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Buhari borrows away our future, but does little to reduce govt expenditure

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Buhari borrows away our future, but does little to reduce govt expenditure

According to the Director-General of the Debt Management Office (DMO), Patience Oniha, Nigeria’s debt profile as at December 31st 2018 was N24.387 trillion. That’s an increase of almost N3 trillion from the N21.725 trillion official figure of 2017.

Outside all the grammar and arithmetic, I am no different from my old grandmother whose first reaction would be: “Where did all this money go?”

Two days ago, reports emerged that the Buhari administration will borrow another $1 billion from the Chinese-Exim bank to finance the Gurara 2 Hydro-Power project. It is a good cause, and ordinarily no Nigerian would blink an eye if the heavy borrowing has rubbed off positively on our lives. But it hasn’t.

How many projects have been completed by the massive loans this government has taken? Two weeks before Jonathan handed over power to Buhari in 2015, power generation stood at 6,000 megawatts. With two weeks before Buhari succeeds himself, generation is at 2,447 megawatts.

The story is not only that of a pathetic utilization of funds, it is also of a woeful management of existing resources. It is time Nigerians are educated on the dire implications of these huge loans Buhari is taking without a corresponding positive impact on our lives. As it is, even if oil goes back to selling for $150 per barrel, a chunk of our resources that would be better utilized building hospitals, roads and schools would have to be sunk into paying back our lenders. Now from having to borrow for any meaningful endeavor, we will gradually be condemned to foregoing development even if we get the right leadership to pay off debts.

It could be argued for the President that he has no power to force members of the legislative arm of government to cut down drastically on their outrageous entitlements. But how about the things he has control over? What has President Buhari done to cut down on recurrent expenditure?

Nigeria doesn’t need the number of agencies and commissions we currently maintain when the country is borrowing to stay afloat.

  • We could very easily do without a Women Affairs ministry which does nothing but scream ‘third world’. The interests of women can still be promoted by government without specifically having to operate a ministry for that purpose.
  • The Budget and National Planning should be a department in the Ministry of finance and not a whole ministry. As it is, we are passing budgets dependent on foreign loans.

Our destiny is in the hands of people who see little or nothing wrong in plunging us more and more into debt with excess baggage.

In 2015 when Buhari assumed office, he appeared enthusiastic about cutting costs and even went as far as promising to implement the Steve Orasanye report on reform of government agencies. I wrote an article then titled ‘Cutting The Cost Of Governance’ urging the President to among other things look into pruning down the law enforcement agencies we can do without while enhancing the police force. It didn’t make sense that the police were complaining of lack of equipment and communities were having just one or two officers at their police posts while government was wasting massive funds on a para-military outfit called the Civil Defence Corps to more or less play a subsidiary role. Why not draft as many as possible into the police force and cancel the NSCDC as an establishment?

In developed countries, the police ensures adherence to traffic laws. A lot would be saved if the Federal Road Safety Corps is abolished and police officers are trained to carry out their functions.

Buhari’s ‘97%-5%’ dividend formula along voting lines breathed some air of legitimacy to the agitations by the Biafra movement and the Niger-Delta militants, otherwise all he needed to do was increase the wages of the reformed militants to douse any fears, promise a more effective Niger Delta Development Commission and scrap the Niger-Delta Ministry which was more or less created as a pawn in President Yar’adua’s deal with the militant groups. That may not be possible in the current circumstances but there are still a couple more bleeding spots this administration could clot.

If two mega ministries like Power, and Works and Housing could be merged, there is no reason why the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Trade and Investment should still operate as separate entities. They are an even more perfect fit. A N12 billion severance package would cater for the staff of the institutions I have listed not at all needed in any other capacity at N3 million each for 4,000 employees. Which ever institutions government chooses to dispose off, it can lay off that many workers and not worry about pushing them into hardship.

A break from a traditional or accepted way of doing things is never pleasant but what is at stake is the future of an entire country.

To further highlight the gravity of our current situation, there is a 110% likelihood President Buhari will increase fuel price in a matter of months after the N30,000 minimum wage is implemented. We are in a very precarious financial situation and we will only make real progress when our leaders start to think better. President Buhari has to bend over backwards to ensure he reduces government expenditure. He is borrowing away the future of this country.

Umar Sa'ad Hassan is a lawyer based in Kano

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