Monday, 1 February 2016

PRESIDENT MUHAMMADU BUHARI’S MEGA APPETITE

President Muhammadu Buhari
Although the seductive charms of public office may be strong,  it is not likely that a traducer of President Muhammadu Buhari  would  be able to look back at the end of his  four-year tenure and  bemoan  how  the number of  his shoes and that of  his wife equal or surpass the legendary acquisition  by Imelda Marcos. But Mrs. Marcos’s acquisition of over 3,000 shoes is just one grim illustration of how power tragically activates the impulse for profligacy in leaders.
                  
 For there are many expressions of this trajectory of greed especially in Africa where the statutory checks on the excesses of leaders are  rendered effete by their brazen appropriation of offices as an extension of their  sullied private estates.

But while Buhari may not be so easily identified with a fixation on shoes, the citizens are now witnesses to the sheer similarity between his culinary bias and that of his predecessors. Before now, the slimness of the physique of  Buhari would have easily offered itself as a buffer against  any  efforts  to cast him  in the mould of a gourmand who would spend his time at the Aso Villa  savouring  lavish meals. We may have fallen for such a perception before the emergence of Buhari as the president. But the unvarnished realities of the president’s short stay at the villa so far show that the appetite of the president may not be little as we had thought. It is as voracious as that of any previous lead occupant of the villa.

What has really betrayed the egregious appetite of Buhari is his fiscal plan for this year. There would be no quarrel about an enormous appetite for  projects in so far as they  hold the potential to spur the much-expected development in  different sectors of the economy. But a consideration of the budget provokes a troubling consciousness of the incongruous relationship between existing national realities and the fiscal provisions for the personal needs of Buhari and the other residents of Aso Villa. These provisions do not reflect the economic realities of the nation. At a time that the citizens do not have food to eat, and the government is warning of more hardship that would befall them,  it negates the reason of his occupation of Aso Villa if he insists that  the vote for his feeding and other so-called  domestic  needs  must violate reasonable bounds.

No doubt, in view of the enormity of work the president needs to do to change the fortunes of the country, it is necessary that he eats well and enjoys other domestic comforts. But here we must not also ignore the corollary that one who is so consumed by the volume of work may forget that one has not eaten. But if the president must feed well, this must not border on splurging at the expense of the nation’s resources, as his vote for domestic spending is N1.7 billion. 

The issue here is not whether the feeding budget is big or small or that it is higher or smaller than that of his predecessor.  It is rather that it does not reflect the harsh economic realities of the nation at a time the citizens are jobless and they cannot feed themselves. In fact, in sync with contemporary national needs, it would redound to the much-touted asceticism  and financial prudence of the president if he takes the radical decision  that he would  sponsor his feeding at the Aso Villa and therefore every other official should do that. After all, the president is on a national assignment that  entails making sacrifices. Of course, this proposal should not invalidate the necessity of the state bankrolling official events that entail entertainments.4

The president’s mega appetite is also demonstrated in his budget of N4.8 billion for the clinic at Aso Villa. It is revolting that a budget for the clinic to be used by a few persons should almost rival the allocation for a teaching hospital like that of the University of Lagos or  the University of Ibadan. These are hospitals that serve thousands of Nigerians but they are not given the necessary fiscal attention. Most of these teaching hospitals owned by the Federal Government do not only lack the necessary facilities for optimal performance, the doctors are not paid their salaries regularly.  Indeed, what is wrong with the president using the same hospital like other citizens? It is this penchant for exclusiveness that imbues our leaders with a fatuous consciousness of importance that denies them the knowledge of  the plight of the citizens. Or would a president who does not use a public hospital know that doctors in government hospitals have no sufficient beds for patients, that blood banks are polluted with HIV and other diseases and that surgeries are performed with the aid of candlelight?

Our leaders must come to terms with the fact that they are in office to serve the people. They should not expect the country to cater for their  medical needs  in some exclusive  hospitals to which other citizens  have  no access. Instead of Buhari wasting the N4.8 billion on the  so-called clinic at the Aso Villa, he should use it to develop the National Hospital in Abuja or the teaching hospital at the University of Abuja or the teaching hospital at the Ahmadu Bello University. All these hospitals are not far from Aso Villa. Even an emergency case could be taken to these places with an ambulance in place to clear the road of traffic.

Nigerians who simply wish for a meal daily to placate their hungry stomachs and do not even have the humblest of shelter over their heads are by no means amused by the president’s plan to spend  N3.9 billion for the renovation of the Aso Villa. Coupled with the N3.6 billion vote for the acquisition of BMWs, the president’s mega taste for beautiful things is not in doubt. What happened to the vehicles that the last administration stopped using in just May last year? Are these vehicles beyond repairs? If these vehicles have been carted away by the previous administration, nothing stops Buhari from retrieving them from such a greedy brood of remorseless brigands and meting out appropriate sanctions to them. And the Aso Villa may not be so unbearably dilapidated that it is in urgent need of renovation.

While it is true that some expenses may be inevitable, there are some that can and should be avoided now. This is especially so if the president really appreciates the urgency of the national crisis the nation is in. Who thinks of renovation, of sleek vehicles and lavish meals in a time of war? The nation today is faced with an economic crisis that is comparable to a war. This situation requires that our leaders should avoid wasting resources on inanities. It is not too late for the president to redefine his priorities and use the money meant for what is not necessary on what would improve the lot of the citizens. This is a wrong time for our leaders to cultivate lifestyles they were not even used to before they were elected. If the president has really been ascetic as we have often been told, this is the best time to bring to bear this virtue on the management of the nation’s dwindling resources. But if the president does not budge, he would only go down in history as being among past leaders who have inflated budgets as a means of self-enrichment. And this would be a sad end for a president allegedly driven by a template of change. (Source: Guardian)