SERIOUSLY, the level of public funds wastefulness and corruption at high spheres of government circles is daily becoming a clear channel through which the nation is ripped off by the Nigerian government. Aside the fact that our Presidential System of government, which is in no way similar to what we have in the USA (even if they keep trying to make us see otherwise), has created this anomaly of ‘wastefulness’ to satisfy self-centered interests and not the interest of the nation, we are equally appalled to note how “the misplacement of priorities” by the Nigerian Government has also continued to drain the nation resources to a bleeding point. This unfortunate situation, has kept Nigeria as a developing nation, in a rather retrogressive path of development instead of moving ahead like its counterparts across Africa and the globe.
That is how best we can describe the recent reports which revealed that the President of the Senate, David Mark, his Deputy, Ike Ekweremadu as well as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal and his Deputy, Emeka Ihedioha will not move into the new official quarters being built for presiding officers of the National Assembly before the completion of the 7th Assembly in June 2015. Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Bala Mohammed who gave the indication has disclosed that the new residence being built by the administration in the three arms zone of the city for the four presiding officers of the parliament will be ready for occupation after the inauguration of the 8th Assembly.
Speaking while presenting the 2015 National Priority Budget to the House Committee on FCT in Abuja recently, Mohammed explained that the twin component project awarded to contractors at a total sum of N27.1billion has reached 58 percent work level and will require a balance of N15.3billion to complete the project. He told the committee that the projects specifically has two components which entails the provision of residences for presiding officers of the National Assembly, which comprises main building, ADC’s House, Guest House, Staff Quarters, Gate House, Banquet Hall, Chapel, Mosque and Power House. He said the sum of N1.5billion was appropriated for the project last year, while the sum of N164.2million was actually released. He added that the sum of N11.8billion has been paid to date with a balance of N15.3billion required to complete the project, just as he said the sum of N2billion is proposed in the year 2015 for the project.
The big questions on our lips are; what is wrong with the current Quarters being occupied by these principal public office holders? Do they need the said new Quarters? Should this be a priority to the government at this point in time? Why should the government even consider this project now, especially in the face of the nation’s dwindling resources and depreciating currency? Why waste such huge amount of public funds on a needless project when we have more pressing needs across the Nigerian polity?
We already have a yearly Recurrent Expenditure that has always drained the nation’s treasury in the name of ‘maintaining the government’, to now have or encourage such needless and wasteful project like the one above, will be suicidal to our already depleting national resource. In fact, if it were possible for us a people and a nation to sit down and calculate every naira and kobo that have been ‘recklessly’ spent by the Nigerian government at the various levels in their governance activities and supposed recurrent expenditure from 1960 to date, the results that will be revealed will not only be shocking, but it will also not commensurate with the deplorable status of the country which they are expected to effectively govern in the first place. The crux of the matter is why build another Quarters for these principle public office holders when they already have a befitting place to stay and do their business? What is wrong with where they are staying presently? Why can’t they just refurbish, renovate, expand or modernize the existing Quarters for all of these principle public office holders?
The Nigerian Aso Rock Villa, which is the seat of the Presidency, is believed to be one of the biggest built for President across the world. Even the former Residence/Quarter of the Nigeria’s Vice President, is now said to being occupied by the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN). We are therefore baffled to wonder why such wastage. What will the Chief Justice of Nigeria(CJN) or even the Vice President be doing with such ‘huge area’ of space just to do his job? All of this is seriously uncalled for. Perhaps, there is need for the Nigerian Government and the authorities concerned to look at other well developed nations and see how they are doing things in managing public resources, especially when it comes to catering for the basic needs of their high-profile public office holders.
Take the very popular No 10, Downing Street in London, England, for instance; it has for over three hundred years housed the Official Residences of Two of the most Senior British Cabinet Ministers: The First Lord of the Treasury, an office now synonymous with that of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom; and the Second Lord of the Treasury, an office held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Prime Minister’s official residence is 10, Downing Street; the Chancellor’s official residence is next door at Number 11. The Government’s Chief Whip has an official residence at Number 12, though the current Chief Whip’s residence is at Number 9. Aside the usual expansions or slight renovations, these Official Residences of Britain’s principle officers have been left the way they were since they were constructed. In fact, they believe that “the more older these structures get, the more ‘valuable’ they become.” That is why Downing Street is very popular today for tourist attraction.
Downing Street is located in Whitehall in central London, a few minutes’ walk from the Houses of Parliament and a little farther from Buckingham Palace. The Street was built in the 1680s by Sir George Downing (1632–1689), on the site of a mansion called Hampden House. The houses on the south side of the Street were demolished in the nineteenth century to make way for Government Offices, now occupied by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. “Downing Street” is often used as a metonym for the Government of the United Kingdom, just the way we have our Aso Rock Villa in Abuja as the Nigerian Government’s seat of Power.
