FEATURE ARTICLE

Michael NnebeMonday, May 27, 2013
mnfargo@gmail.com


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SQUANDERING OF RICHES IN NIGERIA

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must confess that the title of this article is a little misleading as one might assume that Nigeria is awash in riches. By any international standard of measurement Nigeria falls short of the big boys of nations when it comes to riches. At a GDP of roughly three hundred billion dollars we rank well outside the top thirty countries in the world. If we go by GDP per capita then we are undoubtedly outside the top fifty countries in the world. And there are no fewer than seven corporations whose annual sales exceed Nigeria's annual GDP. But in the world where we operate, within the African continent, Nigeria is certainly rich, very rich comparatively.

There is however one dubious index that Nigeria ought to be very proud of. On the index of those who run the most expensive democracy, Nigeria surely must top the list worldwide. I cannot think of any other democracy where the politicians at all levels have conspired to rob their country blind, and all these they are doing within the law in Nigeria. In addition to their salaries, allowances, staff salaries, foreign trip, etc, all of which runs in millions of dollars per Member/Senator, the average Member of our National Assembly in addition collects over a million dollars extra annually as constituency allowance. There are several governors in Nigeria today collecting upwards of two billion naira each month as security vote, and even the poorest states still doles out about half a billion naira each month to their governors. Chairmen of any of our 774 local governments are equally collecting their own security votes each month.

By my calculation Nigeria has wasted in excess of sixty billion dollars on the so called Security votes to Presidents, Governors, Local Government Chairmen, and Constituency allowances to our National Assembly Members since our return to democracy in 1999. And what is even more troubling is that these Presidents, Governors, and Local Government Chairmen as well as National Assembly Members do not have to account to anybody for all these money. First, I have examined our Constitution carefully and there is nothing in it that provides for these disbursements. Secondly and more importantly, there is nothing in section 162 and other relevant sections of our Constitution that allows for expenditure of public revenue without full accounting for its use.

I have often wondered what all these security votes are used for. The irony is that there is hardly any security anywhere in Nigeria. If Nigeria government is serious about security, would it not make sense to adequately fund the Nigeria Police Force. I have been critical of our police just like most Nigerians, but a careful examination of what these guys have to endure have since mellowed my criticism of the police. When I examined the budget for our police, I found out that when you calculate the amount provided for each police station it comes to about 2,000 naira. Often some of these police stations have dozens if not hundreds of employees. Surely their salaries are paid from a separate account, but it takes money to run any police station. No wonder these guys will charge you or rather rob you if you have the misfortune of going to report anything at any police station.

The last time robbers broke into a property of mine in Enugu, and I made an effort to report to the police, they promptly came and arrested the suspect. But 75,000 naira later I was forced to abandon the case and all the millions of naira worth of items stolen from the building. I had seen that these guys were set to dig deep into my wallet even though I felt they did not have what it takes to solve the crime. How can they? If indeed they don't have the necessary equipments to fight crime other than their patrol vans and outdated guns, which are no match to the AKs that armed robbers often carry. Some of that sixty billion dollars squandered by successive presidents and governors could have adequately equipped our police force. And that would be a good expenditure of security votes.

Some of that sixty billion dollars could have gone towards a down payment in providing the much needed infrastructure in Nigeria, especially the power sector. For several days last week there was no light in Enugu. The entire city was in darkness for days, and they gave us the usual excuse that they are fixing something, and that once they are done light would be constant. Tory! I've heard this many times before, and nothing changes in the end. Surely, like many others, I have a generator that provides me with electricity during these blackout days. It's no longer a big deal to have a generator in Nigeria, even the poorest among us can now buy the so called "I pass my neighbour" for less than 10,000 naira. One might think that this is progress though I cannot help but think of the collective carbon monoxide we are emitting in this country as we power millions of these generators of all sizes.

Sadly our lives are being shortened through the inhalation of this carbon monoxide in the air. And the irony about this is that the President, Governors, Senators, and all those in high places are equally exposed to this deadly carbon monoxide. We read that life expectancy in Nigeria is somewhere around 50 years of age. There is no doubt that lack of good healthcare is a major reason for this. Diet and exercise also matters, but there is no doubt in my mind that constant exposure to carbon monoxide is a contributory factor to low life expectancy in Nigeria. We are killing ourselves slowly in this country while our President, Governors, Chairmen of local government areas, and our Abuja Legislators continue to squander our money in the guise of security votes and constituency allowances.

Many of these big boys run off to London, Germany, and US for medical treatment each time they fall sick, but they cannot escape the mess they have created in Nigeria. Once you return from those first class medical facilities abroad, which you have failed to create for your people at home, carbon dioxide in the air sooner or later begins to clog your lungs just like any other Nigerian citizen already condemned to this doom. And by the way, the day you leave office, you will be subjected to the same lack of security most Nigerians endure. No wonder these guys clung on to their security men and convoy indefinitely after they are no longer in government. Without these, I can imagine these guys living a life of nakedness and fear in their own homeland. What a shame to think of such life on a permanent basis.

The bottom line is that our leaders know what to do, but it is much more convenient to keep squandering our riches in this country in the guise of security votes and others. It is not too late to reconsider these things. If we have squandered more than sixty billion dollars in the past 14 years, perhaps we can reconsider to use the next sixty billion dollars that will be squandered in the next 10 years wisely. This money can provide desperately needed infrastructures, especially electricity, and better healthcare facilities that can affect the lives of Nigerians of all stripes. And most of all, by doing so, who knows, we might even improve the life expectancy of the average Nigerian just by eliminating or at least reducing the use of generators in this country. Perhaps I'm being too optimistic for expecting our politicians to think reasonably. To heck, anything is possible...

Michael Nnebe is a former Wall Street Investment Banker and the Author of several novels, including; Every Dream Has A Price, Riverside Park, Blood Covenant, Gloomy Shadows, Passing wishes, Prime Suspect, and others.

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