November 24, 2022

Buhari women, poverty and budget padding

By Ikechukwu Amaechi

TWO stories broke in the last one week that tend to amplify the fact that President Muhammadu Buhari’s goal of running Nigeria completely aground continues apace even as his administration, on the home stretch, and its vuvuzelas, continue to play the ostrich.

First, the National Bureau of Statistics, NBS, disclosed on November 17, that 133 million Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. That represents about 63 per cent of the estimated population of about 218 million people.

Ordinarily, this information shouldn’t surprise anyone considering that Nigeria had adorned the infamous ‘World Poverty Capital’ badge since 2018. World Bank data had shown since 2016 that four in every ten Nigerians live below the poverty line of $1.9 per day. Two years later, the country was declared world’s poverty capital by the Brookings Institution, knocking off India from the inglorious perch.

The Brookings’ report said: “At the end of May 2018, our trajectories suggest that Nigeria had about 87 million people in extreme poverty, compared with India’s 73 million. What is more, extreme poverty in Nigeria is growing by six people every minute, while poverty in India continues to fall.”

The numbers climbed up to 93.9 million people in 2021 with Mr. Bismarck Rewane, Managing Director, Financial Derivatives Company, FDC, Limited, and a member of Buhari’s Economic Advisory Council, EAC, quoting a World Bank data, which stated that seven million Nigerians fell into extreme poverty in 2020. That was grim. The government always pooh-poohs such reports, accusing international organisations of bad faith, while flaunting the so-called wonders of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development.

That’s why the NBS report matters. It is a government agency statutorily mandated to verify, approve, administer and publish basic national statistical data. No one can accuse it of bad faith. The Multidimensional Poverty Index, MPI, offers a multivariate form of poverty assessment, which identifies deprivations across health, education, living standards, etc. According to the NBS Statistician-General, Semiu Adeniran, a sample size of over 56,610 people in 109 senatorial districts in the 36 states of Nigeria, was used in the survey – the first time the agency will conduct a standard multidimensional poverty survey in Nigeria.

The United Nations Resident Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Matthias Schmale, who revealed the findings from the report, said 63 per cent of Nigerians are multi-dimensionally poor. The Buhari government had always claimed that the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development was doing wonders in alleviating poverty when Nigerians know that to the contrary, the ministry has become a cesspit of corruption.

Little wonder no eyebrows were raised when a few days after the NBS report, the second news broke that the minister, Mrs. Sadiya Umar Farouq, disowned the N206 billion inserted into the ministry’s 2023 budget allegedly by the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning. 

On Monday, Farouq told the Senate Committee on Special Duties that the fund, meant to implement projects for the North East Development Commission, NEDC, was inserted in the budget after a similar request in 2022 was not released. A member of the committee, Senator Elisha Abbo, told the minister to give details of the projects to be executed with the N206 billion.

“In 2023, you intend to borrow N206 billion for some projects. What are the projects to be implemented and are they captured in the Medium-Term Expenditure Framework? If they are, what are the specific project locations and activities?” the lawmaker from Adamawa State asked, not knowing that he had, unwittingly, opened a Pandora’s Box.

Farouq, who didn’t show any sign of surprise, either, simply shrugged her shoulders and washed her hands off the smelly scandal. “Yes, we made mention of the projects for 2022, part of it was for the North East Development Commission, NEDC. The money was not released and now we have seen it recurring by almost 10 folds,” she told the bewildered lawmakers.

“We are also going to clarify from the Ministry of Finance to know why this increase in spite of the fact that the previous year, the money was not even released for the projects. So, we will get the details, then send it to you.” On the upscaling of the National Social Safety Net project, she said: “I cannot really give full details of how this amount is going to be utilised because it is something that was negotiated between the Ministry of Finance and World Bank.” Isn’t it scandalous that a minister is claiming ignorance of her ministry’s budget proposals and to what use the money will be deployed if approved?

The Senate Committee resolved to summon the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed, to explain what she intended to do with the N206 billion she unilaterally inserted, if Farouq is to be believed, into the ministry’s budget. But that is where the problem lies – absolute trust deficit. Nothing said or done by the Buhari government can pass the test of credibility.

It is all subterfuge and deceit. It will not be a surprise if Zainab Ahmed throws her hand in the air tomorrow, claiming ignorance of the “ten-fold” budget padding. And I dare say that when that happens, nothing will happen. There will be no consequence. The ‘Buhari women’ are sacred cows – untouchable and above the law. Like the young man in Igbo folklore who kicks the door open when sent on a stealing expedition by his father, the Buhari women act with impunity, knowing full well that they have their principal’s back.

During the 2021 budget defence, lawmakers in the House of Representatives raised eyebrows over the Humanitarian Affairs Ministry’s extra-budgetary spending and the incomplete budget documents submitted by Farouq. Of course, it is absurd that an expenditure by a ministry was defined as non-budgetary, but with Buhari, impunity is the name of the game. The minister got away with the explanation that the “non-budgetary expenditure” was a special intervention fund by the President under the so-called Conditional Cash Transfer programme.

The sad thing is that these funds being spent recklessly, without any iota of accountability – literally stolen – are monies that are borrowed on behalf of all Nigerians. Here is a man who promised that the overall economic target of his government was to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years. In his 2021 Democracy Day speech, he claimed without any evidence that his government had lifted 10.5 million Nigerians out of poverty between June 2019 and June 2021.

“In the last two years we lifted 10.5 million people out of poverty – farmers, small-scale traders, artisans, market women and the like. I am very convinced that this 100 million target can be met and this informed the development of a National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy. The specific details of this accelerated strategy will be unveiled shortly,” he said on June 12, 2021.

Now, a government agency is putting a lie to his harebrained claims. Rather than lifting 100 million people out of poverty, we now know that under Buhari’s watch, 133 million people have been sucked into the septic tank of poverty. At the end of the day, the much-maligned, self-exiled Diezani Alison-Madueke, former Minister of Petroleum Resources, who is currently being paraded as the poster-girl of corruption, warts and all, will be canonized when held in the mirror of probity with the Buhari women. Time will tell.