We want to be very critical on how funds are given to privatised enterprises. We expect that by now, our level of generation, transmission and distribution would have been far better.”

It’s so depressing that Nigeria still wallows in darkness. There is nothing for this government to defend on this N1.7 trillion expenditure on power, even if it makes public who got what, when, why and how. This spending is unjustifiable because there is no result, while huge funds flow to a sector already privatised. Did the businessmen who own 60% of these power firms put in this much money into them? Many feel there is fraud somewhere in this Nigerian power business. I also feel the same way. The details of this government’s power outlay will only come into the open when it completes its tenure in 2023. Surely, it will be more than this N1.7 trillion disclosed.

Let’s flip over to expenses on the provocative School Feeding Programme of the Buhari government. Our children have been fed with N196.6 billion since the inception of the programme in 2016, so says the federal government. Even with COVID-19 lockdown and schools shut, our blessed children are still being fed at home.

These kids are indeed lucky; nine million of them in all. Giving a breakdown of the expenditure recently, the Special Adviser to the President on the School Feeding Programme, Dr. Dotun Adebayo, said the total sum committed to the programme from 2016 to 2018 was N186.1 billion. He said N10.4 billion was released for the programme in 2020, “while the total spent in feeding our kids stood at N196.6 billion in five years.”

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts was not impressed with Dr. Adebayo’s presentation and resolved to summon the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele and the Director General of the National Bureau of Statistics, Yemi Kale, to appear and tender records of payments/details of the nine million children and 84,000 schools across the country benefiting from the school feeding programme.

The Chairman of the Committee, Wole Oke, frowned at the breach of the Public Procurement Act during the implementation of the programme and demanded for relevant authorisations from the Bureau of Public Procurement. He also demanded for budgetary approvals for the scheme from inception, as well as the lists of schools, locations, cooks and full details of expenditure.

The budget per child is N70. No wonder the kids I saw in Osun State “enjoying” the feeding were given portions incapable of satisfying birds. Just N70 per child and the scheme has gulped N196.6 billion in five years. It is curious; our kids are evidently not getting any result. Nigerian lawmakers must probe deeper to fish out guys that have been feeding themselves with our children’s school feeding money.

Spending on the N-Power Scheme, another arm of FG’s Social Investment Programme, has also been puzzling. N-Power is a youth empowerment scheme that provides a platform for young Nigerians to acquire skills. There is also the N-Power Volunteer Corps, a post-tertiary engagement initiative for youths with two-year duration. Participants in the schemes are entitled to a monthly stipend. This scheme has gulped N421 billion from 2016 to 2020, so says the federal government; but complaints of unpaid stipends pour daily. Over 11,000 N-Power beneficiaries have not been paid since January 2020. The statistics of participants is also contentious.

That was why the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts queried the expenses on N-Power when its managers recently appeared before it. There were also discrepancies in the figures declared. When asked to give account of the amount expended so far, against what they have on paper that the agency had expended N474 billion on the scheme since its inception, N-Power’s Assistant Director (Administration), stated that N421 billion was what they actually expended so far. Okon pointed to a typographic error on the last page of his submission, resulting in the amended figure of N421 billion.

Worried by the inconsistency in the documents presented to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts, its Chairman, Oluwole Oke argued that N-Power was out to “ambush the Parliament”. Oke declared: “Can we see your total for 2017 financial year? Can we see your total expenditure for 2018 financial year, vis-a-vis 2019 financial year and for the period of January to May 2020? Can we see your exposure from this your submission?” He also demanded for details of the salaries of the N-Power officials. Well, the lawmakers are still waiting for answers. Oke has since directed all the lawmakers to go to their various constituencies and verify the details of all the beneficiaries of N-Power listed, with a view to ensuring accountability.

Aside from the fact that expenditures on electricity, N-Power, and school feeding are ludicrous, many will agree with me that this country has not been getting the desired result. I sincerely hope that those in charge of these spending will amend their ways and re-direct the funds towards productive ventures. We have had enough of this hogwash school feeding programme and unending expenses on privatised power companies.

Lagos Speaker Has to Go

It was heart-warming seeing members of the Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CISNAC) protesting at the Lagos office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission against the Speaker of the state’s House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa.

They eventually submitted a compelling petition on Tuesday, and demanded that the EFCC should dig into the corruption allegations against Obasa and his cronies.

