Falana-led Coalition Faults Buhari’s Independence Speech

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Femi Falana

The Alliance for Survival of COVID-19 and Beyond, (ASCAB) has faulted some aspects of President Muhammadu Buhari’s 60th independence speech.

The group said some of the facts presented by the president failed to reflect existing realities.

The response tagged: ‘Separating fiction from fact, myth and from reality,’ accused the president misrepresented some facts.

The statement signed by ASCAB’s Chairman and human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, (SAN), faulted Buhari for his reference to the Social Investment Programme (SIP) of his government – the farmermoni, tradermoni, school feeding programme, job creation efforts, and the agriculture intervention programmes, describing as false claims by the president that the programme were the proof of the caring nature of his government.

ASCAB said the SIP was to be funded by N500billion annually over the course of the Economic Recovery and Growth Programme (ERGP).

The group said in the four years and four annual budget cycles since 2016, a total of N2trillion was appropriated in the budgets, however, only N300billion which is less than 20 per cent of allocated funds was ever released and expended on the SIP, including funds expended on the Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs).

“We also know, in the period since 2015, that poverty has risen, and so has unemployment,” said ASCAB citing the Household Poverty Survey, a five year study undertaken by the NBS which was recently released.”

Quoting form the report, the group said 40 per cent of Nigerian Households live in poverty, living on household income of less than N137,000 per annum; which is barely an average of N11,000 per month; and N366 per day (Reference?). Converted to USD at a constant exchange rate of N400 per dollar, this respectively amounts to $342.50 per annum; $28.54 per month; and $0.95 per household per day.

It argued that considering a conservative average household size of six persons, two parents and four children, it means that six persons in an average poor household live on N366 per day, and N11,000 per month, translating on the average to about N61 per person per day, and N1,833 per person per month!

ASCAB said the president added insult to injury by attempting to make comparisons between the pump price of fuel in Nigeria, and some other countries, including our neighbours, and some other crude oil exporting countries.

According to the president, petrol price per liter is N362 per liter in chad; N346 per litre in Niger; N326 per litre in Ghana; N211 per litre in Egypt; and N168 per litre in Saudi Arabia; all of whom are oil producing countries. The coalition said the president however forgot to compare minimum wage rate and poverty rates of these countries with those of Nigeria.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the minimum wage in these countries compared with Nigeria is as follows: Saudi Arabia – $7,585 per annum; Egypt – $$2,088 per annum; Ghana – $689 per annum; Niger – $1,367 per annum; Chad – $2,088 per annum; and Nigeria – $1,543. Across the six countries, only Egypt does not have a nationally mandated minimum wage, meaning the minimum wage only applies in the public sector” said ASCAB and that of the six countries, Nigeria’s GNP per annum is third in ranking.

“For Saudi Arabia, the GNP is $137,635; for Egypt, the GNP is $82,710; For Nigeria, the GNP is $65,707; for Ghana, the GNP is $7,137; for Niger, the GNP is $1,706; and for Chad, the GNP is $1,208. Similarly, the comparative poverty rates (measured as living under less than i$ a day) for the referenced countries are: Saudi Arabia – 12.7 per cent [the 10th lowest in the world; Egypt – 32.5 per cent; Ghana – 23.4 per cent; Niger – 41.4 per cent; Chad – 46.7 per cent; and Nigeria – 40.1 per cent.

“If we compare health and social services between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, again we are faced with the same sharp contrast with respect to the sense of and commitment to social responsibility of a government.”

ASCAB said in Nigeria, healthcare is expensive, and quality healthcare is unavailable to the generality of citizens and inaccessible adding that under the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) only about 3 million Nigerians are covered.

ASCAB said contrary to the official claim that Nigeria cannot fund infrastructural development without taking more external loans, it challenged the Buhari administration to be courageous enough to recover not less than N95 trillion which has either been diverted or withheld from the Federation Account by federal government-owned enterprises and International Oil Companies.

It traced its findings of the missing fund to reports of the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Limited, Auditor-General of the Federation, National Extractive Industries and Transparency Initiative as well as other official sources.

It argued that in Saudi Arabia, however, the Saudi health care network provides free care to the general public and some of the most sophisticated specialised care available anywhere in the world.

The government also sponsors a wide range of social services programmes aimed at ensuring that every citizen has a decent standard of living. Saudis have access to a national network of thousands of hospitals and clinics, and can obtain virtually any specialised medical treatment they might need in the kingdom compared with Nigeria, a similarly an oil producing and crude oil exporting country.

ASCAB said it can be seen that the President’s attempt to paint a rosy picture of a caring government pales into insignificance when compared with the countries he himself has referenced.

“The fact, separated from the myth is that this government has no business imposing more hardships on Nigerians, and the fact that they did this on the eve of the 60th independence anniversary is a measure of the level of disdain they have for us, and shows just how uncaring they are about our needs.”