The penchant for acquiring private jet, especially by governors, may have put the country in a bad light in the face of rising poverty
Nigeria’s billionaire club of governors, the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), has been in the news lately, occupying prominent space in public discourse, in effect, distracting Nigerians from the propriety and morality of some of their endeavours in the name of public office. Their tenures have been dogged with wild ticket profligacy, immoral extravagance, ostentatious lifestyles all paid for with public funds and crass insensitivity to the sufferings and yearnings of the people.
This, ideally, should form the core of public review of the activities of public officials and where necessary, deliver a public rebuke to the official/s whose conduct fail public expectations.
But what should otherwise cause public outrage has been marginalised and condemned to the fringes. The scandalous acquisition of private jets with all the associated cost of maintenance, take off, landing and parking levies, by state governors has been subsumed in the foul atmosphere of politics with its partisan loyalties.
It is amazing how some spin agents have tried to defend and rationalise this scandalous misuse of public funds in a vain attempt to hoodwink the public that the governors need the airplanes “to attend meetings at short notices”.
Fortunately, the harder they try to convince the people, the more hollow their argument becomes when juxtaposed against all development indices that countries are rated by and in which Nigeria has continued to fare very badly.
Consider a recent report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) which has ranked Nigeria high among nations where a large population of schoolchildren are not in the classrooms, then you can begin to appreciate our elected officials’ propensity to waste, indulgence in needless self-aggrandisement and hold a total contempt for public resources.
The report shows that one out of every five Nigerian children is out of school. The UNESCO Education for All Global Monitoring Report (EAGMR) said Nigeria holds the world record of having the highest number of its young people out of school, according to the report published recently by an online news medium, Premium Times.
With approximately 10.5 million kids out of school, Nigeria tops the table of 12 other countries with which it accounts for 47 per cent of the global out-of-school population.
are Pakistan (5.1 million); Ethiopia (2.4 million); India (2.3 million); Philippines (1.5 million); Cote d’Ivoire (1.2 million); Burkina Faso (1million); Niger (1 million); Kenya (1 million); Yemen (0.9 million); Mali (0.8 million); and South Africa (0.7 million). Of all the countries, according to UNESCO, Nigeria is among the four that have experienced the highest increase since 1999.
“It (Nigeria) is one of only four among of these twelve countries where the number increased in absolute terms,” observed the report. “It now accounts for almost one in five out-of-school children in the world.”
A large percentage of the population lives on less than one dollar a day despite strong economic growth, according to data released by the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS). The percentage of Nigerians living in absolute poverty – those who cannot afford only the bare essentials of food, shelter and clothing – rose to 60.9 percent in 2010, compared with 54.7 percent in 2004, the national bureau of statistics said.
Following quickly on the above depressing statistics is the report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which indicated that an estimated N400 billion to 600 billion dollars had been looted from the Nigerian treasury between independence and 1999. And that stolen funds stashed in foreign accounts rose to $170 billion annually in 2003 from $110 billion dollars in 1999.
Nigeria is potentially Africa’s richest country. It is the ninth largest producer of crude oil in the world. Yet poverty is at a record high, unemployment has reached a frightening level with no serious efforts by our leaders, from the president to elected governors and down to local government chairmen to challenge it head on.
According to Professor Festus Iyayi of the University of Benin who recently revealed that research had shown that the current level of unemployment in Nigeria was above 40 per cent and would rise to 50 per cent at the end of this year.
While noting that the looted sums would have created millions of jobs, Iyayi quoted UNODC in 1999 as stating: “That is a staggering – almost astronomical amount of money because if you were to put $400 billion bills end-to-end, you could make 75 round trips to the moon!
“Concretely, those $400 billion (looted funds) could have translated into millions of vaccinations for children; thousands of kilometres of roads; hundreds of schools, hospitals and water treatment facilities that never came to be.
“Maternal mortality rate is still very high with 350 deaths in every 100,000 live births as a result of complications during child birth. Polio, a disease that the United Nations spent hundreds of millions of dollars to eliminate around the world, has reared its ugly head again in the northern parts of the country.
“Only recently, the Bill Gates Foundation announced it is pumping hundreds of millions of dollars to help fend off the disease in Nigeria. Water-borne diseases are on the rise as a result of lack of access to potable water. In a nutshell, the country ranks high in all human indicators of underdevelopment and rank very poorly on the chart of human progress,” he said.
And just before you think you have heard the worst, a new UN report just revealed that Nigeria has the highest number of HIV children worldwide. The number of children infected with the virus is higher than that of any other country in the world. The UN report titled “2013 Progress Report on The Global Plan: Towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keeping their mothers alive” is the most recent on the global plan which seeks an elimination of new HIV infections among children by 2015.
