“I can tell you that Nigeria is broke. There is no money to fund capital projects next year. As you can see, the dollar that has been hovering around N500 and N600 is now above N700. The truth is that there is no money anywhere… So, the situation calls for patriotism from all Nigerians. The lack of money to fund capital projects would have implications on the capacity to create jobs. If jobs are not created, poverty will increase in the country.” This was the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, speaking last week on why the federal government has been unable to resolve the industrial crisis that has crippled activities in the country’s public universities since February 14, 2022. It would be expected that a government in such dire straits will not just be circumspect in its spending but also the public perception of its priority. This is one of the contexts to situate the spleen being vented by Nigerians since learning of the questionable generosity of President Muhammadu Buhari to the Nigerien government.
How can Ngige call for patriotism from citizens when the action of the number-one citizen is giving room for Nigerians to think his patriotism and loyalty lie elsewhere? When an investigative journalist, David Hundeyin, revealed that Buhari approved N1,145,000,000 for the purchase and supply of 10 Toyota Land Cruiser vehicles to the Niger Republic on February 28, 2022, his claim was considered too far-fetched and outlandish, hence did not elicit much reaction. This is despite him attaching a picture of a document obtained from Nigeria’s Budget Office, which read in part, “Being release of funds in the sum of N1,145,000,000 to the office of the Accountant General of the Federation IFO Kaura Motors Nig. Limited for supply of 10 numbers Toyota Land Cruiser V8 Vehicles to the Republic of Niger vide Mr. President approval on page 83 dated 28/02/2022.”
On Wednesday, however, those who could not imagine Buhari being that arbitrary and profligate with scarce resources were mortified to hear the Minister of Finance, Budget, and National Planning, Zainab Ahmed, admit the unthinkable as accurate. Speaking with State House Correspondents after the weekly cabinet meeting, she said, “This is not the first time that Nigeria has supported Niger, Cameroon, or Chad, and the President makes an assessment as to what is required, based on the request of their President and such requests are approved, and the interventions provided are to enhance their capacity to protect their own territory as it relates to security also to Nigeria.” All manner of criticisms and discontent has been hurled at the government ever since, with lots of conspiracy theories flying around. Naija News worries that in the face of this kerfuffle and confusion, the Buhari government has not thought it wise to set the record straight. Citizens would have been at ease without the deafening hullabaloo if told the strings attached to this gifting. For sure, Nigerians won’t allege double-dealing if they were made to see how the 10 SUVs would help the Nigerien authorities stop the unchecked crossing of arms and bandits from that country into Nigeria.
The Finance minister seemed unsettled while addressing the issue, which the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, seated next to her, should have shed more light on. Enough clarification of this is necessary, bearing in mind widespread suspicion of Buhari’s ties with Niger. His government has been vigorously pursuing the $1.96 billion standard gauge rail line from Kano to Maradi in the Niger Republic, which does not exist in Nigeria’s major economic hubs. Explaining the reason for this, Buhari had said, “I have first cousins in Niger. There are Kanuris, there are Hausas, there are Fulanis in the Niger Republic”.
A good number of Nigerians are, therefore, understandably of the view that the President’s spending of national resources on Niger in the face of pressing local needs and deprivation is nepotistic and the taking of parochial interest. A President must never give the citizens a reason to doubt where his allegiance lies. It is incredibly unsettling for citizens to have a sense that their President is from another country or prefers other nationals above his countrymen. It is for this reason that Naija News is worried about the impact of this latest revelation on the psyche of Nigerians who already see the President as aloof and unfeeling.
Such apprehension was expressed by the Human Rights Writers Association when it said yesterday, “The fresh donation of SUV vehicles to Niger Republic where President Buhari has cousins is an evidence of where his allegiance, patriotism, and loyalty lie. Any wonder then that terrorists from Niger Republic come into Nigeria in droves to kill, maim, destroy and cart away billions of cash as ransom back to develop Niger Republic, and the President does next to nothing. Buhari must clear his patriotism amidst allegations of helping to build up Niger Republic while accusations of Niger’s involvement in terrorism in North West heightens”.
Given that this anxiety resonates in parts of the country, the Finance minister should have been more forthcoming than merely saying, “the president has the responsibility to make an assessment of what is in the best interest of the country, and I cannot question the decision myself.” Even if the Information minister took a detour at that critical moment, any of Femi Adesina or Garba Shehu should have addressed the issues and fears by now. In better-run societies, the President wouldn’t wait for this outrage before addressing his fellow citizens and explaining how his approval of luxury SUVs for Niger will help secure Nigerians. But, this is too much to expect from an imperial leader, even when Minister Ahmed’s terse comment leaves more questions than answers. We demand that the political leadership desists from treating the citizenry as pieces of rubbish, not worthy of any attention or basic courtesy.
The wrongs with this largess writs large to be ignored. Assuming that this giveaway is an iteration of Africa as the centerpiece of our foreign policy, who plays Santa Claus when they are as broke as the Labour minister would have striking university teachers believe? Although giving aid to less-endowed countries is an instrument of foreign policy, such assistance and grants are not unconditional. When Nigeria sought to buy 12 Tucano aircraft from the United States, the country was made to undertake that the aircraft won’t be deployed outside the North-East war theatre. If a buyer can be so slammed with a condition, why not a country being gifted posh automobiles worth USD2.7million?
Naija News regrets that the Buhari government did not move toward local automobile manufacturers in procuring this contentious gift to Niger Republic. That way, a substantial part of that N1.145billion would have been conserved. It is poor thinking on the part of the government to grow the Japanese economy by buying these Toyota SUVs, a similar specification of which could have been produced by any of the vehicle manufacturing companies in this country, after all the official vehicles of the Anambra State Governor and his Deputy are locally produced. If the government had looked inward to procure the SUVs, the humongous sum expended in the purchase would have done the Nigerian economy a world of good, prime of which are creating more jobs and new markets for these indigenous companies, one of which is acclaimed to get most of its patronage from other African countries.