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By Chikezie Omeje
President Muhammadu Buhari came to power riding on a reputation of integrity based on years of living an austere and Spartan lifestyle. His lifestyle contrasted sharply with many of his contemporaries who occupied public offices and who relished ostentatious living.
The President was also known for his simplicity, in taste, clothing and living standard. Thus, the notion of Buhari as a more financially prudent and disciplined political leader who would bring positive change into public finance reverberated around the world when he announced his assets in September 3, 2015.
“The documents show that the retired General has indeed been living an austere and Spartan lifestyle, contrary to what many might expect of a former Head of State of Nigeria and one who has held a number of top government positions, such as governor, Minister of petroleum and the head of the Petroleum Development Trust Fund (PTDF)” Garba Shehu, his Senior Special Assistant on Media said, referring to the assets declaration to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB by Buhari.
But it appears that times may have changed, as the President’s austere lifestyle may be giving way to opulence and ostentatious living.
Although icirnigeria.org does not have access to the inner chambers of the President’s residence in the Presidential Villa, details of the 2017 budget point in this direction.
The budget for the State House has not reflected his previous “Spartan life” as spending on frivolous items has surpassed that of Goodluck Jonathan, his predecessor, whose presidency had a record of financial profligacy.
The 2016 State House Headquarters budget was the beginning of an outrageous extravaganza under Buhari’s watch as frivolous items were inserted into it while many others were inflated.
For example, N322,421,971 was budgeted for “linking of cable to driver’s rest room at villa admin.”
In the same budget, N213, 873,953 was appropriated for “linking of cable from Guest House No.9 Generator House to Gate”. As much as N254, 587,922 was also budgeted in 2016 for “Renovation work On 8 No. Blocks Of 16 No. 2 Bedroom Flats At State House Security Quarters.”
Also in 2016, N3, 914,268,592 was budgeted for “Annual Routine Maintenance of Villa Facilities” but luckily for Nigerians this year, this particular provision that was introduced in 2016 did not surface again in the budget.
Some of these outrageous proposals were blamed on “budget padding” by either ministry officials or the National Assembly. And the presidency promised that this would not be repeated in subsequent budgets. Many people expected that the change promised by the administration would reflect in the 2017.
But a close scrutiny of the 2017 budget proposal shows that no clean-up was carried out on the budget, especially that of State House Headquarters.
The details of the budget are the same as the previous year and contain other items that are even more outrageous. Buhari who had just five homes and two mud houses in Kaduna, Kano, Daura and Abuja before he became president has proposed in the 2017 budget to spend the sum of over N5.6 billion to repair residential houses in the Presidential Vila, Aso Rock, Abuja.
Last year, the government budgeted N642 million for repair of the same residential houses and almost N4 billion to repair office buildings in the Presidential Villa.
If the National Assembly approves the 2017 budget proposal, the president will make the dubious history of spending half of the State House Headquarters’ budget for two consecutive years on repairs and rehabilitations.
The Presidential Villa has not been hit by earthquake or any other natural disaster that could have necessitated such huge repairs. It is a matter of wonder that a prudent president will make such proposal or allow such sums of money to be spent on mere repairs.
The 2017 budget for State House Headquarters is N11, 020,382,572, down from 11,550,068,521 in 2016. The same budget under Jonathan in 2015 was only N5, 090,764,277 and N8, 739,307,625 in 2014.
The 2017 appropriation for repairs is even lower than the previous year as a total of N6, 587,759,993 was budgeted for repairs and rehabilitations of Presidential Villa in the 2016 budget.
A breakdown of repairs and rehabilitations in the State House in 2016 includes N3,914,268,592 for repairs of office building, N642,568,122 for rehabilitation of residential houses, N1,832,558,638 for repairs of electricity installations and N198,364,641 for repairs of defence equipment.
Despite the public outcry that followed the huge amount of money for repairs of houses in the Presidential Villa in the previous year, the presidency has proposed to spend another N5,847,384,012 in 2017 on rehabilitation in the State House. Repairs of residential buildings will gulp N5,625,752,757 while the remaining N221,631,255 will be used for electrical repairs.