Even the United States of America (USA), is also a good example for the Nigerian Government to emulate. The White House is the Official Residence and principal workplace of the President of the United States, located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C. It has been the residence of every U.S. president since John Adams in 1800.
The White house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban[2] and built between 1792 and 1800 of white-painted Aquia Creek sandstone in the Neoclassical style. In 1814, during the War of 1812, the mansion was set ablaze by the British Army in the Burning of Washington DC, destroying the interior and charring much of the exterior. Reconstruction began almost immediately, and President James Monroe moved into the partially reconstructed Executive Residence in October 1817. Construction continued with the addition of the South Portico in 1824 and the North in 1829. Because of crowding within the executive mansion itself, President Theodore Roosevelt had all work offices relocated to the newly constructed West Wing in 1901. Eight years later, President William Howard Taft expanded the West Wing and created the first Oval Office which was eventually moved as the section was expanded. The third-floor attic was converted to living quarters in 1927 by augmenting the existing hip roof with long shed dormers. A newly constructed East Wing was used as a reception area for social events; Jefferson’s colonnades connected the new wings.
Today, the White House Complex includes the Executive Residence, West Wing, East Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building—the former State Department, which now houses offices for the President’s staff and the Vice President—and Blair House, a guest residence. The point we are trying to make here is that if we look the two examples above, there was a progression of building on what they already have as the Residence/Office structures of their high-profile principle office holders. They concentrated on ‘maintaining’ the ‘value’ of what they have to make it comfortable enough for their public office holders. And over time, these structures as seat of the government have increased in value and admiration.
We do not see the sort of “extravagant lifestyle” and “public display of wealth” being exhibited by the public office holders of these developed western countries; be it in their personal life or in the use of the fringe benefits attached to their various offices. Our Nigerian public office holders and lawmakers are today best known for their ‘jumbo pay’ and affluence standard of living in the midst of scarce public resources.
They enjoy these privileges for doing nothing and against the backdrop of a minimum wage of N18000 for an average worker, unpaid public servants, millions of jobless graduates who roam the streets and increasing social crises and insecurity. The unimpressive recurrent expenditure pegged at 81.6 per cent in the 2012 budget is overweighed by the salacious outlay on the Nigerian legislators for instance. There is indeed a compelling need to rethink the form and content of the Nigerian legislature. And it is to be noted that Nigeria national income cannot sustain the gluttony of its lawmakers.
Like we have always argued, a step towards the reform of Nigeria’s legislators must be backed by the need to reduce legislative reward to merely sitting allowance without a basic salary component and it should be structured to be part-time. As it has been advocated times without number, the country does not need a bicameral legislature. It is a waste of public funds and it should be reorganized or streamlined into just one chamber. The Senegalese example is there for all to emulate. That country went back to a unicameral legislature to save resources for other compelling development goals. Nigeria can do the same here and the people will be the better for it, and not to engage in mindless execution of needless projects in the name of Quaters.
Around early December 2013, the British Members of Parliament (MPs) and Cabinet rejected an 11% Pay rise authorized by the British Independent Parliament Commission, saying the pay rise was “unnecessary” since there is ‘cost of living crises’ in the UK. The British MPs also disagreed with the BBC Authority for “huge Pay-offs” of senior staff. According to the MPs, BBC top Executive staff could be held for “contempt of Parliament”. And the penalty for contempt of parliament includes prison sentence, but such cases are rare since the 19th century. They said some of the justifications for the huge pay offs had been extraordinary and this was blamed on the culture of cronyism that allowed for the liberal use of public’s money. The MPs described the huge pay offs (severance package) of senior staff of the BBC as “sweeteners”. These are people who truly understand what it means to be “Public Servants” and not “Public Masters” like we have in Nigeria. When will Nigerian law makers see the need to cut down on their outrageous pay and allowances and the overwhelming need to live in affluence, which are draining the nation’s purse?
The crux of the matter is that, this ‘Nigerien culture of wastage’ has to stop. We simply cannot continue to lavish public funds on our supposed public office holders before they can comfortably do what is expected of them. One major problem we have in this country is the “lack of maintenance culture”. We see our government (both past and present) spend so much money to execute a public project but at the end of the day, rather than maintain such projects over the years, they live it to rot and before you know it, they neglect these old dilapidated structures to construct new ones; and the vicious circle continues. The execution of such new projects is also seen as means through which public funds can be misappropriated and mismanaged to fill private pockets. This culture of wastage has to stop. This nonsense has to be nipped in the bud.

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