It’s time to halt the rising profligacy in public office
At a time when millions of Nigerians go to bed on empty stomach, it rankles beyond expression that public officers at federal and state levels indulge themselves in appropriating scarce resources on wasteful and ostentatious lifestyles. On the pretext that the roads are bad, members of the National Assembly recently procured for themselves Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) at N165 million each. The dust was yet to settle before details of the Supplementary Budget of N2.17 trillion from the federal government were released, with many of the line items inserted to fund the indulgence of political office holders. From Abuja to the 36 states, what the budgets being reeled out reveal is that perhaps because of the patronage system we run, it is now becoming increasingly difficult for the president and governors to be held accountable through institutional checks and balances.
Available reports indicate that in the first nine months of this year, all the 36 states of the federation have spent N1.71 trillion on recurrent expenditures. Most of these budget items are for allowances, foreign trips, office stationery, aircraft maintenance, purchase of bulletproof vehicles, feeding in government houses, buying ‘Fragrances’, funding plane charter services, etc. These acts of insensitivity are happening even when it is clear to the blind that Nigeria is currently assailed by sundry socio-economic and political problems, most of which were engendered by cumulative years of leadership failure at all levels. The indices of poverty everywhere make it difficult for us to understand the recklessness that drives this recourse to profligacy, especially at a period when prices of goods and services in the country have skyrocketed.
In practically all the 36 states, what goes for recurrent expenditures are expensive items that feed the vanity of political office holders. Yet, what these revelations about profligate expenditures on inanities indicate is an absence of responsible leadership. Indeed, this sort of recklessness is prevalent in the states because there is little accountability since most governors have rendered their Houses of Assembly prostrate. When last, for instance, were the public accounts of these states audited? Even at that, should those saddled with the task of governance be abusing their fiduciary responsibilities and spending scarce resources with reckless abandon?
While democracy is expensive everywhere, it is scandalously more so in our country due largely to the personal aggrandizement of the average political office holder. But given the dire economic situation that has in turn forced the federal government to remove fuel subsidy with the value of the Naira deteriorating every day, should public officials at the state and federal levels still retain all their undue privileges? The situation is worsened by the fact that in more than 25 states of the country today, salary arrears are mounting and so are pension obligations. And with unrestrained official profligacy, many of the states and local governments are already almost bankrupt while the federal government is finding it difficult staying afloat.
We repeat the questions we asked in a recent editorial on this same vexatious issue. Does democracy have to sack the treasury to serve the cause of freedom? Can a democratic polity led by an unproductive elite promote development? Where the laws and rules for the appropriation of public funds are made by the same people responsible for the high cost of government, who will bring the system to order? At a period that Nigerians are told to sacrifice more with policies that make their lives increasingly difficult than ever, should government officials not be sensitive to their plights? But much more importantly, how long can the nation continue to sustain this gruelling rip-off at the expense of the poverty-stricken people? Expending N5 billion to purchase a yacht for the president, N2 billion to buy vehicles for the First Lady and N15 billion to build a new residence for the vice president is, to put it mildly, very insensitive. With the national economy in dire straits, commonsense dictates that the highest tolerable sense of austerity should be applied in governance, with prudence and probity as watchwords. The present moment is not a time to wallow in irresponsible acts. It is not a period to widen the gulf between the ‘haves’ and ‘ have-nots’ or for public office holders to resort to brazen display of profligacy. There must be an end to these nonsensical budgets.