By Cross Udo, Cajetan Mmuta and Linus Aleke
Heavy controversy yesterday trailed the Federal Government’s reported approval of N1.14bn for the purchase of vehicles for the Republic of Niger.
While the Federal Government has confirmed and justified its expenditure in this way, civil society groups and others are seriously condemning the move.
It was reported that the President approved 10 Toyota Land Cruiser jeeps to the Republic of Niger, but the purpose for the purchase was not specified in the approval letter.
The document released by a media influencer, David Hundeyin, showed that the President approved the release of the fund on February 22, this year.
The contract for the supply was awarded to IFO Kaura Motors Nig. Limited.
The document read, “Being release of the fund in the sum of N1, 145, 000,000.00 to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation Ifo Kaura Motors Nig Limited supply of ten (10) numbers Toyota Land Cruiser V8 Vehicles to Republic of Niger Vide MR. President Approval on Page 83 Dated 28/02/2022 and the HMFBNP’S Directive on File No: FMF/CMD/FINANCE/0001/V/TIII/AT PAGE 84 DATED 22/07/2022 with the following bank details: Account name: Fidelity Bank Plc; Account name: Kaura Motors Nigeria Limited; Account No: 4010638472; TIN No; 00403721-0001; Sort Code: 070110409; Branch: Ali Akilu Road Kaduna.”
There has been widespread condemnation of the purchases, especially in the wake of the inability of the government to settle the five months long strike in the universities over issues bordering on finances, which triggered a nationwide labour protest during the week.
While the Federal Government, through the Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed, in defence, said the provision of ‘intervention funds’ for Nigeria’s northerly neighbour is not new, it is targeted at confronting the heavy burden of insecurity ravaging the country.
Ahmed, who confirmed that President Muhammadu Buhari approved the purchase, based on his prerogative, said the President has the right to make his assessment of situations and give directives accordingly.
According to her, the financial support, which is primarily to enhance the capacity to protect the country’s territory, was based on a request by the Nigerien Government, “and it is also in the best interest of the country.”
The minister was speaking after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by the president. She responded to questions regarding documents released on social media which showed that the president approved the release of the funds on February 22, 2022, for the Niger Republic.
*It’s an insensitive move –Ohanaeze, CSOs
However, the issue has not gone down with a cross-section of Nigerians, particularly the civil society.
Secretary-General of apex pan-Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo Worldwide, Okechukwu Isiguzoro, described the purchase as “the height of insensitivity for the government which has failed to tackle insecurity challenges in the country, and will continue to squander the nation’s resources for the Niger Republic.”
According to him, Ndigbo is amazed that, while President Buhari was seeking international assistance and collaboration to tackle the insecurity challenges in the country, it could ‘waste’ N1.14bn on vehicles for another country.
“It is obvious that the government has already abandoned her citizens. Buhari’s charity begins abroad, we condemn this atrocity in strong terms, and urge the National Assembly to investigate and do the needful to halt the executive’s wasteful spending and misplaced priority.”
Also, the board chairman of the International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (InterSociety), Emeka Umeagbalasi, berated the Federal Government “for taking the country’s sovereignty and its people for granted, “even in the face of the general rot in all sectors of the nation.”
Umeagbalasi said the action by the Federal Government was expected, “because it tells you the level of leadership decadence we have in the country.
He said, “The country’s leadership had been so decayed that there is confusion everywhere; confusion from right, left and centre. Fortunately, the minister has confirmed it and was giving very frenzy and empty, very crooked and crude reasons. Excuses that cannot be given in any serious-minded country in any part of the world.
“These are signs of the fact that Nigeria is decaying every day and receding to the fabrics of failure as a collapsed state, otherwise, how can you reconcile this where the country’s universities have been on strike for the past five months and getting to six months, and why are they on strike because the government said it has no money to review an agreement the government initiated in 2009.”
*No need for sensationalism- Otubanjo
Also, a retired professor of Political Science, University of Ibadan, Femi Otubanjo, said there is no need to sensationalise the matter because Nigeria had always paid attention to the welfare of its neighbours.