“In several countries, the pace of decline in the numbers of children newly infected has been slow and the numbers have actually risen in Angola. Nigeria has the largest number of children acquiring HIV infection – nearly 60,000 in 2012, a number that has remained largely unchanged since 2009,” the report stated.
The UN said it was worried about the prevalence rate of HIV among Nigerian children and warned that if Nigeria was not serious about curbing HIV in children, part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will not be realised by 2015.
With all these depressing statistics, those saddled with public trust of holding offices and managing taxpayers money have either not the slightest inclinations about how terrible things are for the ordinary people or are totally unmoved by their sufferings. Critics say these greedy cruel officials have become so pompous and daring that they now even openly accuse the public of being incapable of waging a revolt against them.
The state of public roads across the country is a crying shame on the Nigerian leaders who frequently dash to other countries for medical checkups at the slightest headache or fever while failing to set up standard health centres here in their state. They send their children to schools abroad to get better quality education while neglecting to build schools for the children of the ordinary man on the street.
The quantum of money the nation has earned from natural resources and taxes since 1999 when matched against the poor state of infrastructure across the country should ordinarily have triggered righteous anger leading to violent revolt on the streets. But that hasn’t happened and there is no hope it will happen any time soon. So our elected officials have continued in their impunity and mindless fleecing of the public treasury.
Instead of channeling resources to development and alleviating poverty, what is seen and continues to be seen is an unceasing propensity for waste, primitive acquisitions of wealth, ego-massaging expeditions and outright plundering of public funds.
What has lately been in vogue for the governors is the acquisition of private jets. At the last count, four state governments had acquired different types of private jets, which is the new status symbol in the country for governors who have arrived.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State leads the pack with his grounded $57 million jet and two helicopters (that are yet to be delivered courtesy of local politics) in a state, supposedly still in need of many things. Rivers State is Nigeria’s third biggest economy and one of its most troubled.
Amaechi as the sitting governor receives a total revenue of N22 billion monthly from federal allocation and derivation fund. In all, the state could be raking in as much as N30 billion every month including internal generated revenue, IGR. Yet, the state cannot be said to be done with development. Almost $60 million was spent on a jet just to junket across the country to attend “meetings” and other vanities that do not have direct bearing on the people, but drain the state of vital resources.
Governor Godwills Akpabio is a man after the hearts of many Nigerians. It is no longer news that the state is a mini-Dubai of sorts. But the governor’s proclivity for waste is only matched by his arrogance of power. Only recently, he acquired a private jet worth over $50 million to attend to his vanities. He doles state funds like an inebriated lottery winner while many of his people still go to bed hungry. If he is not giving two Toyota Prado jeeps to Tuface Idibia, he is doling out “N1 million “chop money” to party men who pay him visits”.
Cash-strapped Cross River State which Governor Liyel Imoke superintends ostensibly joined the club of governors that have “arrived”. He acquired from Rivers State the jet which Governor Amaechi inherited from former Governor Peter Odili but which the former considered no longer befitting.
Ailing Governor Dambaba Suntai had two jets as poor as Taraba State is. Unfortunately, in a daredevil attempt to pilot himself, even when reports had it that he had a flying certificate, he flew the plane to the forests in Yola, waking up in a German hospital after a near fatal crash from which he is yet to recover.
Most governors, as Nigerians have come to find out, are in the habit of chartering aircrafts and helicopters at a huge cost to the public purse when traveling within and outside the country.
Many of them appear to have not only lost all connections with the ordinary people they claim to be serving but spend precious tax payers’ money with reckless disdain for prudence and frugality.
The only time they mingle with the people is when seeking for votes. Immediately afterwards, they keep a safe distance, removing themselves from the reality of a suffering nation. This may explain the mad rush for the construction of airports or airstrips in almost every state of the federation by state governors essentially to cater to their personal pleasure contrary to any genuine motivation to attract investments to their states.
While leaders in other countries, especially Middle East and South America are busy undertaking ambitious and audacious projects to put their people on the world stage, Nigeria’s leaders at all levels of political offices are busy stealing taxpayers’ money and ironically hiding their loot in these countries. The tiny Arab country of Qatar has been transformed into a major international business destination by one man with a vision.
People only need to go to Dubai and see how one man has continuously challenged the boundaries of human possibilities; the result is a world class city where only the best of anything is good enough. Strangely, it is now the playground of the rich and famous including Nigeria’s treasury looters. And you begin to wonder if these leaders are human beings.