When Will Our Political Leaders Become Financially Disciplined?

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Lateef Adewole

The Insight by Lateef Adewole

There was this video of the President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi, which was trending for a period. It was a national broadcast where he addressed the people on the state of the nation. He complained of challenging economic situation and financial difficulties that the country is experiencing. As a result of this, he announced some drastic cost-cutting decisions in line with such prevailing circumstance.

All travelling that require government sponsorship is hereby cancelled for all categories of government officials, elected or appointed, from top down, including himself. That as a result, he was suspending his participation in the ongoing (then forthcoming) COP28 taking place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). There were many other stringent measures he rolled out to cut government expenses of needless ventures.

There was another video of President Hakainde Hichilema of Zambia while he addressed the parliament. He similarly talked about the dare economic situation of their country and how they could not afford to be reckless in their spending. He asked why should they buy expensive VX (SUV) for the Mayor, whose cost could put toilets in all the markets in their constituency.

He said he too never requested for new cars since he was elected, that he was still using the ones he inherited from his predecessor. Therefore, why should the Mayor be bought new car. He told them that whoever wants to ride in expensive luxurious car should do so using his personal money to procure it. These are governments in Africa going through similar difficulties as we have in Nigeria. What happen to our own governments (federal and states) and political leadership?

Since the coming of the new administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, there has been one criticism after another, of what happens in his government. If it was not about some difficult decisions he took to remove subsidy and the unification of the exchange rates, it was about palliatives. The new administration has faced endless attacks from those citizens who disagree with many of his decisions and actions.

To be fair, there are many genuine basis for such grievances. The consequences of these decisions have been harsh on the living standards and well being of the people. Things have never been the same since then. Nigerians have been struggling to survive. Their whole life has been disrupted. Meeting basic needs have become so difficult for many families and individuals. Food prices have skyrocketed. Hunger now pervades the land.

Transportation fares have shot up drastically. Many people trek long distances to their destinations or as part of their journeys when they cannot afford the exorbitant fares. One needs to go to the market and see how much everything has gone up in price. School fees are being increased. Many landlords have jacked up their rents to adjust to all these higher costs. Businesses are struggling to remain afloat. Things have been tough, sincerely.

So, when people who bear all these brunts complain and criticise the governments and their actions, it is genuine and understandable. However, mixing with them are many others who are just being mischievous. There are some who have programmed themselves and their minds to only see the negative sides of everything the government does and just criticise it. They don’t give it any thought or consideration. They don’t care how critical such decisions are to the wellbeing of the country itself. Afterall, we have to have a country first before we talk about any economy or the citizens’ survival.

This group is driven by different objectives. The overall aim is to make President Tinubu and his administration look bad in the eyes of the people. This can be associated with the hangover from the 2023 presidential election, which they lost, and the subsequent court cases where they challenged the electoral victory, which they still lost at both the Presidential Election Petition Tribunal (PEPT) and at the Supreme Court. The wound is still fresh because the keep licking it instead of moving on and allowing it to heal.

Isn’t it absurd that some people are still talking about a mandate of theirs that was ‘stolen’. It reminds someone of the former President Donald Trump, of the USA, who lost his reelection in 2020 to President Joe Biden. Ever since, he has not stopped sulking and claiming his mandate was stolen. May be, our own here copied that script from him. Afterall, their supporters behave in similar ways- “headless mob”. So, when such people criticise Tinubu and his government, I want to look deeper and think twice before joining them to do the same. “Ki eniyan ma lo pelu òbo jeko”.

In the midst of all the challenges that were highlighted earlier, which the country is facing truly, and President Tinubu kept asking for the people to be patient and endure, that those decisions were critical because of the precarious fiscal situation of the country, and that they are necessary sacrifices, we have not seen same reflect on the part of the government and political office holders. Such necessary austerity measures are not showing in the way the government has been operating. Not just the Federal Government, but across the states of the federation.

The first of such actions that exuded insensitivity and financial irresponsibility on the part of leadership was when the news broke that the national assembly wanted to purchase brand new SUVs for their members (senators and the house of representatives). It might have been less alarming since the cars are part of the “tools” they need to work with but for the outrageous amount being paid for them. It was stated that about N68.52 billion was allocated for that purchase, with each car cost put at N160 million! This led to outrage by the citizens who are battling with hunger. How could leaders be such callous?

