President Goodluck Jonathan discreetly reversed his administration’s plan to spend more than half a billion naira on assorted armoured utility cars after a bloody protest in January, but only managed to lower a controversial N992.57 million feeding cost by a meager N135 million, a re-examination of the approved 2012 budget has shown.
The budget, revised once by Mr. Jonathan before a final passage by the National Assembly in April, provides details of how the president responded stealthily to the barrage of criticisms he faced over the proposed expenditures without making public the adjustments.
The anti-fuel subsidy removal demonstrations, in which at least a dozen Nigerians died, had drawn steam, in part from public anger over media exposes that the presidency planned the mega car and food spending.
Weeks after the protest, Mr. Jonathan cautiously overturned the decision to purchase two Mercedes Benz Cars for himself and Vice President Namadi Sambo’s at N280 million, and also stopped the purchase of other utility vehicles totalling N238 million.
The presidency also re-ordered several sub-heads in its budget, lowered the initial costs of purchasing electronic equipment including scanners, photocopiers and printers, and restructured its recurrent expenditure by N2 billion. But the most controversial subhead, the N992.57 million feeding bill, was only reduced to N857 million.
The amendments are contained in the budget revision which the president re-submitted to the National Assembly in February, in which he made N101b cut on the N4.8 trillion budget earlier presented to the lawmakers. The cuts spread across ministries and departments.
The reductions appear a major win for a public query of government spending, although the presidency’s own adjustments seemed not to have been intended for immediate public knowledge, and even lawmakers may not have spotted them.
John Enoh, the Chairman House of Representatives Appropriation committee, said “if” there were changes in the presidency’s budget during the revision, then it came from the executive as would be expected.
“The budget was later withdrawn by the president and revised. If you notice any difference at that stage, then it came from the executive, but if the difference came after the passage, then it came from the National Assembly,” he told PREMIUM TIMES, when asked if the lawmakers made the changes or prodded the presidency for them in the face of the public controversy.
At the time, the president told the lawmakers the reductions were informed by “the recent domestic developments, key among which are partial withdrawal of subsidy on petroleum products and the ripple effect on the government revenue expenditure items.”
But the decision may have as well been driven by public outcry.
In the initial budget, first reported by PREMIUM TIMES in December, 2011, the first and second families planned to spend N477 million for “foodstuffs and catering materials supplies” for the president’s office, while N293 million was to take care of “refreshment and meals” for the president’s office and home.
An extra N45.4 million was to be used for purchasing “kitchen equipment” for the president’s house, while vice president’s “refreshment and meals” was to cost N20.8 million, and kitchen equipment, N45.4 million.
Mr. Sambo’s foodstuffs, catering and material supplies, were estimated at N104 million while cooking fuel was to cost N6.2 million.
For the cars, N280 million was for two Mercedes Benz armoured S-guard, while another N144 million was to be spent on assorted utility vehicles, another N18 million on Toyota Hiace bus, and still another N77million on other cars to be added to the presidential fleet.
In the new budget, all car purchases totalling N518 million were suspended. For the feeding, each subhead received modest reductions with the president’s foodstuff/catering materials receiving the biggest cut of about N50 million while “refreshments and meals” followed with N30 million cut.