By Lasisi Olagunju
It is difficult not to describe Nigeria as an underworld – a world of vampires. Our government wants to renovate the National Assembly building with N37 billion. Lawmakers of all political parties suggested it; our prudent president endorsed the profligacy. Senate President Ahmed Lawan confirmed this: “We met the president and (it was) related to the condition of the complex. The president responded and said he was going to renovate the complex. Phase one of the renovation will commence – the chambers and committee rooms in the white house. N37 billion was sourced and was given.”
It should be very clear now that in search of saviours, the afflicted has run from scammers to swindlers. It is extremely difficult to know who to trust again. And here I remember Price Warung’s ‘Tales of the Early Days’ and his description of the underworld as that place where the ‘good’ man is the notorious criminal; the ‘bad’ man is the one who seeks to act honestly and purely. Our nation is that underworld where proper and improper usage of powers and privileges go together like the monk and the hood.
Robert Louis Stevenson wrote many interesting novels and essays. One of them is Treasure Island – a gripping story of pirates, rum and blood. I won’t use that storyline to describe our parliament and what they do with the mandates they hold. At least, not yet. Even R.L. Stevenson did not say legislators were pirates, but in another of his works he said: “we all know what parliament is, and we are all ashamed of it.” What did he see, know or smell that made him get ashamed of the parliament of his days? Whatever it was could not be as shameful as what we live with here.
Let us start from that figure – N37billion. Someone said “it is not the lie that annoyed me but the insult to my intelligence.” How was that figure arrived at? I am sure that our lawmakers are surprised we have not asked this question. We stopped asking questions a long time ago because we are a conquered people – and persons in captivity don’t query their snatchers. Even if we dare ask any question, we are sure to get no answer because, as said again by Stevenson, “the cruelest lies are often told in silence.”
The underworld has its own accounting principles lacking in scruples but precise in its figures. It is not difficult to see that this thirty seven billion naira translates to one billion naira per state. When you add the Federal Capital Territory to it, the account is balanced. Can you see now that on the dining table of Nigeria, the powerful is sharing out the collective meat with his teeth of larceny. When my people see this, they say it is God’s judgement that will deliver justice here.
Your ‘borrow-borrow’ government has voted N37 billion for the repairs of the National Assembly building. That is a vote for 469 big men and women. Your government believes it has been fair, it voted N22.89 billion for 200 million Nigerians for the repair of their roads. Please stop defending this in the name of politics. You cannot insist that the regime is as good as excellent in running your affairs with this debauched profligacy. My dictionary says ‘profligacy’ means “recklessly extravagant or wasteful in use of resources.” That cannot be an edifying description for any leader and leadership. Yet the word has another meaning: “licentious; dissolute.” Don’t ever think there is a gap between the two meanings. They both denote – and connote very bad news. The first will always lead to the second; the wasteful is the dissolute.
When bad behaviour festers unchallenged, it becomes bold and audacious. And I am surprised that our lawmakers and their bosses in the Villa did not know (and did not ask) how Tortoise got his ugliness. That creature became the carrier of a broken shell because he was a thief who stayed too long and stole too much for the farm owner to meet and smash him against his wall. Our good men, borrowing and misspending the funds, running the country into a sea of debts risk a future of ugliness. And this is not a curse.
The legislature should not be a coven of witches holding orgiastic meetings “where the devil himself is in full swing.” But the 9th National Assembly is making it look like it occupies that world that is above all forms of moral leash. It is making it look like the previous lawmakers were timid in the perfidy pinned on them; that their badness was just not courageous enough to do direct debiting of the public till. The refuge of the timid was in unexecuted or badly executed constituency projects. These new ones are of the 21st century – savvy and bold and so, they insist they must directly spend N37 billion repairing a structure that is not broken.
A whirl of wooly, indirect and direct assault on the economy has been around the country for some time. The situation gets desperate now. Between an estimated revenue of ₦8.31 trillion and expenditure budget of ₦10.59 trillion in the 2020 budget signed by Buhari, there is a fiscal deficit of ₦2.28 trillion to be financed with loans. The N37 billion we are talking about is likely to come from borrowed funds – from money of the future.
The University of Ibadan is Nigeria’s oldest university taking care of over 30,000 students. This government that is going to spend N37 billion to repair a building in Abuja appropriated N66 million as capital votes for the University of Ibadan in 2018 – yes, sixty six million naira. There is a name for persons who fall behind others in ideas and in progress. They are called laggards. But it is interesting that laggards love great things; their only problem is that they can’t work to reap what they crave. Every husband is supposed to know that good soups take good money. Our president complained on Saturday very loudly in Akure, Ondo State, that Nigerian graduates – or rather, graduates of Nigerian universities, were being described as unemployable by some employers. That they, in fact, exhibit what he called “lack of job readiness.” Buhari therefore wanted our universities to “use the instrumentality of their tripartite mandates of teaching, research and community engagement to launch Nigeria into an enviable position among nations of the world.” That was from a president that voted N66 million to his country’s premier university last year for capital projects. Can he tell us why that N37 billion he signed off to his 109 plus 360 lawmakers could not go to the 40 functional federal universities with their thousands of students?
Profligacy, excessive borrowing, unsustainably high debt level and misapplication of funds, earned and unearned, are all the wealthy needs to wreck himself. When a government goes same way and ignores fiscal rectitude, it destroys the state. That is the point we are at now. But we are clapping for the wreckers, playing politics, condoning our doctors’ incompetence, their deliberate misdiagnosis of our situation and the malpractices that define their patriotism.
Carton Image Credit: Mike Asukwo