Jonathan, governors, others keep long motorcades, private jets as Nigeria struggles against falling oil revenues

President Goodluck Jonathan, and other officials of his administration, as well as governors and heads of the National Assembly are not letting off any of their conveniences as Nigeria battles dwindling revenues, retaining extra-large convoys and travel teams, and flying private jets and first class with public money while the same government says the nation must accept cutbacks to counter the oil crisis.

While the president and the governors have retained their long motorcades, the senate president, David Mark, and House of Representatives speaker, Aminu Tambuwal, are doing just the same.

Official convoys of the president averages 40 cars, those of the governors exceed 20. Mr. Mark’s convoy as of this week remained at least 12.

Governors travelling around the country mainly for their political needs continue to use private jets, maintained and fuelled at huge cost to public purse.

Only a few governors use public airplanes when travelling. An example is the Cross River State governor, Liyel Imoke. Former Anambra governor, Peter Obi, also did.

Rolling back official conveniences, no matter how little, are usually some of the first steps for nations battling economic downturns. Reduction in official vehicles could help save fuel and maintenance cost.

Nigeria is one of the countries worst hit by the dwindling oil price which currently hovers around $78 per barrel.

With no reprieve, President Goodluck Jonathan last week asked the National Assembly to lower Nigeria’s oil price benchmark from $78 per barrel to $73, to cushion further shocks at the international market, and to grow the Excess Crude savings which the government has turned to in recent months, to help pay workers’ salaries.

Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, has said the government is planning higher taxes on high taste products such as champagne, and top range automobiles, to compel the rich to pay more to help the government deal with the situation.

She said the government will significantly minimize foreign travels, and purchase of new equipment in the 2015 budget.

The proposals remain to be seen.

On Tuesday, the Central Bank Nigeria, CBN, announced Nigeria’s toughest response yet, devaluing the nation’s currency against the dollar by 13 naira.

CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele, said the oil shift appears permanent, and warned that the proposed $73 benchmark may be too optimistic. He called for cuts on government habits.

The Nigerian Labour Congress, NLC, civil society and economists, say the government is not showing sufficient seriousness in responding to the crisis.

For a start, they argued, the government must confront corruption headlong, reduce administrative costs, and harness internally generated revenues from government agencies.

“Raising taxes on luxury items is long overdue,” the general secretary of the NLC, Peter Ozo-Ezon, told PREMIUM TIMES. “There has always been the need to tax the very rich in the country. The exclusive items they consume must be targeted.

“Private jets acquired by some individuals should attract huge taxes,” he said.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, said instead of imposing unnecessary austerity measures on Nigerians, the government at all levels should prune the numbers of their political aides.

“The governors, ministers and federal and state legislators should also be made to reduce their aides to a sizeable number that our economy can bear and whatever is gotten from this exercise should be used in supporting and bolstering the economy,” the union’s chairman, Francis Johnson, said in a release last week.

Corruption and leaks

Many Nigerian said corruption must be the first casualty if the government intends to be seen as serious in managing the economic hardship facing the nation, and they challenged Mr. Jonathan to start right at the top.

“The President (Goodluck Jonathan) has said time and gain that there is no corruption in the country,” said Auwal Rafsanjani, of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC. “This is very discouraging to discerning Nigerians, because these problems could easily be traced to the corruption and impunity in the country.

“Whenever the President and his wife travel, the huge crowd that accompany them as their entourage are completely irrelevant and wasteful. If the waste is not tackled from the level of the President, how would the problem be solved?”

Mr. Rafsanjani denounced the government for continuing to sponsor pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Yearly, government offices spend billions on foreign trips.

In 2014, State house administration (not the president or vice) earmarked N240 million for local and foreign travels.

The president earmarked N2.4 billion for travels while the vice president proposed a relatively smaller N68.7 million.

The Ministry of Finance headquarters proposed N465.8 million, as hundreds of other offices did, for travels.

On Transparency International Corruption Index, Nigeria ranked the 134th most corrupt among 175 nations for 2013. In 2012, the score was relatively better: 139 out of 174 countries.

President Jonathan, accused of tolerating corruption and allowing indicted officials be part of his government, famously said stealing is not corruption and vowed not to declare his asset publicly.

