Outrage over cuts in Health, Education budgets; PDP oppose N27b NASS complex renovation

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The main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) has rejected the Federal Government’s slashing of the 2020 budgetary allocations for basic health care from N44.4 billion to N25.5billion, and for Universal Basic Education (UBE) from N111.7 billion to N51.1 billion. The opposition party described the dramatic cuts as the height of insensitivity to the plights of Nigerians. The PDP charged President Buhari to immediately recall the budget and rework the figures to reflect a 100 per cent increase in the initial figures as a step towards meeting the needs of the citizens in these sectors.

 

 “No government, which genuinely means well for its citizens, will vote a paltry N25.5 billion for basic health care for 200 million people in 774 local governments, particularly at this time the nation is facing huge health challenges, including the COVID-19 pandemic, while allocating a bigger sum of N27.7 billion for renovation of the National Assembly complex, which is not even in a distress state,” PDP said in a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan.

 

 The PDP alleged that in slashing the budget for the primary health need of the people to N25.5 billion (a 42 per cent cut) and UBE budget to N51.1 billion (a 54 per cent cut), in a country of over 200 million people, who are already economically overburdened, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and its administration had further exposed the fact that they never had the welfare of Nigerians at heart.

“While the PDP has nothing against any effort to improve on the working condition of our federal legislature, placing the renovation of the National Assembly complex above health care at this critical time is a scandalous misplacement of national priority by President Buhari and APC presiding officers. Moreover, our party has been made aware that this development does not reflect the views of majority of the federal lawmakers,” the statement added.

 

According to PDP, “A critical analysis of the allocations indicates that with the N25.5 billion voted for primary health care in a country of over 200 million citizens, President Buhari and the APC plan to spend only about N125 per Nigerian at the primary health care level, within the 2020 fiscal year. In the same vein, with the N51.1 billion allocation for basic education in a country of estimated 43 million school-age children, the APC Federal Government is deeming it proper to spend only N1,186 per child at the UBE level in 2020 fiscal year.”

 

The PDP said it wondered if the APC government targets to achieve more out-of-school children as well as more health need deficit in our country. “It is even more distressing that the APC administration would still cut the primary healthcare budget in spite of the recent confession by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha, that our health sector had gone moribund despite claims of interventions by the current administration.”

 

 The PDP further noted that the slashing of the budget, for basic education despite the poor state of the sector, showed that the APC administration had no value for education and preferred to draw the nation back in global competitiveness in critical sectors. The PDP charged President Buhari to prioritize the welfare and development of Nigerians by cutting the size of his government, clipping its luxury, curbing the alleged unbridled corruption by APC leaders so as to make more resources available for the health and education needs of the citizens.

 

 In a related development, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) has sent an appeal to three United Nations’ special rapporteurs, urging them to use their “mandates to urgently request the Nigerian government and the leadership of the National Assembly to immediately reverse the cut in budgetary allocations to education and healthcare, and to stop the authorities from spending N27billion to renovate the National Assembly complex.”

 

 The appeal was sent to the Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Koumbou Boly Barry; Special Rapporteur on the right to health, Mr. Dainius Puras and Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Mr. Olivier De Schutter. In the urgent appeal dated June 3, 2020, and signed by SERAP Deputy Director, Kolawole Oluwadare, the organization said: “Nigerian authorities are putting politicians’ allowances and comfort before citizens’ human rights. The budget cuts show failure to address the growing economic and social inequality in the country, and to genuinely address the consequences of COVID-19 on the poor and marginalized groups.”

 

 He added that Nigeria’s budget deficits were caused by excessive expenditures on politicians’ allowances and mismanagement. SERAP noted that Nigerian authorities would only be able to commit to fiscal discipline if they prioritise cutting the allowances of lawmakers and the costs of governance in general, rather than cutting critical funding for healthcare and education.

 

 Another group, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) condemned the Buhari-led administration and the National Assembly leadership headed by Ahmad Lawan for going ahead to approve N27 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex, “an amount that is ten times higher than what was utilized to build the edifice.” HURIWA described the approval of N27 billion for the renovation as “criminal, misplaced, dubious, and is a bribe for the Senate and the House of Representatives to continue to remain docile and subservient to the whims and caprices of the lawless executive arm of government.”

 

In a statement by the National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media Affairs Director, Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA lamented that “the huge monetary approval granted by the executive arm of government and the crude fact that the Chief Justice of Nigeria MuhammedTanko was railroaded into office through a kangaroo tribunal and through an ex parte injunction granted by the ethically challenged quasi-judicial contraption called Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) controlled and orchestrated by the executive arm of government shows that Nigeria has effectively entered a totalitarian dictatorship of one man in the person of the president.

 

Meanwhile, the opposition political parties under the aegis of Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP) have kicked against the recent approval of $27 billion loan request by the National Assembly for President Buhari, to tackle some challenges facing the nation. The group expressed regret that the loan package was approved despite objection by many Nigerians, including economic experts.

 

In a statement issued yesterday and signed by its spokesman, Ikenga Imo Ugochinyere, the CUPP also flayed the approval of N27 billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex, describing it as “insensitivity and rascality.” The group called for the removal of Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

 

Also, the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has cautioned President Buhari against plunging the nation into further debt, saying the continuous accumulation of debt appears unsustainable as servicing of the debts is already accounting for more than 60 per cent of government revenue. The advice was contained in a report released by the organization yesterday in Abuja titled “Fluctuating Fortunes: A 5-year Economy Assessment under the Buhari Administration.”

 

According to the report, the nation’s debt burden is expected to further increase in 2020, especially if government fails to be more decisive in its debt management policies. CDD argued that the inability of the Federal Government to implement robust policies to salvage the fiscal situation and the six months delay in deciding the cabinet paved way for an economic crisis in 2016.