AT a time of existential economic crisis, headlined by widespread poverty, insecurity and galloping inflation, the Bola Tinubu administration’s commitment of billions of naira to luxury items in the 2023 supplementary budget is insensitive, imprudent, and an insult to long-suffering Nigerians. He should change course.
Votes committed to the ‘presidential yacht,’ more SUVs and renovation of presidential residences should be re-directed to economic stimulus policies and social programmes to boost job creation and enhance national security.
Coming after the defiant expenditure of N57.6 billion on luxury SUVs by the equally insensitive National Assembly members despite public outcry, Tinubu’s abhorrent expenditure demonstrates the chronic self-centeredness and disconnect from ordinary Nigerians by public officials.
The NASS had on November 2 approved the N2.18 trillion 2023 Supplementary Appropriation Bill forwarded to it by the President. Shockingly, instead of creative economic stimulus provisions, it contained anomalous items, including a N5 billion yacht, and the renovation of the President’s and Vice-President’s residences, which would gulp about N13.5 billion.
The explanation by the Presidency and the Nigerian Navy that the yacht is for the service and had already been delivered is hogwash. Nigeria’s economy has tanked since mid-2014 and witnessed two recessions since then. The country has been borrowing to pay salaries, and debt servicing drains 96 per cent of all revenue, while the national debt is over N87.38 trillion.
By 2018, Nigeria became the world’s poverty capital, only slipping back to second place behind India in 2021. A collaborative survey by the National Bureau of Statistics found 133 million Nigerians, 63 per cent of the population, to be multi-dimensionally poor, while 25 million live in hunger per the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation. About 53.4 per cent of the youth are unemployed and insecurity is pervasive.
In these circumstances, neither the Navy nor the Presidency should deploy scarce resources to buy a ceremonial luxury boat. It can wait. Though the House of Representatives axed the item, it went ahead to pass other items.
Included were renovation of the residential quarters for the President at N4 billion; renovation of the VP’s residence N2.5 billion; renovation of Presidential residence in Lagos, N4 billion; and rehabilitation of the VP’s official residence in Lagos, N3 billion. Provocatively, the “Office of the First Lady,” which is alien to the constitution, will also spend N1.5 billion.
Nigerian officials are obsessed with expensive fleets of vehicles at public expense. The bill provides for N2.9 billion for SUVs for the Presidential Villa, and another N2.9 billion to replace “operational vehicles.”
The Presidential Air Fleet receives N12.5 billion. Defying economic reality, the Presidency keeps a large fleet that costs millions of dollars to maintain. The President’s son, Seyi Tinubu, recently flew in one to Kano, allegedly to attend a polo tournament. Such is the pervasive abuse of public office, waste, and culture of entitlement.
While the cavalier Senate approved the yacht, the Reps cancelled it and added it to the student loan vote.
Instead of pressing for more gunboats, drones, and special troops to safeguard the coasts and creeks where its failures are evident in the 400,000 barrels of crude stolen daily, the Navy is trying to justify the yacht.
Tinubu should prioritise the people’s needs and stimulate the reeling economy. A supplementary budget that sustains the luxuries of officials is outrageous. Worse is that the government is borrowing to fund the budget! It plans to borrow N26.42 trillion 2024 through 2026.
Tinubu, like his predecessors, is demonstrating scant regard for prudence, cost-cutting, or self-sacrifice. He should retrace his missteps.