The Abuja first lady office
The Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has indicated its intention to spend a whopping N4billion for the building of a secretariat for the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patient Jonathan’s pet project, the African First Ladies Peace Mission (AFLPM), complex in Abuja.
The proposal is contained in its budget for 2013, which was tabled before the Senate on Thursday, last week.
The budget, according to reports, also contained a proposal for construction of Abuja City Gate at the cost of N7.4billion, N5billion for the rehabilitation of prostitutes in the FCT and N150million for the rehabilitation of the Vice President’s Guest House.
Expectedly, this obviously weird content of the N253 budget basket, made up of N155billion capital, N49billion overhead and N48billion personnel expenses has raised more than mere eyebrows.
However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Minister of the FCT, Malam Bala Mohammed, have come out in staunch defence of it.
A statement credited to Chief Olisa Metuh, National Publicity Secretary of the PDP, in fact, lampooned and practically labelled the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), the two opposition parties which also condemned the proposal, as enemies of Nigeria.
The PDP said while the N7.4billion was for the Centenary City to be financed by private companies to mark the 100 years existence of Nigeria since amalgamation, it was not true that the FCT proposed N5billion for rehabilitation of prostitutes, but for “routine enforcement and general management of the rehabilitation centres including training and empowerment of rehabilitated sex workers,” adding that the amount was reduced from N225billion originally budgeted for it last year.
However, what the PDP did not explain is that the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, who heads the centenary planning committee, while presenting its proposal mentioned the same gate and stated that it was going to be constructed through the private sector arrangement. How then did this find its way into the FCT budget?
We do not see the place of the two projects above, no matter the explanations offered, especially in a country with such serious infrastructure deficit and complete absence of real intervention in many critical areas.
While we do not believe that the value of the Nigerian currency has gone down too low as to use a whopping N7.4billion to build a gate, we also do not understand this obsession with prostitutes, such that public funds would now be employed in that manner to rehabilitate them. What stops more prostitutes from finding their way to Abuja from all parts of the country for the same purpose, since the FCT minister has become so magnanimous?
But the most outlandish of all these is the N4billion First Lady building. Now, if the other projects mentioned above can be explained away as part of the wacky fancies of Nigerian government officials, what explanation does anybody have for such a clearly unlawful enterprise, that at best, appears meant to throw impunity in the face of suffering Nigerians.
Again, both the FCT minister and PDP have tried to explain away the project. Muhammed, who spoke through Senior Special Assistant on Information Management System, Hajiya Jamilah Tangazah, said the proposed secretariat is supposed to be a publicly-listed building, to be undertaken by the ministry in accordance with the law, in this case Decree 6, of 1976, which created Abuja simultaneously with the Federal Capital Development Authority, “with duty and responsibility to plan, design provide and construct public buildings as well as services to the entire 8,000 square kilometers of the FCT.”
He said the building was in line with the international obligations of the Federal Government through the FCT to provide accommodation for certain international bodies, just as it is done in all parts of the world and that the rent paid as a result is usually in excess of N1billion yearly.
The PDP, amplified the position, saying the complex was backed by the African Union (AU), to promote peace in Africa.
That is exactly the issue. If the building is supposed to be for African first ladies, why is Nigeria solely financing it? Is the N4billion its own counterpart fund? Are other countries expected to make similar contributions?
Besides, what is the place of the first lady in the structure of government that countries would now budget money to build a secretariat for them?
However, we do not know the AFLPM as a public institution, but a private, pet project of Dame Jonathan, which she is running as a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO). That is why we find any infusion of public fund into it, no matter in whatever guise, as not only objectionable, but condemnable and to say the least illegal.
The Senate must reject the proposal, just as Nigerians have. Even impunity should have its limits.