Buhari’s Puzzling Power, Social Intervention Expenses-Yemi

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A whopping N1.7 trillion! Yes, that is the amount of taxpayers’ money injected into the power sector in the last five years as intervention fund by the Buhari government; yet, there is no corresponding improvement in electricity supply. This figure was unveiled during a recent public hearing on “the power sector recovery plan and impact of COVID-19 pandemic,” organised by the Senate Committee on Power. I thought, perhaps, there was a mistake somewhere and that the Executive would come out to debunk the statistic. But over two weeks after, this has not happened; meaning we can go with this figure.

The contribution of Senate President, Ahmed Lawan, during the inquiry, was instructive. He said: “Government cannot afford to just spend money that you hardly understand why it is given… We want to be very critical of how funds are given to privatised enterprises. We expect that by now, our level of generation, transmission and distribution would have been far better.”

It’s so depressing that Nigeria still wallows in darkness. There is nothing for this government to defend on this N1.7 trillion expenditure on power, even if it makes the public who got what, when, why and how. This spending is unjustifiable because there is no result, while huge funds flow to a sector already privatised. Did the businessmen who own 60% of these power firms put in this much money into them? Many feel there is fraud somewhere in this Nigerian power business. I also feel the same way. The details of this government’s power outlay will only come into the open when it completes its tenure in 2023. Surely, it will be more than this N1.7 trillion disclosed.

Let’s flip over to expenses on the provocative School Feeding Programme of the Buhari government. Our children have been fed with N196.6 billion since the inception of the programme in 2016, so says the federal government. Even with COVID-19 lockdown and schools shut, our blessed children are still being fed at home.

These kids are indeed lucky; nine million of them in all. Giving a breakdown of the expenditure recently, the Special Adviser to the President on the School Feeding Programme, Dr Dotun Adebayo, said the total sum committed to the programme from 2016 to 2018 was N186.1 billion. He said N10.4 billion was released for the programme in 2020, “while the total spent in feeding our kids stood at N196.6 billion in five years.”

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts was not impressed with Dr Adebayo’s presentation and resolved to summon the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele and the Director General of the National Bureau of Statistics, Yemi Kale, to appear and tender records of payments/details of the nine million children and 84,000 schools across the country benefiting from the school feeding programme.

The Chairman of the Committee, Wole Oke, frowned at the breach of the Public Procurement Act during the implementation of the programme and demanded for relevant authorisations from the Bureau of Public Procurement. He also demanded for budgetary approvals for the scheme from inception, as well as the lists of schools, locations, cooks and full details of expenditure.

The budget per child is N70. No wonder the kids I saw in Osun State “enjoying” the feeding were given portions incapable of satisfying birds. Just N70 per child and the scheme has gulped N196.6 billion in five years. It is curious; our kids are evidently not getting any result. Nigerian lawmakers must probe deeper to fish out guys that have been feeding themselves with our children’s school feeding money.

Spending on the N-Power Scheme, another arm of FG’s Social Investment Programme has also been puzzling. N-Power is a youth empowerment scheme that provides a platform for young Nigerians to acquire skills. There is also the N-Power Volunteer Corps, a post-tertiary engagement initiative for youths with a two-year duration. Participants in the schemes are entitled to a monthly stipend. This scheme has gulped N421 billion from 2016 to 2020, so says the federal government, but complaints of unpaid stipends pour daily. Over 11,000 N-Power beneficiaries have not been paid since January 2020. The statistics of participants is also contentious.

That was why the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts queried the expenses on N-Power when its managers recently appeared before it. There were also discrepancies in the figures declared. When asked to give an account of the amount expended so far, against what they have on paper that the agency had expended N474 billion on the scheme since its inception, N-Power’s Assistant Director (Administration), stated that N421 billion was what they actually expended so far. Okon pointed to a typographic error on the last page of his submission, resulting in the amended figure of N421 billion.

Worried by the inconsistency in the documents presented to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Public Accounts, its Chairman, Oluwole Oke argued that N-Power was out to “ambush the Parliament”. Oke declared: “Can we see your total for the 2017 financial year? Can we see your total expenditure for 2018 financial year, vis-a-vis 2019 financial year and for the period of January to May 2020? Can we see your exposure from this your submission?” He also demanded details of the salaries of the N-Power officials. Well, the lawmakers are still waiting for answers. Oke has since directed all the lawmakers to go to their various constituencies and verify the details of all the beneficiaries of N-Power listed, with a view to ensuring accountability.

Aside from the fact that expenditures on electricity, N-Power and school feeding are ludicrous, many will agree with me that this country has not been getting the desired result. I sincerely hope that those in charge of these spending will amend their ways and re-direct the funds towards productive ventures. We have had enough of this hogwash school feeding programme and unending expenses on privatised power companies.

Ayooluwa Joshua

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