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Outrage over cut in health, education budgets

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• PDP, others oppose N27b for NASS complex renovation
• CUPP, CDD, others decry approval for $27 billion loan

The 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 those reductions as the height of insensitivity to the plights of Nigerians.

In a statement yesterday by its National Publicity Secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, 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.

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.

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“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.

“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.”

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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.

Already, a group, 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.

“We believe that alternative policies and measures, such as reducing the costs of governance, including the excessive allowances for high-ranking public officials and the lawmakers, would have been a more appropriate solution to addressing budget deficits, as this would increase the available resources for healthcare and education, which in turn would contribute to reducing socio-economic inequality.”

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According to SERAP, “Nigerian authorities also ought to show that the budget cuts to healthcare and education are necessary and proportionate, in that they must be justifiable after the most careful consideration of all other less restrictive alternatives, for example excessive allowances for Nigerian lawmakers, and excessive costs of governance, in general.

“Criteria established in international standards have not been duly justified in the implementation of the budget cuts to healthcare and education. Instead, the cuts appear to be discriminatory against those most vulnerable to poverty and exclusion, and are not protective of the minimum core content of several human rights.

“One of the pillars of the protection of the rights to healthcare and education is the obligation to progressively realize the rights set out in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, making use of Nigeria’s maximum of available resources.

“The budget cuts by Nigerian authorities are therefore of special concern as they directly affect the minimum core content of these rights, and impact directly or indirectly and disproportionally on those individuals already discriminated against or living in most vulnerable situations.”

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.”

The group 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.”

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HURIWA urged organized civil society community in the country to brace up and defend the constitutional democracy from the “stranglehold of oppressors and demagogues that have hijacked all tiers of government”, adding that “the present leadership of the National Assembly and the handpicked hierarchy of the nation’s judiciary pose grave threats to the continued existence of constitutional democracy unless the entire Nigerian masses stand up and demand immediate overhauls and restoration of the constitutionally guaranteed principles of checks and balances and the separation of powers.”

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.

“There is no further need to look for evidence of collusion between the leadership of the National Assembly and the executive arm of government to collapse the constitutionally guaranteed separation of powers going by the unfortunate fact that both the legislative and judicial arms of government are now headed by ‘O-Yes’ men of Mr. President and the sad reality is that unless the slumbering civil society wakes up and demand the restoration of constitutional democracy, we can as well sing ‘NUNCT DIMITIS SERVUM TUUM’ meaning it is finished all men to their tents.”

The rights group alleged that the organized labour had since been bought over and pocketed by the executive.

“This N27 billion is nothing short of bribery to shut the mouths of the legislative arm of government and already Nigerians have seen the practical evidence that the National Assembly has been bought over and pocketed by the executive when Lawan told us that the Senate would approve all requests coming from President Muhammadu Buhari because he believes that the president means well for Nigeria, and shortly after saying that the Senate has turned into a full-blown ‘’Banana republic “ just as every and all requests including several toxic requests sent to the National Assembly to collect loans ranging from $22.7 billion and a fresh $5 billion loan request not including the $3.6billion COVID-19 loan has been approved and collected from the World Bank and the National Assembly even approved that Buhari should collect a loan from China whose terms of the contract were written in the Chinese language which no single legislator understands. So democracy is on the verge of collapse unless the entire masses stand up now and demand the immediate restoration of democracy.”

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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 both the Senate President, Ahmed Lawan and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila.

The CUPP said the act amounted to national distrust and anti-people. The statement read in part: “We indeed weep for this country because we see no future for Nigerians with the kind of National Assembly the nation has at the moment. It is now very clear to those who did not believe us before now that the current leadership of the nation’s legislature has turned Nigeria’s parliament into a huge joke.

“The CUPP also notes with utter disgust the approval of N27billion for the renovation of the National Assembly complex in the revised 2020 Budget (at a time of national economic crisis, poverty, empty treasury and endless borrowing).

“For this to be coming at a period when COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a huge blow on our economy and we need all the money we can gather to reposition our economy is nothing but a sign of parliamentary and executive rascality and insensitivity.

“Opposition political parties also note with consternation the very provocative way the South East and other parts of the country were excluded from the approved loan. The actions are fueling division and national distrust.

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“It is also most unfortunate that some opposition lawmakers could join lawmakers from the ruling party to approve this anti-people loan. These opposition lawmakers have betrayed the struggle for a better Nigeria and their political parties. The opposition PDP should discipline the lawmakers elected on their platform that have joined the APC in promoting anti- peoples agenda and ridiculing the opposition.”

On the loans, the CUPP lamented: “It is novel in a democracy that approval of $5.5billion and $22.7billion loans can be granted within hours without parliamentary deep scrutiny. This is show of parliamentary shame and height of politics of alleluhia boys.”

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.

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