The Coordinator of CISNAC, Shina Odugbemi, told the Head of the anti-graft agency in Lagos, Mohammed Rabo: “Our mission here this morning is to present you a letter about an issue in Lagos State. Everywhere is awash with the accusation that the Speaker of Lagos House of Assembly is squandering money. We pick issues and we ensure that we follow issues to logical conclusions. This is one of the steps. We have come here today to present to you our petition that contains a catalogue of allegations… What we are against is that in the Lagos State House of Assembly, there is a conspiracy to sweep these things under the carpet.”

I challenge other civil society groups to join the campaign to force Obasa out of office. The profligacy, mismanagement and corruption in the Lagos House are frightening. Here, we have lawmakers junketing abroad for all sorts of seminars, wasting huge resources on frivolous things; abuse of office, spending N61 million on its inauguration, hosting the Conference of Nigerian Speakers with N350 million, dipping hands into public purse and issuing N80 million to their wives for an absurd trip to Dubai, financial misappropriation, using pseudo companies to get inflated contracts and all sorts of garbage. This is happening in a state with so much poverty and Obasa is the man coordinating these misdemeanors. This coldblooded Speaker often echoes that money is meant to be spent because he has N550 million to squander monthly. Obasa has to step aside to end these tomfooleries.

The opinion of Auwal Musa Rafsanjani, Head of Transparency International in Nigeria on the “Lagos House of Corruption” is useful. He said: “It is saddening that N80 million would be spent on such an event (trip to Dubai for their wives) when the health and education sectors in the state are in shambles. An act could still be deemed as corrupt even if it is approved officially. If this is not corruption, what would you call this?

“The truth is that there is something called official stealing, looting and diversion of funds and it is happening across Nigeria and what the Lagos Assembly has done is just to tell you what is going on in other states. It is also a reflection of what is happening at the federal level because states usually emulate the federal. Nigeria’s democracy has been hijacked by those stealing the funds meant for development. Imagine how many communities in Lagos would have clean water if that money was spent on development? Imagine if the money was used in equipping a primary health centre? Why spend it on legislators’ wives?”

The Chairman of Coalition against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL), Debo Adeniran, adds: “For me, it is not really the N80 million that matters but the fact that the state is not supposed to spend a dime on the wives of lawmakers who are not even elected officials. These legislators are already receiving outrageous allowances which ought to cater for their families. They need to explain to us why it was important for the wives of lawmakers, women who were not elected, to be trained in Dubai.”

Federal Character and Ministry of Interior’s Agencies

Today, I am focusing on the agencies under the Federal Ministry of Interior, as I continue my expose on the unending lack of respect for our federal character law by the Buhari government. All the agencies under the Ministry of Internal Affairs are headed by people from a section of the country. This has never happened in all our years as a country. Here we go: Comptroller General, Nigeria Correction Services, Jaafar Ahmed; Comptroller General, Nigeria Immigration Service, Mohammed Babandede; Controller General, Federal Fire Service, Liman Ibrahim and Commandant General, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corp, Abdullahi Muhammadu.

These are the facts and figures. At the Ministry of Interior, it is four out of four for just a section of the country. Buhari’s appointments are evidently skewed. We must all insist on respect for our federal character law in the interest of this beautiful country. The story continues next week.

Ali Ndume is Making Sense

The man who represents Borno South in the Senate, Ali Ndume speaks the truth no matter whose ox is gored. Ndume has been impactful in the last five years in the National Assembly. A former Senate Leader, who is at present the Chairman, Senate Committee on Army, declared last Sunday that federal lawmakers and other highly placed public officers “are earning luxury wages” to the detriment of Nigerian masses and must amend their ways.

Ndume preaches that the high cost of running a presidential democracy is no longer realistic. He said: “We have a budget of N10 trillion and only 30 per cent is going to the majority, whereas 70 per cent is spent on the minority. The system we are practising now is not fair either morally or socially. In the current system, workers are not being paid living wages, whereas a privileged few are earning luxury wages. The National Assembly members, including me, for instance, are paid luxury wages.

“How can we live comfortably when only a few of us are living a life of luxury while the majority is living in abject poverty? The N30,000 minimum wage is too small; it can make workers engage in corruption in order to survive.”

Thumbs up for Ndume, the warrior from Gwoza.