He said, “In international politics when you give to other countries, the citizens have always asked why we should give when we also have need. Now, the reality is that there are many considerations before a country’s relations with other countries.
“Nigeria historically has assisted its neighbours, has assisted even beyond its neighbours. We have assisted countries with salaries we have a technical aid corps that send Nigerians to different countries to assist with teaching, with hospital and we are paying, yet our people are suffering here, that is how it is, even in the middle-class families.
“People spend money outside, they go to a party, not that their families have everything that they need but because they have other obligations. So, our role as a regional power, and our desire to build a harmonious relationship with our neighbours, have always combined to make Nigeria give and support others.
“Many times, when we have ECOWAS meeting, Nigeria send aircraft to go and bring leaders from small countries like Togo, and Republic of Benin. Nigeria has always given, so, the N1.14bn should not alarming to anybody, when we translate that into dollars, we would discover that it is not outrageous.
“We always give, just that I am afraid that some sensation is being made out of the fact that the president has blood link with the Niger Republic and the tendency is to believe that as he has approved the railway line to Niger, he is paying more attention to a foreign country. But all of them have rational explanations, so there is no need to sensationalise it.”
•It’s in Nigeria’s best interest, says Finance Minister, Zainab Ahmed
Extrapolating on the issue, Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed, when asked to confirm the reports, explained that Nigeria has been having the cause to help her neighbours, as a matter of security priority.
She argued that even though Nigerians have the right to question the approval, President Buhari, who approved the purchase, also has the right to make his assessment of situations and act accordingly.
At the end of the weekly FEC meeting, presided over by President Buhari at the Council Chambers, Presidential Villa, Abuja, the minister said Nigeria has been supporting her neighbours, adding that the donation was to enhance the capacity of the Niger Republic to maintain security.
She said the president has the liberty to assess what is in the best interest of the country.
While maintaining that the president reserved the right to take decisions in the interest of Nigeria, she said, “this was not the first time the country is proving such interventions to her neighbours.”
Ahmed said, “Let me just say that, over time, Nigeria has had to support its neighbours, especially the immediate neighbours, to enhance their capacity to secure their countries as it relates to us. This is not the first time that Nigeria has assisted Niger Republic, Cameroon, or Chad.
“The president assesses what is required based on the request of their presidents. Such requests are approved and interventions are provided. It is to enhance their capacity to protect their countries, as it relates to security and also to Nigeria.”
She added, “Nigerians have the right to ask questions, but also the president has the responsibility to assess what is in the best interest of the country, and I cannot question the decision myself.
“I have said that this is not the first time and that Nigeria as a country has provided intervention to our neighbours. It is in the best interest of Nigeria to do so.”
In the memo presented by her ministry at the council meeting, the minister said “Today (Wednesday), the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget, and National Planning presented a policy memo to council, and the memo is on the National Monitoring and Evaluation Policy for the country.
“The policy defines a framework for the institutionalisation of the practice of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to promote good governance, learning, and accountability for results that will contribute to improving the socio-economic development of the country and enhance the well-being of citizens.
“The policy clarifies how M&E should be conducted in the country, specifies the position, institutional and financial arrangements, and the modalities for feedback, especially from citizens, so that decision-makers can make effective use of evidence by government and stakeholders to inform policy strategies and investment.
According to the minister, “The council approved the memo. This M&E policy was developed in close collaboration with the states, development partners, academia, and several experts and associations of monitoring and evaluation in Nigeria.”
*Niger reciprocates, honours Nigerians
Meanwhile, the President of the Niger Republic, Mohammed Bazoum, has honoured six Nigerians as the country marks its 62nd independence anniversary in the nation’s capital, Niamey.
Those honoured are Jigawa State Governor, Mohammad Badaru; his Zamfara counterpart, Bello Matawalle; Chairman of Dangote Group, Aliko Dangote; Chairman of BUA Cement, Abdulsamad Rabiu; State Chief of Protocol, SCOPE, Ambassador Lawan Kazaure and the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the President on Domestic Matters, Saiki Abba.