IN an effort to reduce the cost of running the government, the Bola Tinubu administration has placed a three-month embargo on foreign trips for ministers and other government officials. This decision follows criticism from Nigerians directed at the Accountant-General of the Federation, Mrs Oluwatoyin Sakirat Madein, for organising a retreat in London for state commissioners of finance. The decision to halt foreign trips by government officials is a welcome and commendable development. According to the president, the embargo would save the country over N5bn. This is as he urged Nigerians to patronise made-in-Nigeria products and services to sustain the recent gains of the Naira in the foreign exchange market. I also commend the president’s decision to sell three presidential jets due to the high maintenance costs. There’s still more to be done to plug leaks in government spending. Additionally, the government should stop allocating money for constituency projects directly to legislators. Instead, legislators should submit proposals to the government for project approval. The constituency projects brouhaha predates President Tinubu. It started during Olusegun Obasanjo’s era, aiming to appease legislators and birthing the constituency projects. It is also alleged that some legislators use companies as fronts to secure contracts. Constituency projects are unconstitutional, a ruse, and a conduit to shortchange Nigeriasn.

On a positive note, the Minister of Works, though often described as a square peg in a round hole, is performing admirably. He has even requested contractors to redesign projects to save costs. It’s a good sign that the Federal Government will patronize Nigerian meter producers, which will increase local content in power projects. A report alleged that a company secured the Mambilla hydroelectric power project contract from through bribery. The CEO was accused of using money and women as bait to influence the ministers in the previous administration. The Minister of the Federal Capital Territory also reportedly reprimanded contractors involved in unauthorised contract variations. Many construction companies in Nigeria operate with impunity. They crush our rocks, fell our trees, and steal our mineral resources such as lithium, gypsum, gold, kaolin, and the like. President Tinubu should strengthen our weakened institutions and authorize an investigation into all contracts that were awarded, paid for, and either have begun or have been completed. In the office of the Chief of Staff, the proposed allocation for 2024 represents a staggering 4000 per cent increase from 2023, which is excessively outrageous. In Saudi Arabia, the ultra-conservative leadership is using proceeds to uplift the living standards of its citizens. Saudi Arabia has earmarked a location just 40 minutes’ drive from Riyadh to build the world’s first theme park dedicated to the Japanese manga franchise, aiming to attract tourism. Meanwhile, we are grappling with issues such as hunger, banditry, and kidnapping for ransom.

In Nigeria, from the President to national assembly members down to local government councillors, they collectively make up less than 1% of the population, yet they receive a significant portion of the national resources, leaving the majority of citizens wallowing in abject poverty. While many Nigerians languish in abject poverty amidst a surge in kidnappings for ransom, the president is proposing a N4 billion renovation for the office residence in Lagos and another N3 billion to refurbish the vice president’s official quarters in the state. In a nation lacking a good road network, wasting such a massive sum on renovating a building is outrageous. Traveling is a death sentence due to the deplorable state of federal roads. A critical look at the money budgeted for food at the villa reveals it is far too excessive. Our leaders are telling us to brace ourselves and adjust to these hard times, yet they fail to cut down on their motorcades, frequent foreign trips, allowances, cars, and the like. Our leaders should lead by example and demonstrate to Nigerians that they are genuinely with us during these difficult times.

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Our nation’s beleaguered currency is facing a barrage of attacks from all angles. Fifth columnists are stockpiling dollars at home, undermining the government’s efforts to revamp the economy. Another move by the president to cut government running costs is his decision to implement the Oronsaye Report, which recommends merging some government agencies with overlapping mandates. However, the report needs to be updated, as new ministries, departments, and agencies have been created since it was written. Some government departments and agencies were created purposefully to compensate kin and political associates. These agencies also have overlapping mandates with other existing ones. Merging the EFCC and ICPC is a possibility worth considering. One area requiring government attention is the prevalence of medical tourism and Nigerians pursuing studies abroad. Upgrading hospitals and schools with world-class equipment to meet international standards could curb medical tourism and the seeking of foreign degrees. This, in turn, could save Nigeria billions of dollars. Recently, the media has been awash with revelations about how the National Assembly allegedly inserted N212 billion for 1,150 streetlights at N184 million each and N82.5 million for 427 boreholes at N192 million each, all at the expense of ordinary Nigerians. The prices appear to be grossly inflated.The economy continues to take a hit as the cost of running it continues to strangle the government.

State governors should emulate the president by reducing the size of their foreign trip entourages and shortening motorcades. Governors frequently hire jets to ferry them to and from Abuja. This flamboyant lifestyle is costing the government a fortune. These funds could be channeled into meaningful development projects. We all witnessed how former President Muhammadu Buhari, a prolific traveler, made 108 trips to 63 countries in his eight years in office. He also spent 225 days receiving treatment in London. The economic value of these trips is a topic for another day. If the government is serious about plugging leaks, the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) should be a prime target for its scrutiny. This agency, mandated with overseeing public procurement, is supposed to regulate, set standards, and develop a legal framework for ethical practices. However, there are allegations that the BPP colludes with contractors to inflate contracts. Banks and their CEOs and managers can also be facilitators of corruption in Nigeria. We recently saw the EFCC raid Bureau de Change locations. Why can’t the EFCC investigate banks that allow corrupt politicians to store stolen funds? As mentioned earlier, the president has urged citizens to patronize and buy made-in-Nigeria products.

The government should lead by example. To do this, it should stop importing luxury cars when we have Innoson Motors, a truly indigenous car manufacturer. There is a need to tweak Nigeria’s constitution to create a unicameral National Assembly, replacing the current bicameral system. Huge sums are spent on allowances and constituency project funds for each legislator. Scrapping the Senate, which often functions as a retirement home for former governors, could save trillions of naira. The budget for concurrent expenditure has eclipsed that of capital expenditure. This is a period when federal, state, and local governments should tighten their belts, block loopholes and leakages, and channel the funds towards job creation, infrastructure, and human capital development.

Tanimu, a freelance architect, writes in from Kaduna, Nigeria.

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