Coronavirus: Tighten your belts, we loosen ours

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Buhari ... forced to stay at home by coronavirus?

By Yinka Olujimi

Watch out, the Nigerian tribe of professional critics will not applaud our caring government’s proactive resolve to cut down the year 2020 budget by N1.5 trillion, in light of the devastating effect of coronavirus on global economy that has badly affected oil sales all over the world, including Nigeria.

Bad people, they will still look for a way to make our government look bad even when it has, suo motu, announced a massive cut in fuel price from N145 per litre to N125, a whopping N20 cut, in spite of the dwindling income from crude oil sales.

The Minister of Finance Zainab Ahmed announced the budget cut at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Abuja, presided over by our able – fit as a fiddle – President, General Muhammadu Buhari.

According to The Sun newspaper, she listed some of the drastic measures to include a cut in the size of the federal-funded upstream projects by N457 billion, reduction of projected revenue from excise duty, cut in capital expenditure by 20%, a reduction of recurrent expenditure by 25%, a ban on recruitment except for essential services and the review of social investment programme, among others,”

Mercifully, she added, the government also gave assurance that there would be no job losses, or delay in the payment of salaries.

Awww!

So sweet, so caring.

The government deserves a medal.

There will no job cuts, only that there will not be fresh employment. The army of the unemployed youths should go join politics. We need able-bodied men and women in the youth wing of political parties. There are vacancies, and good remuneration, for those who are skilled – or have the potential for ta-ta-ta operations on election day.

If you do not get my drift, ask any friend in Kogi State.

The only snag in the minister’s announcement is the blanket freeze on fresh employment. But that will be a commendable sacrifice which all Nigerians will most readily agree with, if you ask me.

Of course, if you are in government, or one of those who have been infected by the worse form of coronavirus – the political strain, caused mostly by people whose gaze is toward 2023 – then you will know that no sacrifice is too much in the service of fatherland.

Not surprisingly, one of the bad people sniggered to my hearing at the budget cuts that were outlined by the minister. He wondered why the plan for such sweeping cuts omitted what he referred to as the areas of massive waste of public resources by the government.

Noting the minister’s disclosure of plans to notify the National Assembly of the need to scale down the 2020 budget, the wailing critic asked why the government was looking to scale down its responsibilities to ordinary folks while keeping the unearned privileges of the political elite intact.

“Where is the plan to stop the House of Representatives from importing 400 exotic cars in spite of the dwindling resources of the government?” he asked, adding: “How many of similar exotic cars are members of the Senate also procuring to satisfy their greed while sacrificing our need?”

If the government is truly in economic dire straits, the critic argued, then President Muhammadu Buhari should make good his pre-election pledge in 2015 to drastically cut down the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet.

Not done, the critic, one of Nigeria’s children of anger also wants President Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to take a second look at the budget before putting a freeze on employment.

“Shorn of linguistic niceties, the government is simply telling Nigerians to tighten their belts while its top officials continue to loosen theirs,” said the wailing wailer.

In that budget, which the FEC overlooked to take its decision, is provision for Buhari and Osinbajo to spend N3.5b on foreign and local trips.

“Nigerians will have coronavirus to thank if the pandemic forces our peripatetic president to stay back at home this year, If that is so, why would the President want to keep a budget provision of N2.5 billion for travels?” the critic asked. In 2019, the president budgeted N750 million for international travels. In 2020, the allocation jumped exponentially to N1.75 billion. His budget for local travels in 2019 was N250 million, but it ballooned to N775 million in 2020.

In 2019, Osinbajo’;s budget for international travels was N301 million, but that item rose to N801 million in the current fiscal year, while the local moved from N283 million last year to N17 million this year.

The mismatch with global economic realities and Nigeria’s earnings runs through the entire budget and should attract the government’s attention before it thinks of any belt-tightening scheme for the citizens, the wailing wailer added.

Yet another wailer spoke angrily this week about the failure of the President to visit Lagos State to commiserate with victims of the Abule Ado blast in which at least 17 persons died and over 50 buildings were destroyed.

“On the contrary it is the Governor who took photographs of the incident to the imperial president in Abuja,” the wailer wailed, and wondered aloud: “You mean there will be deaths and destruction of that magnitude in a day in the United Kingdom or the United States and the Prime Minister or President will sit comfortably in their offices to receive photographs of the incidents from the Mayor or State Governor?”

He wondered aloud: “Who did we offend in this country to be yoked with this kind of unfeeling, uncaring, and  aloof leadership?”

My comment?

No comment. I do not have the time, or patience, for debates with implacable foes. I am for Buhari, right or wrong.

The wailers can go hug a transformer.

Oh, I forgot, the transformer is on holiday. No electricity.

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