Gifts are not in short supply for public office holders. Despite that they are not in want, people fall upon one another to give them gifts. While some give from their heart without expecting anything in return, many others do so in return for one favour or another.
President Muhammadu Buhari got one of such gifts on Monday during his visit to Edo State. An elderly lady, Egbon Grace, who is said to be a member of the All Progressives Congress in Ward 7, Oredo Local Government Area, presented a goat to the President.
I am not sure this lady gave the gift in expectation of any reward, whether contracts or appointment. She was quoted as saying that she had longed to meet the President to show her admiration for “his selfless lifestyle and passion to liberate the masses.” So when Buhari inaugurated the ultra-modern Samuel Ogbemudia College in Benin City, the woman reportedly found her way through the heavy security around the President to present her gift which was received by the outgoing governor of the state, Adams Oshiomhole.
I am not sure that Buhari will see that goat again. In fact, I won’t be surprised if the goat did not leave Benin City where it was presented to him. Most times, when gifts are presented to people like the President, they end up in the hands of people close to them.
Former President Goodluck Jonathan confirmed this at a time in the Villa when he was granting audience to some manufacturers from Anambra State who were led by the then governor, Peter Obi. The former President had recalled that a member of the delegation presented a wall clock to him during his visit to the state. He said although he liked the gift, he did not set his eyes on it again after the presentation. Everybody present laughed.
There are also a few cases where the big men who are given gifts end up giving them out to others. Buhari himself and former President Olusegun Obasanjo confirmed this during the public presentation of the President’s authorised biography, “Muhammadu Buhari: The Challenges of Leadership in Nigeria” written by Prof. John Paden.
In commending Buhari’s integrity at the event, Obasanjo recalled a time when Buhari attended a meeting of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Saudi Arabia in his capacity as the nation’s Commissioner for Petroleum Resources. He said Buhari and others who attended the event were given golden coins as souvenir. On his return to the country, he said the President presented the coin to him (Obasanjo) by virtue of being the military leader then.
Obasanjo said Buhari however attached a condition to the gift. He said he demanded an assurance that he (Obasanjo) would not give it out the same way he did with a pair of expensive shoes earlier given to him by another officer.
Corroborating the story later, Buhari recalled that a military officer who travelled abroad had returned with a pair of expensive shoes for Obasanjo. After waiting endlessly to see Obasanjo wear the shoes, the officer decided to approach the military Head of State and ask why he had not been seen wearing them. According to the story, Obasanjo told the officer that he had given the shoes to his Aide-De-Camp. Not satisfied, the officer was said to have summoned the ADC and retrieved the shoes from him. “These shoes are too expensive for a Colonel, they are for Generals. When next I travel, I will get you Colonel’s shoes,” the officer reportedly told the ADC. That was why Buhari warned Obasanjo against giving out the golden coin as a gift to another person.
The truth of the matter is that most times, offices rather than individuals attract gifts. A story was told of a former state governor who said that for every birthday he celebrated while in office, a room was always devoted to house the gifts from individuals and organisations. He however claimed that the first birthday he celebrated after leaving office, he only got one greeting card and no gift!
Presidency and its ambitious social protection scheme
One of the electoral promises made by the All Progressives Congress was the social protection scheme. Although some aspects of the scheme had been modified after the historic election, the thrust of that campaign promise was that unemployed Nigerians would be placed on monthly salary.
Shortly after the party formed the government at the centre and was reminded of this promise, the excuse was that the 2015 Budget prepared by the Peoples Democratic Party did not capture the scheme. It was a genuine excuse. Nigerians were asked to wait until when APC would come up with its own budget.
Then the 2016 Budget which was the first by the APC was passed and a whopping N500bn, we were told, was earmarked for this all-important project that has six components which include the Micro-Credit Scheme; Teach Nigeria Scheme; the Youth Employment Agency; Conditional Cash Transfer; Home Grown School Feeding and Free Education Scheme for Science Students.
An office headed by the Special Adviser to the President on Social Protection Plan, Mrs. Maryam Uwais, was also created in the Office of the Vice-President for the purpose of implementing the plan. There has been media hype from the media office of the Vice-President on the scheme. Rarely will a press statement be issued on any subject whatsoever without a generous mention of the scheme. Few days to the end of the year, however, authorities seem not to have gone beyond the stage of “we shall.” For instance, the school’s feeding programme which was scheduled to start in September has not started up until now. They said 200,000 people would be employed in October, the goal post has again be shifted for two weeks.
The House Committee on Legislative Budget/Research and the Committee on Poverty Alleviation had at a time queried the non-utilisation of the “huge budget” at a meeting with Uwais. The lawmakers said they had observed that the N500bn remained “idle” amid increasing socio-economic pressures on the would-be beneficiaries.
The Chairman, Committee on Legislative Budget/Research, Mr. Golu Timothy, told Uwais that it appeared that her office was overwhelmed by the size of the N500bn and was facing challenges rolling out plans for the implementation. But Uwais called for patience, saying the programme would take off fully in September.
The failure of the programme to start fully had been attributed to many factors chief among which is the reduction in Federal Government’s revenue caused by the sharp drop in global oil price. The government is however claiming that with the recent approval of a full year cycle for the implementation of budgets by the National Assembly, it has till May 2017 to implement the 2016 Budget which was signed into law in May.
The Minister of State, Budget and National Planning, Zaynab Ahmed, had recently said there was already an approval from the steering committee of sum of N150bn for the programme, adding that N25bn had been released into the account. We are waiting to see how far the government can go with this obviously ambitious project.