Obnoxious cut in health, education votes
The National Assembly the other day consented to a Federal Government’s proposal to squeeze the sum of N79.7 billion of the 2020 budget of education and health sectors. Such development at this time of national medical emergency is most shocking. And if civilisation is to be measured by the depth of investment in knowledge and well-being, then this bad news is a shame to the Ninth National Assembly whose self-centeredness and insensitivity to the plight of vulnerable masses have literally taken Nigeria backward.
Certainly, it is no longer news that the entire globe is walking a tightrope of a ravaging crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has continued to plunder even the well-adjusted economies. Its devastating economic effect, even more, severe than the death toll, is holding developing nations by the scruff of the neck.
As businesses are closing down, millions are losing jobs just to find a place below the poverty line. Already halfway down, the Year 2020 is a year to just hang in there and survive one of the worst pandemics ever. It, therefore, follows that all projections, calculations, and budgetary provisions have to face painful readjustments to get economies out of the woods.
Nigeria is neither an exception in the crisis nor the reordering on a scale of preference. With the price of crude oil in the global market tumbling to its all-time low and even unable to cover the cost of extraction, a bleak outing awaits the 2020 budget and other projections.
In March, the Federal Government hinted that the N10.59 trillion Appropriation Act would be cut by N1.5 trillion in response to the COVID-19 chain reactions. An amendment to the 2020 Appropriation Bill that surfaced at the National Assembly recently showed several adjustments and cut by N84 billion. Most significant was a slash in the budgetary allocations of primary healthcare from N44.4 billion to N25.5 billion. The Universal Basic Education (UBE) was trimmed from N111.7 billion to N51.1 billion. The primary healthcare lost 42 per cent, while basic education lost 54 per cent. Sadly, the lawmakers didn’t question the obnoxious adjustment as the bill speedily scaled first and second readings at the two chambers.
The wisdom of such approval or the lack of it bothers us. Indeed, surviving the current grim realities requires effective, efficient healthcare sector and dynamic educational system – a two-prong priority that Nigeria has consistently lacked. Facts by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) showed that the number of positive cases climbed by over 200 per cent from 5000 to 16, 658 positive cases just in one month. Lagos that houses the largest share of the COVID-19 cases has facilities that are already overstretched and now only evacuates severe symptomatic cases. In such a circumstance, nothing more could be priceless than functioning Primary Health Care (PHC) facilities to attend to mild symptoms and raise awareness at the grassroots.
Unfortunately, it has been three years since the current administration commissioned the exercise to create a flagship PHC per each political ward nationwide. Nothing has been heard of the project beyond a blame game between the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), states and local governments. Primary health services are practically dead in most local government areas. Basic education is not better and has been perennially underfunded. Such school systems offer no hope even in the coronavirus era. Like it should for the PHCs, it was expected that the basic schools will for once get the speedy attention of the government and put them in shape out of COVID-19 necessities.
It is therefore tragic that the exigencies of the moment still wouldn’t register where they matter the most. Strangely, almost all aspects of the 2020 budget had been touched but not the hefty cost of maintaining the lawmakers and other public officeholders – the major bane of over-bloated budget. How come the lawmakers didn’t deem it fit to sacrifice a part of their heavy emoluments to support the economy, health and education of our wards? According to the revised budget, NASS shall spend N115.2 billion in 2020 – a 10 per cent reduction from N128 billion originally approved, which is almost double of the budget of primary health care and basic education put together. Clearly, the current administration has a plan to spend N125 per person’s primary healthcare and N1, 186 per child’s primary education of the 43 million that need it. Both put together is N1, 311 a year compared to an average of N13.5 million a senator gets every month as part of maintenance allowances.
In the light of the foregoing, it is to the dishonour of the hallowed chamber that its current occupants rather choose to pinch from the Nigerian child and the vulnerable to cater for their fancies. How unfortunate can a nation be to have a leadership that prioritises renovation of the National Assembly Complex at the cost N27.7 billion from N37 billion earlier sought? The same building was reported to have been built with N7 billion in 1999. What value does the complex currently add to ease the burden of Nigerians below the poverty line? Certainly, a healthcare facility that Nigerians can use will be most worthwhile.
Therefore, the National Assembly under Senator Ahmad Lawan should not settle for the role of a rubber-stamp legislature that would never see anything wrong with actions, inactions and propositions of the president. The Nigerian decrepit system and beleaguered masses deserve a lot more from their elected representatives. It is bad enough that the entire National Assembly is been alleged of trading the $27 billion and $5.5 billion loan approvals for the Federal Government without a diligent scrutiny, in exchange for the N27 billion renovation project. In this matter, the appearance of impropriety is just as worse as the deed itself. The National Assembly still stands at an advantage to set the records straight by immediately withdrawing consent from the obnoxious cut and rather allocate more funds for the reforms of both primary healthcare and basic education. It is for the sake of public interest, collective good – and future of the most populous black nation on earth.