Jonathan Spendthrift: Enough is enough
Written By The Punch Newspaper 4th December 2012
NOTHING typifies the frivolous, insensitive and completely inept leadership troubling Nigeria currently than the recent approval of a N2.2bn banquet hall for Aso Villa by the Federal Executive Council. Coming at a time when the country is buffeted by serious security and other challenges, it demonstrates that this government is not a thinking one. Just one of the dozens of eye-opening government expenses, President Goodluck Jonathan is proposing to build a party hall in the palatial Aso Villa while millions of Nigerians are hungry and jobless. Like the fifth Roman Emperor, Nero, Jonathan is fiddling around while the nation is burning. This disgustingly lavish lifestyle must be curbed.
The justification is as galling as the project. The FEC hinged its decision to award this contract mainly on its belief that smaller countries have better banquet halls near their seats of power. The Federal Capital Territory Minister, Bala Muhammed, who briefed the press on the issue, added that the existing hall was inconveniencing and that the proposed 150-seater hall would have such facilities as “security, hall conveniences, technical room and press briefing room that are more and more enhanced so that national broadcast can be done from there.” This has taken profligacy in public expenditure to absurd lengths.
Jonathan probably expects Nigerians to give him and the other FEC members a standing ovation for initiating the project. But he is greatly mistaken. This is as reckless as it is feckless. With all its wealth, the United Kingdom houses its Prime Minister modestly at 10 Downing Street. Its State Dining Room accommodates just up to 65 guests and is also used to host the PM’s monthly press conference.
Other reasonable leaders, including the Presidents of Malawi and Uruguay, have demonstrated good leadership values by their modest lifestyles. As soon as she came to power earlier this year, Malawian President, Joyce Banda, decided to sell off the country’s only Presidential aircraft and a fleet of 60 Mercedes Limousines. She prefers to use private airlines. Banda’s predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, had defended the purchase of the jet as a “must” for a national leader in 2009. The same woman recently announced a 30 per cent cut in her salary. This means that Mrs. Banda’s salary will drop from the reported £37,000 a year to £26,000.
On his part, the Uruguayan President, Jose Mujica, not only drives a 1987 Volkswagen Beetle, but also stays at his wife’s farmhouse. Besides, he donates 90 per cent of his monthly salary to charity. “I’m called the poorest president”, he had said, “but I don’t feel poor. Poor people are those who only work to try to keep an expensive lifestyle, and always want more and more…This is a matter of freedom. If you don’t have many possessions then you don’t need to work all your life like a slave to sustain them, and therefore you have more time for yourself.”
Also, the King and Prime Minister of Norway reportedly fly commercial airlines. The interesting thing about Norway is that it produces almost the same amount of oil as Nigeria. But while it has successfully navigated through resource curse to be among the richest countries in the world, Nigeria, in spite of its abundant natural resources, is among the poorest. Norway’s success is not by magic but by prudent management of its resources.
Jonathan government has continuously demonstrated that the interest of the larger Nigerian citizens is not its priority and that profligacy is its cardinal principle. There are many depressing examples. In the 2011 budget, N18bn went for the maintenance of presidential planes, which could provide decent accommodation for 18 million people going by the UN-Habitat estimates. In the 2012 budget, it set aside N1.9bn for the purchase of an additional aircraft for the already bloated Presidential fleet and N1.5bn for guest houses for some senior lawmakers. This is happening in a country where a prized possession for many is a generating set.
Nigeria is buckling under the weight of Jonathan’s propensity for the absurd. Allegations are flying everywhere about the monumental level of government ineptitude in responding to insecurity. Almost on a daily basis, bandits and Boko Haram terrorists are killing scores of innocent Nigerians. A recent report by the British-based Economist Intelligence Unit ranked Nigeria as the worst place for a baby to be born in 2013. Nigeria is 80th out of the 80 countries surveyed. Infant and maternal mortality in the country is among the highest in the world. Life expectancy for a child born in Nigeria is 51.9 years whereas, for a small country like Gabon, it is 62.7 years; Mauritius is 73.4 years; and Libya, 74 years.
The 2011 Human Development Index report by the United Nations’ Development Programme placed Nigeria 156th out of 187 countries surveyed. UNDP says, for almost a decade now, Nigeria has been recording consistently high economic growth rate that has not produced commensurate employment opportunities and reduction in poverty among its citizens. Poverty is endemic in the country as over 70 per cent of the citizens live from hand to mouth. An estimated 11 million Nigerian children of school age are out of school. Out of this number, about 7.5 million are girls.
With a GDP Per Capita of $2,500, malnutrition wracks 46 per cent of the population, unemployment rate was 23.9 per cent in 2011 and youth unemployment rate was as high as 46.5 per cent in the same year. It is insulting that the President is creating an atmosphere of wealth and luxury for himself. In the 2012 Mo Ibrahim Index for African Governance, Nigeria was ranked 43 out of 52 countries assessed. The country’s overall score of 42.0 did not even match up to the West African average score of 51.9. Smaller countries just emerging from the ravages of war, such as Liberia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Angola, are relatively better in development indices. Poor infrastructure and harsh economic environment have led to the shutdown of many companies. Some of these companies have relocated to these same smaller countries, leading to massive loss of jobs in Nigeria. This is a grim reminder of North Korea whose leader lives in opulence while the entire populace live in abject poverty.
Regrettably, the Jonathan administration is no longer evincing any hope. The cavalier attitude of the National Assembly is also regrettable. In the life of this administration, corruption has assumed a monstrous status. According to SUNDAY PUNCH investigation, over N5tn in government funds has been stolen through fraud, embezzlement and theft since President Jonathan assumed office on May 6, 2010. Sadly, as The Economist puts it, “Many Africans are ambivalent about their leaders’ extravagance; disgust at profligacy mingles with pride at the display.”
The Jonathan government has demonstrated complete lack of judgement in initiating this project. The citizens, through civil society groups, should rise up to salvage what is remaining of this country. Nigerians should wake up and demand modesty from their rulers. Leadership is about self sacrifice, assertiveness, service, prudent management and the ability to think and galvanise the populace towards achieving the vision of the leader for the common good of all.
Jonathan should curb this regal lifestyle and lavish spending of public money. He should step aside if he cannot do this.