The blame was heaped on Tinubu, as expected, even when the national assembly is an independent arm of government, which does its own budget and executes it. Could President Tinubu have stopped that purchase? I am not sure. That would have amounted to interference in the work of another arm of government. However, there is one principle I live by: leadership should be by example rather than precept. Today, President Tinubu is the leader of the country, irrespective of being in the executive. He has so much power and influence.

If sincerely he believes Nigeria is broke, reason he said the petrol subsidy was not sustainable and he removed it on his first day in office, in his first official speech as president of Nigeria, and he hopes to convince the populace of such claim, then, he should have found ways around such ostentatious purchase at this time. Either it could have been differed or the cost reduced substantially. Neither was done. But, is the executive also cutting cost? I doubt that.

In the defence of that purchase by the spokesperson for the senate, after claiming the SUVs were bought because of the bad roads across the country (one wonders whose responsibility is it to fix them), which they have to travel through in the course of carrying out their oversight functions, he threw jab at the executive when he told the media that Ministers drive three or four of such cars but no one is criticising them for it. All focus is usually on the national assembly. How true? If that is the case, how could a pot call the kettle black? The executive arm will have no moral justification to ask the national assembly members not to buy their own cars.

This continued as the president presented 2023 supplementary budget. There, many of such perceived wasteful spendings were again, identified. These include: N5bn for presidential yatch, N4bn to renovate presidential quarters in Abuja and N2.5bn to renovate the vice president quarters. N1.5bn for vehicles in the First Lady’s office, N2.9bn for SUVs for presidential villa and another N2.9bn for the replacement of operating vehicles in the presidency. The FCT Minister is also planning to spend N15bn to build a “befitting residence” for the vice president, as proposed in the budget of FCT.

Should any serious government that is crying of no money be found allocating the same scarce funds to these non-critical items? How will the implementation of these affect the people positively? It seems the government is more interested in their own comfort and not ready to sacrifice anything, while demanding same from the citizens. That’s unacceptable.

Rather than the government to focus on issues that will turn the fortune of the people around and direct available funds to execute them, they are using billions of Naira that might have to be borrowed to buy yatch, buy new cars for the presidency and the first lady’s office. For what exactly? I learnt that many newly appointed staff by the federal government are yet to be given cars and other needed facilities for them to function. This is understandable. However, the humongous nature of the money usually allocated for these items is what drives people crazy.

One laughable and ludicrous reason that I have heard many government officials gave for these expenditures is that they were already proposed and approved by the previous administration of President Buhari. This is why they are carrying on with them. How convenient! So, when a new government came in and realised how bad things have gone, took difficult and painful actions that have hurt the citizens badly with the excuse of no money, should such government now go ahead to implement any wasteful expenditure under same condition just because previous government had approved them? That’s preposterous.

The latest of such perceived profligacy is the federal government delegation to the COP28, Dubai. The immediate figure that was released was 1411. This size is only surpassed by the host country, UAE with 4409 and Brazil (3081). The ‘almighty’ China that is, ‘technically’, the most powerful country in the world today, has exactly the same delegates size as the country on the lowest rung of the ladder in term of poverty index- Nigeria. How could anyone justify such? This was my immediate reaction to that number too.

After endlessly being battered by the citizens, genuinely or mischievously, the government came out to state that they only sponsored 422 delegates. And that the rest are from different sectors; private and independent, but, all had to be aggregated under the Nigerian figure, as long as they are from Nigeria. That explained that number. Even with such explanation, I still saw many of Tinubu detractors kept quoting the 1411, just to keep it in people’s psyche. These are the people I said were not doing all these criticisms out of genuineness of their hearts and for the good of Nigeria, but as further ways to express their frustrations and pains after their loss of the presidency, leaders and their followers alike.

Even at that, many still see 422 delegates sponsored by the FG as too many, given the cost of flying and keeping them there for the period of the conference. The flight fare alone was put at almost a billion naira. We can only imagine what the total cost would be. My own subsequent concern has been the quality of these delegates. What roles do they have to play there? What will be their contributions? What impact will their presence make on the country back home? And so on.

