Why N35bn budgeted for DPR office complex should be cancelled

One cannot say for sure if this cliché really happened but it has become a common figure  of speech used to illustrate the lackadaisical attitude of leaders towards their people.

In Nigeria, the story is not different. Leaders often look the other way while the nation ‘burns’ or leave the serious matters bedeviling  the nation to pay attention to less important things.

The Nigerian landscape is littered with thousands of failed infrastructure projects, many of them costing the government billions of naira and denying the citizenry access to quality infrastructure which is critical for a decent standard of life.

With approximately  200 million inhabitants, Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and one of the most populous in the world.

Nigeria faces significant challenges with the appalling state of its infrastructure, healthcare, education etc. These are coupled with poverty raving the people and the land. From power supply and housing to roads and rail lines, and from irrigation systems and water pipelines to mobile and broadband networks, Nigeria’s infrastructure supply is grossly inadequate.

The return to democratic mode of governance in 1999 has done little to justify the hype that greeted the return to barracks by the military two decades ago. For years, men in khaki held sway in the political administration of Africa’s biggest country, with zero checks and balances on their mode of operation.

Piloting the affairs of the nation with decrees which granted them a near absolute authority, successive military administrations held on to power with little or no intent to return the nation to civil rule.  As a result, the nation’s resource endowment failed to translate into meaningful development as allegations of massive treasury looting trailed one administration after the other. And this was against the backdrop that the military actually struck in January 1966 with intent to weed out corruption, root and branch from the nations political and governance system.

Last month, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, approved the building of an office for a whopping N35 billion, including N1.4 billion allocated solely for design. Lamenting this shame, ace columnist, Simon Kolawole of Thisday Newspaper wrote on his back page column of April 14, 2019: “Days after the World Water Day, the Federal Executive Council, FEC, met and approved the building of an office for N35 billion, including N1.4 billion allocated to design. Yes, it is an office, not a factory. It is a 12-storey building for the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR. For sure, the funds will be released and the project will be completed within time…”

The point the columnist made with this argument was that in a country ravaged by hunger, low education standards, decaying infrastructure to mention a few; the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government has done little to convince Nigerians about its seriousness to change the governance narrative that has come to be associated with Africa’s largest economy (Population, that is).

Like Kolawole, syndicated columnist, Sonala Olumhense penned his agony of a nation that appears fixated on getting her priorities wrong all the time, this way: “The federal cabinet announced the approval of N1.4 billion for the design of a new 12- storey head office for the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR in Abuja. N1.4 billion (about $4 million), for just the design as authored by a government which claims to be combating corruption and waste…N1.4 billion! But everyone knows, of course that it is a shameless ruse. Most of that money is for sharing.

“One day after the government made that announcement, President Muhammadu Buhari himself expressed regret that Nigeria loses over N400 billion annually to medical tourism. Strangely, it is the same Nigerian leader who, when campaigning for the 2015 election, had condemned the use of Nigerian resources on international medical tourism. Indeed, in April 2016, he specifically said his administration ‘will certainly not encourage expending Nigerian hard-earned resources on any government official seeking medical care abroad, when such can be handled in Nigeria.’”

What other Nigerians think about this

Eminent Nigerians who spoke with  Saturday Vanguard  on this apparent culture of waste in the corridors of power, decried what they described as incumbent administration’s failure to keep the legion of promises it made to the electorate in 2015 bordering on fiscal discipline and transparency in the use of public finances.

Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, President, Women Arise and Centre for Change, while flaying government for the project said “The decision has been widely condemned, not only by those of us within the civil society, but also by a broad spectrum of Nigerians, who are of the opinion that this is not the best time for our country, to embark on any form of bogus spending. Beyond the fact that these proposed spending sounds outrageous, it is my view, that there are more fundamental challenges, including how we can sustain a regular academic calendar within our universities, for the government, to focus on at the present moment, rather than embarking on such outrageous spending on the DPR Headquarters.

Speaking in the same vein, former Minister of Education, Professor Tunde Adeniran said with the way things are going on in the country, it will take the intervention of the supreme being for Nigeria to  realize  her true potentials, saying “God save Nigeria” even as he argued that until a true leader driven by passion to make a differences emerges, it would continue to remain a tale of woes for the people.

On his part, human rights activist and constitutional lawyer, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, berated the Buhari administration for allegedly having no clear idea on how to improve the fortune of Nigeria and her citizens accusing it of “double standards, massive corruption, hypocrisy, wastefulness and leakages.”

He continued: “It’s clear to me that the government has no clear cut economic policy and direction. There is huge misplacement of priorities, with no proper economic thrust towards alleviating the sufferings of the masses. The budget is still largely not capital projects-based, but recurrent expenditure-driven. No country can develop along this template anywhere in the world.”

Also speaking, Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, Inibehe Effiong said it is difficult for sane minds to comprehend how a government that pledged to do things differently would do a volte-face to perpetrate the vices it accused a former government of while it was in power.

“It is simply inconceivable that a government that prides itself as one that represents fiscal discipline will dissipate such humongous amount for a building project. The cost for the design alone is outrageous and indefensible. It shows that this government thrives on deceit and propaganda.”

As it were, the next four years of the Buhari administration sure has its work cut out: Nigeria will not become great if these wastes are not curbed now, given that least endowed African countries like Ghana, Botswana, South-Africa, Senegal and Rwanda are fast becoming the reference for governance shift in the continent.

Spokesman of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chuks Ibegbu in his reaction said that building the office block for DPR should not be a priority now.

“N35bn for office building and N1.4bn for design is a big deal. These amounts can change the lives of many Nigerians. The federal government should make the solid mineral from the north to be fully exploited and factored into our federation account like we do with the oil from the Niger Delta. There are more important things to do in this country than constructing building for Department of Petroleum Resources.”

Reacting to the development, Comrade Joseph Evah wondered what the FEC wanted to achieve by approving such a huge sum for design and construction of office premises for the DPR.

“I think it is a mistake by the FEC and should be corrected. It is scandalous to spend such a huge sum on a subsidiary of NNPC which is already rolling in money. DPR is a subsidiary of NNPC. An ordinary worker with NNPC makes millions. Does the FEC want to create a problem in the education system where such money would have been more appropriate for research and development. What do they want to achieve by budgeting such an amount on erection of an office complex when so many other things more important are begging for federal government attention. I have come to notice that our revered men of God are no longer talking. If they were, they would not keep silent over such approval of waste. The money is well needed in the education sector and should be diverted there.”

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