In 2015, Jonathan budgeted only N1,126,514,277 for repairs and rehabilitation in the State House. But Buhari spent nearly N4 billion to rehabilitate office buildings alone in 2016. Likewise in 2014, Jonathan spent a total of N2,525,000,000 on repairs and rehabilitation of offices and residential building in the Villa. A breakdown shows that while N505,000,000 was spent on repairs of residential buildings, N1,650,000,000 was spent on repairs of office buildings while N150,000,000 was expended on electrical repairs. The sum of N220,000,000 was spent on rehabilitation of defence equipment.
There are also other Presidential Villa maintenance expenses that are scandalous when compared to previous years under Jonathan. The Buhari government proposed N6,121,643 in 2016 for sewage charges for the State House. But in 2017, it has proposed a whopping N52,827,800 for the same purpose.
Jonathan on the other hand spent only N4,957,143 in 2015, and N9,233,645 in 2014 on sewage.
Under Buhari the water rates rose to N76, 400,004 in 2017 budget proposal from N18, 719,682 in 2016. Under Jonathan it was N15, 158,694 in 2015, and N28, 236,023 the previous year.
The Federal Capital Territory Water Board in the budget proposal has not increased water rate for Abuja residents. So it is baffling why the cost of water supply to the villa has suddenly sky rocketed.
Again a comparison of electricity spending with the Jonathan administration shows more funding going into the item. In 2016, N45,332,423 was spent on electricity for the State House, but it jumped to N319, 625,753 in 2017.
But under Jonathan N36, 708,974 was spent in 2015 and N68, 377,620 in 2014 on electricity.
The presidency would be spending N556,592,736 for honorarium and sitting allowances in the State House Headquarters in 2017. About 507,518, 861 was budgeted for the same purpose in 2016. But in 2015, Jonathan spent only 174,471,371 for the same item.
Buhari will also continue to budget for the elusive and ever changing price of “Residential Rent” in the State House. This time, the landlords in the Presidential Villa have increased their rents to 77,545,700 in the 2017 budget as against 27,735,643 last year. The residential rent in the last two years of Jonathan presidency was N22, 459,575 and 41,835,336 for 2015 and 2014 respectively.
Probably for the first time in the history of budgeting in Nigeria, the State House will also be getting a tiny bite of the money for the fight against corruption as N8, 539,200 is budgeted for “Anti-Corruption” in the Presidential Villa.
Nearly a billion naira was budgeted for vehicles in the State House Headquarters last year but again 198, 000,000 is pencilled for “Motor Vehicles and Buses” in the 2017 budget.
This year, the President budgeted N739, 487,784 for his international travels alone and another N239, 201,008 for local travels, both still under a billion naira. This is even an improvement to 2016 figure of N1, 274,135,577 for both international and local travels. The cost was reviewed downward perhaps due to public criticism that the President was always in the air.
Plenty newspapers will also be read in the Presidential Villa this year as the budget for dailies rose from 10,265,552 in 2016 to N28,344,200 in 2017.
In these austere times, if anyone expected the change promised by Buhari to begin with the Presidential Villa, such prospects appear to have been misplaced as the details of the 2017 have shown.
The onus is now on the National Assembly, which is due to start consideration of the 2017 budget soon, to properly scrutinize the budget with a view to eliminating areas of waste.
Such money that would have gone into frivolities could be diverted into areas where funding is urgently required.
For instance, about 2.5 million children in the country are severely malnourished and need treatment with ready to use therapeutic food for many of them to survive.
According to United Nations Children Fund, UNICEF, it costs about N50, 000 to treat each child.
The displaced people in the North East are facing hunger and starvation. The United Nations had announced in a statement that about 5.1 million people may be affected by food shortages due to the insurgency in North east Nigeria and the inability of people to go to their farms.
“A projected 5.1 million people will face serious food shortages as the conflict and risk of unexploded improvised devices prevented farmers planting for the third year in a row, causing a major food crisis,” the U.N. Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Peter Lundberg, said in a statement.
Sadly, there is no prospect that more money would be pumped into emergency and humanitarian efforts in the north east as the President and his men have dismissed reports of impending humanitarian catastrophe in the area if the situation is not addressed.
In a statement released by his Senior Special Assistant on Media, Garba Shehu, the President dismissed the fears of a food and nutrition crisis as unfounded, indicating that the government does not understand the magnitude of the problem or was reluctant to face it.
“We are concerned about the blatant attempts to whip up a non-existent fear of mass starvation by some aid agencies, a type of hype that does not provide a solution to the situation on the ground but more to do with calculations for operations financing locally and abroad,” the President said in the statement.