We have read some funny compositions of that delegation to include aides, stewards, cooks, and even ‘side chics’. I can only hope it was a joke. The presence of a person like Toke Makinwa there stirred such insinuation and drew criticism. Only that no one has categorically stated that she was there on government’s account or sponsored by non-goverment agency or as an independent participant. In reality, her commentary on social media did not depict someone who has gone there for serious business related to the climate change issues for which the conference was organised in the first place.

On the flip side, I watched Senator Jimoh Ibrahim, who was also a federal government delegate to the conference, on Channels Television, Politics Today, where questions regarding that size, whether 1411 or 422, as being too high, was put to him. He justified it. He said that the size was not even big enough! I wondered what he wanted. May be, Nigeria delegation should have surpassed that of the host country. He stated that the size of delegation to such conference usually have influence in consideration and decision making in such conference, and Nigeria, being the biggest economy and population in Africa, couldn’t afford to be underrepresented. Critics didn’t buy that.

I have also read some articles of people who justify the importance of having Nigeria make her presence well felt at the conference. Such opinions believe that in a conference where issues of climate change are being discussed, where critical decisions that will affect the fortunes of countries like Nigeria which still depends heavily on fossil fuel as her mainstay, which such conference is aiming to eliminate, could not afford to be missing and should make her voice heard loudly. It is seen like they want to take food away from the country’s mouth.

This makes it imperative that Nigeria should be there to negotiate favourable transition plans and adequate compensation for it, given that it is the Western world and some Asian countries who were actually responsible for the problem of climate change, consequences of which Africa, and Nigeria in particular, are suffering from, in the form of increasing earth temperature, rising sea level that has resulted in flooding and destruction, desert encroachment and so on, when Africa did not contribute up to 5% to such destruction of the ozone layer. This seems to be a plausible reason. But, was Nigeria able to make her voice heard? Was it able to extract commitments to these effects? All these, we await to see as time goes on.

Like the Yorubas would say: “ilé làáwò, ka to s’omo loruko”. Whatever governments at all levels need to do should reflect the mood of the nation. They cannot be acting as if all is well while the people are dying in penury. Let no one put a partisan label on this too. Wastefulness, insensitivity and irresponsibility on the part of political leadership are not peculiar to any party, even if APC is at the centre. We have seen how governors from opposition party PDP and Labour Party have been equally accused of wastefulness.

The Abia State Labour Party Governor Alex Otti has been serially called out for his wasteful expenditures, including on their favourite Arise Tv Morning Show, by their “unofficial” spokesman, Rufai Oseni. Sadly, many leaders of that party and the Labour Unions, who are usually very vocal when criticising the APC-led federal government, suddenly lost their voices about what Otti is doing in Abia. Such is the hypocrisy and mischief I talked about.

Same thing happened in Osun State with a PDP governor, who has been accused of mismanagement of the meagre resources of the state and turned it to family empire. So, it is not about party but the politicians in government. All opposition lawmakers collected and defended the purchased the expensive SUVs. “Bi a ba b’érán wi, ka b’éràn wi”. Can we blame the politicians alone while we exonerate the masses? No. People get the leaders they deserve. What does it take for a political aspirant to get to office, with the endless burden that the same masses put on them, only to turn around to criticise their actions after they get to office? The people cannot eat their cake and keep it.

All we are asking for is that governments should let us cut our coat according to our cloth, not our size. Budgets are being presented by federal and states governments now. They are all deficit budgets. What does that mean? They will automatically borrow to finance them. Is it such borrowed funds, that will put the country and the people in more misery, that they want to waste and fritter away? That will be cruel. “Make una pity us nah.” We cannot continue like this. President Tinubu should lead the pack in fiscal discipline and responsibility. This will compel others to follow suit. “Esin iwaju, ni t’eyin n wo sare”.

If they refuse to heed wise counsel, there will come the day of reckoning. “Yio ma leyin, yio ma leyin, oro yi o ma leyin, ajantiele.” “One day, monkey go go market, e no go return”. A word is enough for the wise!

May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

You can follow me on:

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December 9, 2023.

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