MASS POVERTY IN THE FACE OF HUGE GDP AND BUDGETS:

Nigeria is a paradox in many respects: We have abundant oil and gas and yet we import petrol, diesel and even kerosene from countries without oil; The former Nigerian dictator, evil General Abacha sent troops to Sierra Leone, in 1996 or thereabout, to reinstate the popularly elected president of that country who was ousted in a military coup by the army boys; yet he was a sit tight crude military dictator in Nigeria. The irony that is of most concern to me, however, is about how despite reported economic growth in terms of rising GDP; the majority of the population are wallowing in deeper poverty as the years roll by. According to the UNDP report on Nigeria, the GDP has grown by about 6 percentage points in the last three years to 2008, yet poverty, unemployment, maternal and infant mortality have grown at a faster rate in the negative directions.

Why should a country be making more money annually and yet the misery index is growing year-on-year? You just do not need to be an expert in economics or mathematics to figure out what is happening in the Nigerian economy. The Nigerian economy is largely a "rent" based economy with public office holders and their cronies in the "private" sector milking the economy dry while those not so connected suffer abject poverty, unemployment, under-employment and other misery index. And those not connected to political office and their private sector friends constitute 98% of the population and this group is getting poorer because of poorly thought out and inflated capital expenditure that do not have any multiplier effect in the Nigerian economy, waste and the blatant stealing of state resources by the tiny 2% in the former group of leeches and locust.

The truth is that our politicians and political office holders have been very reckless in the spending of public money: Allocating vast sums of those "free" monies to themselves either by way of Salaries, ridiculous allowances ( untaxed wardrobe, newspaper and entertainment allowances to the Legislatures and members of the executive arm of governments) and other sundry payments, legally allowed by the annual budget ritual of both the federal and state governments; wasteful capital expenditure on residential buildings and guesthouses for public office holders, as well as the purchases of fleet of cars, Aeroplanes and Jets for the presidency, many of which are never used until the president or their families want to travel abroad or somewhere of low significance and yet in every budget these type of expenditure are legitimately included and passed by the legislature without asking questions or asking for their exclusion and virement to other areas of more pressing need.

The above wastages and misallocation relate to legitimate or appropriated monies in the annual and supplementary budgets passed by the legislative houses every year. By the time you put the enormous corruption and rent collection that goes on in the system, you will now appreciate the level of leakages and waste in the system causing the paradox of poverty of the vast majority of the people in the midst of plenty. The impression Nigerian politicians give is that Nigeria is very rich, but the country is as poor as they come. If you consider the population of Nigeria at about 150 million people and the vast area of land and sea of about 923,000 Sq Kilometres that those money should be servicing you see the lie in their (the ignorant and inept political office holders) belief, in a country almost solely dependent on oil revenue and no real production going on anywhere, not even the so-called private sector is productive; Everyone just waiting to get a piece of the oil sales wealth without adding any value.

In the 2010 budget that was recently sent to the national assembly for passing and approval, the presidency wants another 7 Helicopters in addition to the stream of presidential jets and planes wasting away at enormous cost to the Nigerian people. In the same budget was listed a guesthouse for the Senate president costing the Nigerian people a whooping N750 million. But wait for this: In its last Federal Executive council meeting the clowns in that meeting awarded a N7 Billion contract for the construction of a residential building for the vice president of Nigeria. Sometimes I wonder whether this clowns know the value of money to be allocating N7 Billion to build a residential house for a public officer in a country with about 70% of its population living on the equivalent of $1 (US Dollar) a day. Do the Dora Akunyilis, the Adamu Alieros (Minister of the FCT who justified the expenditure on the need for the VP to have a befitting residential house, instead of the current presidential guest house- Aguda house- where the current VP lives) and all the other clowns at that meeting know the value of money, and that N7Billion could build a complete new town with various building and schools?

Reports have it that over 40 million Nigerian youths, majority of them high school graduates, ready and willing to work, are unemployed pushing and shoving every available office for non-existent work vacancies. Almost every known infrastructure in the country are either in dilapidated state or comatose seeking government attention- whether it is decent roads, hospitals or public schools all are not properly funded or monies budget annually for them are stolen or leak out of the system through corruption and unbridled waste.

You see one state governor or local government chairman wasting its peoples fund in Television and Radio advertisement of how they are "performing" with a list of ill-thought out, non-benefiting projects to the larger number of their constituents, and yet claim to be performing because they constructed some roads and bridges or Water fountains. They get the press to announce how they have "delivered the dividends of democracy" to their people as if doing those few projects makes them super heroes, yet that was why they were elected or is it selected?. But no one asks them how valuable those financial drains are to the people they represent. Are those bridges and fountains more important to its people than building hospitals or Bore holes for portable water for its various peoples in the villages and hamlets? Were the most pressing needs of their people met? Without portable water and decent hospitals and health care centres the people die of preventable diseases but a huge edifice and water fountain hardly add any value to their most pressing needs. Often public officers in Nigeria- Governors and local government chairmen only carry out projects that have been hugely inflated, sometimes over 200% where they can get huge kickbacks and bribes settlement, and shy away from more community-beneficial projects that would not offer bribe opportunities.

This is where Value for Money Audit comes in. By the very nature of public expenditure, where by inputs are measurable but often the outputs cannot be intrinsically measured in financial terms it is the duty of the Auditor general of each state and the federal government to carry out value for money audits and report to the legislative houses its findings as to whether planned public programmes are appropriate and whether the best sources of accomplishment- best competitive tendering process and the best supplier of that service in terms of cost and quality was used; whether that money used in such projects could have been used in other more benefiting and useful competing projects to the largest number of people they were meant for. In other words, the public auditors will carry out a cost-benefit and cost-effectiveness analysis before we can conclude that a public officer has really performed or if they are merely playing to the gallery by approving projects, which are usually inflated, to get their own cuts and satisfy their crony rent seekers.

As it is Nigeria appears to still be in limbo with lack of leadership at the federal level and politicians behaving as if the rest of the population owe them a living and the vast majority of the people can perish in hunger and disease so long as their-the politicians- self aggrandisement are met. The EFCC, ICPC and other agencies that should check abuse of public funds appear either overwhelmed by the enormity of corruption at the three tiers of government or they have now been compromised that they do not care to get justice for the ordinary Nigerian that is been blatantly ripped off by the politicians and political office holders. So to talk of value for money in public expenditure seems a pipes dream in Nigeria for now.

By: Tony Ishiekwene

(London, UK)