Mr. Jonathan is also notorious for travelling abroad for official engagement with oversized team, at one time, over 600 to New York, on public funds.

Such wastes, anti-corruption activists say, reflect on the budget annually with the government allotting money for purchases that were taken care of the previous year.

The commonest commodities that repeat in the budgets of almost all Ministries, Departments, and Agencies, MDAs are computers, scanners, printers, ACs, buses and Hilux pick-ups, checks by PREMIUM TIMES have shown.

Govt. agencies squander N12 trillion own funds

By far, the most scandalous non-oil wastage of public funds are perpetrated still within government offices, where a 2012 report by the National Assembly Budget and Research Office said between 2009 and 2012, N12 trillion was generated by government agencies and ministries, and much of that was squandered.

Simply put, if well harnessed, IGRs from the MDAs could fund much of Nigeria’s budget which averages at N4.5 trillion annually.

The National Assembly report indicted several offices for concealing their sources of revenue, claiming losses where non-exists, and refusing to make remittances to the Federation Account as demanded by the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

The report said the major reason the fraud thrived for years, even till date, was the government’s near-absolute focus on oil revenues.

“Many reasons are responsible for this fundamental lapse,” the report said. “But the major reason is the government’s over-reliance on proceeds from hydrocarbons with scant or no serious thoughts on the imperative for these agencies to generate and remit any surplus revenues.”

The report said while the agencies were expected to pay to government a fraction of their surpluses, amounting to N512.11 billion, they only transferred N264.74 billion.

Majority of the agencies either failed to pay the appropriate sum, or refused to pay anything at all, the report said. Some hid their sources of revenue while others while others simply squandered whatever amount accrue to them.

The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, for instance, claimed in its filing those three years that it made money only from news subscription, when indeed, it generated extra N41.84 million in 2011, the report found.

Some offices claimed they incurred losses and could pay nothing.

In one puzzling case, the Lagos International Trade Fair, which claimed losses between 2009 and 2011, reversed itself after meeting with the House of Representatives Committee on Finance.

The report said the office promptly cleared a N3.75 million fixed deposit with a bank and made payment into government coffers in December 2012.

Jumbo pay

Governance Programmes Manager, Action Aid Nigeria, Obo Effanga, said he was not impressed with measures put in place by government to deal with the oil price crisis.

Mr. Effanga said the bogus number of ministers, presidential aides and advisers as well as the continued maintenance of the office of the First Lady, which is not recognized under the Constitution, do not show seriousness.

Besides, he said nothing seems to have been done by government to tax certain goods and services, particularly the provision for withholding tax in the country.

“Nobody seems to be aware how much withholding tax government collects from contractors and other services,” Mr. Effanga said. “How much tax did the politicians pay for the N27million or N22million they paid to collect Presidential nomination forms in the various political parties?”

Another notorious waste, the commentators said, remains the huge earnings of members of the National Assembly.

In 2012, the UK-based magazine, Economist, concluded that Nigerian lawmakers were the highest paid in the world. Even so, the report considered only salaries of the lawmakers, not their hefty unclear allowances.

“If government is serious, it must look at the huge earnings by the legislature. The President must do something about the number of jets in the Presidential fleet. The President does not need the number of exotic cars in his official convoy,” said Tope Fasua, Chief Executive Officer, Abuja-based Global Analytics Consulting Limited.

“Now that government is talking about austerity, who got the benefits of the boom when it lasted? Why are we talking about austerity measures, belt-tightening and more taxes now when businesses are folding up? Mr. Fasua asked.

The Lead Director, Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere, said for the government to be taken seriously with the proposed measures, President Jonathan must first show that seriousness by dispensing with at least eight of the 10 Sport Utility Vehicles in his convoy immediately, while the National Assembly should drastically cut their N150 billion annual budgetary allocation.

“The frivolous expenditures on meals and refreshments to public officials should be stopped immediately. All subsidy thieves should be prosecuted. So far there is no demonstrable commitment to fight corruption, because none of the subsidy thieves have been sent to jail,” Mr. Onyekpere said. “The NNPC (Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation) that has become sludge fund for government should be reorganized, and the PIB (Petroleum Industry Bill) must be passed to make the industry function effectively.”


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