Politics

#EndSARS filters into parliament

 

 

As Nigerians struggle to understand how a peaceful protest tagged #End- SARS metamorphosed into a violent uprising, an unusual wind of change appears to be blowing across the country.

Although the popular movement to end police brutality was forcefully put down because of the additional requests, the message behind the protest is not lost.

 

The #ENDSARS, #ENDBADGOVERNANCE and other ancillary songs of liberation, has undoubtedly filtered into the hallowed chambers of the National Assembly.

 

In particular, legislators in the red chamber are not taking the message of the protest lightly. Perhaps, after the mob paid surprise visits to the homes of some of their colleagues, it has dawned on them that anything can happen.

 

The parliamentarians seem to have experienced a sudden reawakening and seem prepared now to work in the spirit of Soro Soke! What was supposed to be a budget defence session hosted by the Senate Committee on Finance last Thursday, turned out an impromptu platform for some lawmakers to vent their frustrations and fears about the state of the nation.

 

Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajia Zainab Ahmed was on the hot seat to defend the 2021 budget proposals in respect of her ministry.

 

She was accompanied by the Director General, Budget Office of the Federation and a retinue of aides.

 

In the past, many budget defence sessions were formalities and characterised by the “take a bow and go” phenomenon.

 

Lawmakers hardly engaged ministers on the tough issues and even when they did, it was usually a show for the cameras. But on this day, some Senators found their voices and tackled the minister on the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) and the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) two programmes of the current administration targeted at the people.

 

The Economic Sustainability Plan which has a handsome budget of N2.3 trillion, parades a range of fiscal, monetary and sectoral measures designed to enhance local production, support businesses, create jobs and provide succour to Nigerians, especially the most vulnerable.

 

The administration has also launched the Special Public Works Programme designed to provide jobs for one thousand (1000) persons in each of the 774 Local Government Areas across the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory of the country.

 

The total sum of N52 billion has been appropriated for this programme. Out of this amount, the sum of N46.44 billion is for actual payment of the stipends of those to be engaged while the remainder will go into administrative costs and logistics.

 

The administration also recently introduced the N25 billion Nigeria Youth Investment Fund as well as the N75 billion Survival Fund Programme meant to support and protect businesses from potential vulnerabilities. Beautiful and well-intended as these programme may appear, some members of the Senate Committee on Finance said they were neither realistic nor impacting positively on the intended beneficiaries, the average citizens of Nigeria.

 

From their presentations, it became evident that members of the National Assembly were not taken along in the conception of these multiple programmes and there is yet to identifiable Monitoring and Evaluation Plan (M&EP) to ensure these initiatives achieved their intended goals.

 

The trio of Sen. Gabriel Suswam (PDP/ Benue), Sen. Matthew Uroghide (PDP/Edo) and Sen George Sekibo (PDP/Rivers) took turns to draw a nexus between government programmes that are beautiful only on paper, the failure or lack of positive impact of such programmes and the frustrations of the people.

 

They argued that the anger which triggered the series of demands made by the young Nigerians during the #ENDSARS protest must not be ignored. They said there was an urgent need for the government to go beyond rhetorics and budgeting huge sums of money for programmes that are neither sustainable nor impactful even on the short run.

 

The lawmakers queried programmes such as the N-Power and Special Public Works which was designed to engage the youths only for a brief period and release them back into the labour market.

 

The said it was illogical to create such flash in the pan schemes even as millions of Nigerians graduate from the Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges of Education every year to join the already saturated labour market.

 

Echoing the voice of the street protester, they appealed to the minister to take the message to the executive that unemployment had reached an alarming scale in the country and the earlier government did something to change the narrative, the better for everyone.

 

They warned that if nothing positive is done to create gainful and sustainable jobs for the millions of unemployed youths, a second wave of the #ENDSARS protest might sweep across the land.

 

As Sekibo submitted: “When the next wave of protest comes, they will look for you, they will look for me and they will look for every person.”

 

Stopping Buhari’s Medical Tourism

Interestingly, it was this same day that the Senate Committee on Federal Character and Intergovernmental Affairs also found their voice on the vexed issue of medical tourism of the privileged at the expense of the Commonwealth.

 

Permanent Secretary, State House, Tijani Umar, appeared before the committee to defend his 2021 budget estimates but got more than he bargained for from the lawmakers.

 

The budget showed that out of the total sum ofN19.7 billion earmarked for Aso Rock in the 2021 Appropriation Bill, the sum of N1.3billion will be spent on the State House Clinic, Abuja.

 

Nigerians are familiar with what usually happens after the State House Clinic had been granted such huge sums. The President and other members of the first family prefer to treat their headaches and neck pains in London, Germany and Dubai.

 

Now, for the first time, members of the Committee have put their put down and insisted that they would approve the budget on the condition that those who manage Aso Rock prevailed on President Muhammadu Buhari and his family to henceforth seek medicare at the clinic specially created and reserved for them in Abuja. You may call it audacity of the legislature and you will not be far from it.

 

This is another of the positive gains of the $ENDSARS protest because the youths while on the streets, also harped on the need to end the exorbitant medical tourism of the President and other political office holders.

 

Truly, #EndSARS protest was a metaphor for ending all that has been wrong with Nigeria. It hit the country unexpectedly and even those who doubted that a revolution could occur in Nigeria are already having second thoughts.

 

It may be an “arrested development” at the moment but you can only ignore the potency of the message at your own peril. The tidal waves merely receded and would return in no distant time unless we do the needful.

 

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