THEWILL EDITORIAL: Senate Budget Screening And Shocking Revelations

SAN FRANCISCO, November 09, (THEWILL) – The Permanent Secretary of the State House, Tijani Umar, must have taken his joke too far, Thursday in Abuja, as he claimed that the N1.3bn approved for Aso Villa clinic in the 2021 budget is too small.

Umar, who had just appeared before the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs State to defend the N19.7bn estimate for the State House, including the N1.3bn for the Villa Clinic, must have thought that Nigerians have forgotten, so soon, the alarm raised, about three years ago, by the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, on the poor state of the Aso Villa Clinic.

Mrs. Buhari had shocked her audience at the opening of a two-day stakeholders’ meeting on Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn Child, Adolescent Health and Nutrition which held at the Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa when she called out the Chief Medical Director of the State House Medical Centre, Dr. Husain Munir, who was also at the ceremony.

She had challenged Munir on the poor state of the health facility being funded by federal budget every year to take care of the President, Vice-President, their families as well as members of staff of the Presidential Villa, Abuja. Yet, according to her, the X-ray machine at the Clinic was not working.

“I am happy the MD of Aso Rock Clinic is here. Dr. Munir, I am happy you are here. As you are all aware, for the last six months, Nigeria wasn’t stable because of my husband’s ill-health. We thank God he has fully recovered now…

“Few weeks ago, I was sick as well. They advised me to take the first flight out to London; I refused to go. I said I must be treated in Nigeria because there is a budget for an assigned clinic to take care of us. If the budget is N100m, we need to know how the budget is spent,” Mrs. Buhari had said.

Continuing, she said: “Along the line, I insisted they call Aso Clinic to find out if the X-ray machine is working. They said it was not working. They didn’t know I was the one that was supposed to be in that hospital at that very time.

“I had to go to a hospital that was established by foreigners 100 per cent. What does that mean?

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“So, I think it is high time we did the right thing. If something like this can happen to me, there is no need for me to ask the governors’ wives what is happening in their states. This is Abuja and this is the highest seat of government, and this is the Presidential Villa.”

Sadly, however, three years after the shocking revelations by the President’s wife, who also had to travel out of the country just about two months ago for another minor treatment, nothing seems to have changed at the Aso Villa Clinic despite billions of naira allocated for the running of the facility in the past three years.

Interestingly, rather than explain and account for the allocations received so far and justify the utilisation, the State House Permanent Secretary, Umar, thought he could fool Nigerians by saying that the N1.3bn approved to be spent in 2021 at the facility is too meager.

“The N1.3bn is absolutely inadequate when you juxtapose the amount proposed, the labour, and the status of the principals that the project is going to serve. When compared with worldwide standards, you’ll see that it is not anything near what we need.

“It (the Clinic) is considered a legacy project for us because we want to leave something down. We have realigned some many things and one of the fundamental challenges we have dealt with is the sustainable supply of drugs and consumables,” Umar had stated in an encounter with newsmen after his appearance at the Senate.

THEWILL finds Umar’s explanation insulting to the sensibility of right-thinking Nigerians and wonder what he is taking Nigerians for. We are even surprised that the Senate Committee could not ask him to explain in detail what improvements have been made at the Clinic in the past three or four years to justify the huge amounts being allocated to the facility every year.

The Senate Committee’s advice that the President and other State House officials should not undertake foreign medical trips because of the approval of the whopping amount does not also add up as President Muhammadu Buhari and his wife, at least, do not attend the clinic, and the Senate cannot stop them if they so decide to treat themselves outside the country.

The case of the Aso Villa Clinic is just one of the many loose ends being overlooked in government and executive financial recklessness year in, year out, even as Nigerians are being told that the Federal Government is broke and the citizens have to make sacrifices. We want to align with what Mrs Buhari said three years ago that somebody must account for how the budgetary allocations to the State House Clinic have been disbursed so far.

We are also shocked that despite the paucity of funds and the resort to borrowing to fund the budget, the Ministry of Power is still continuing with its financial recklessness. THEWILL had consistently alerted the nation of the failure of the Minister, Mamman Saleh, to add much value to that sector just as stakeholders agree that his tenure has been the worst in the last two decades.

THEWILL had alerted Nigerians of the shameless and inept leadership, coupled with the arrogant display of avarice and greed by those saddled with the responsibility of steering the affairs of the Power Ministry. We maintained that the low level they have descended to, in pursuit of selfish gains, is not only an insult to Nigerians but a great injustice to the country and Nigerians as a whole.

We also added that developments at the Ministry of Power, with Saleh as Minister, should therefore be of great concern not only to well-meaning and patriotic Nigerians but the Federal Government as well. The Ministry, despite its prime importance to President Buhari Administration’s roadmap for the country’s development, appears to have been hijacked by a cabal, which unfortunately, is close to the President, THEWILL had also stated.

We are therefore not surprised about the discovery by the Senate Committee on Power of the allocation of 20 new power projects to Lau Local Government of Taraba State where the Minister comes from. This goes a long way to show the level to which Saleh has taken nepotism and the way he has been running the affairs of the Ministry. We are however happy that the bubble got burst for him on this as we commend the Committee for querying the projects out rightly.

“If we sit down here and agree that a budget that pleases a minister, can come, he is not doing himself good because he has sworn to do justice to all manner of the people and not to allow his personal interest to affect his official conduct and decision.

“He has by this clearly shown that he has allowed his personal interest to affect his official conduct and decision, and that is a very serious matter.

“Governance is a very serious issue I think you must take this observation, serious and convey it to the minister. Tell him that the committee is not in agreement with him,” Bala Na’Allah, a member of the Senate Committee, told Ahmad Salijo, Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency, asking him to convey the Committee’s displeasure to the Minister.

The same tough instruction was handed to the Transmission Company of Nigeria where the Minister’s crony, Sule Ahmed Abdulaziz, the TCN managing director, by the House of Representatives Committee on Power.

While Abdulaziz was trying to defend over a billion naira estimate to furnish the new N14bn head office building that was purchased under controversial circumstances with the Minister’s connivance and approval, the Committee gave TCN no approval for new projects, asking him to go and concentrate on completing old projects.

We thus commend the National Assembly for the job done so far on the budget screening and urge them to expose more anomalies in the projections being brought before the various committees. It is by so doing that the National Assembly can prove to Nigerians that it is not just a rubber-stamp to legitimise the financial indiscipline and recklessness of the Executive.