The inability of the Nigerian govt to make any sacrifices whatsoever has become perhaps the most annoying and irritating thing about the whole ‘Occupy’ movement. Here we have a govt that is prescribing exceedingly bitter medicine to the populace but has refused to so much as even taste the medicine before applying.
Judging by the 2012 budget, the govt has simply continued from where it left off in 2011 with its snout firmly in the trough of public expenditure…spending like there’s no tomorrow. So we can expect that if the President were to travel to say the London Olympics later this year, he will go with a delegation of 400 people or more as he did to Perth, Australia for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in October 2011. This is untenable and has to stop. Whatever it is that has made fuel subsidy ‘unaffordable’ for Nigeria surely suggests that EVERY single item of govt expenditure is now open to scrutiny for cutback opportunities.
Along with the guys at CCHub and Enough is Enough Nigeria, I am going to be doing a series of posts on specific items of govt expenditure that can be cut. I invite you to join in and make your recommendations too. I assure, you will be spoilt for choice once you begin to go through the budget detail. Hopefully we can get enough ideas and recommendations and then make demands to the govt to swallow its own medicine.
In the 2012 budget, the presidency has been allocated the sum of N18,344,524,169 covering all sorts of things from the President’s feeding to ‘welfare’ packages to ‘provision of infrastructure’ (N324m) and all manner of inscrutable nonsense.
Well here’s an idea, what better place to start rhe cutting of govt expenditure than at the Presidency? If the President leads by example on this, then he can assume the moral authority to force others to take the bitter medicine too. So here’s my proposal for slashing that N18bn expenditure on the Presidency down to zero.
It’s safe to assume that most of the activities around the Presidency centre around Aso Rock, the seat of power. Now I’ve never been to Aso Rock and have no idea what it looks like beyond what I’ve seen on TV and read in the papers. But I imagine that Aso Rock is a grand and fanciful place with lots of rooms and doors and meeting rooms. I also imagine it can hold quite a number of people at any given time.
My idea is simple: we turn Aso Rock into a mini tourist destination. Dont laugh please. Here’s how it would work.
- First of all, the govt will set up a private limited company called say, Aso Rock Management Company Nigeria Limited. The running of this company will be handed over to private professionals and at some point should be floated on the Nigerian Stock Exchange. This company will then be in charge of all expenditure relating to the Presidency excluding the salaries of civil servants. It will be a ‘self contained’ company i.e. it will only be able to spend what it makes. So no more govt budgets for watering gardens or feeding the President and his family or buying scanners. All such expenses will now be handled by ARMCNL.
- On any given day, there will be 3 sessions. Each session will involve a 90minute tour of Aso Rock. There will be an early morning session, an afternoon session and a late evening one. Each session will be restricted to a maximum of 100 people who must all book in advance either over the telephone or on the internet.
- The idea here will be to charge an admission fee that is relatively cheap and affordable to ensure that you can get people in the door. So I propose an admission fee of N4,500. Once you go online or call the telephone line, you will be told the available dates and what sessions on that day still have spaces. You give your details and are then given say 24hrs to make your payment either online or at the bank. Once this is done, you will get a text message with a unique code and you will be told to come along with your passport, drivers licence or any other acceptable ID on the day.
- People can be picked up from a specific location/car park where they will be frisked before getting on the bus. Once they get to Aso Rock proper, they will be frisked again and this time around you will be asked to drop all bags, phones and cameras. This is very important: people must not be allowed to take any devices that can take pictures or recordings with them.
- The group of 100 can then be split into 2 groups of 50 each with each group assigned a tour guide and say 2 official photographers. They will then be taken around the Villa covering every possible place that security would allow with the exception of places like the President’s bedroom. As the tour moves along, if anyone wants to take photographs, they just signal to one of the photographers in their delegation and the person snaps away. The delegation should be allowed to enter the FEC meeting room and even sit down on the chairs there.
- Now, if you want to sit on the President’s chair in the FEC room and take a photo, that would be N8,000 for a printed copy and N12,000 for digital copies. Swagger has a price as those who want digital copies obviously want to use it as their profile picture on Facebook and Twitter. If possible people should be allowed to see the President’s office if available and take pictures for N20,000 only.
- On Wednesdays for the afternoon session, the admission fee can be raised from N4,500 to say N7,000. Why? Because those in that group will get to meet the cabinet after the FEC meeting and shake hands with them. Pictures with a minister will cost N10,000 only (NOI will be N12,000 but Labaran Maku will be free) and Mr President will instruct his cabinet to dedicate at least 1 hour after each FEC meeting to meeting and greeting people. Let it be their acceptable sacrifice.
- I remember reading in TELL magazine during the Abacha years that Aso Rock had a mini zoo where tigers were kept. Are they still there? This is another money making opportunity. Will you like to feed a tiger? Let’s say cured meat is thrown into their cage for them to eat, anyone who wants to do this will be charged N1,000 only ‘per throw’. A throwing picture will be N2,000 for a printed copy and N3,500 for digital copies. All reasonable efforts will be made to ensure the tigers are captured in the photos.
- Once the tour is over, people will then go to the desks and select the photos they want (after collecting their bags and belongings) and pay for them. Once this is done they will be transported back to the car park location where they were picked up from.
- Other streams of revenue can be explored. For example, when making a booking, a guy can request a ‘proposal package’. This will be N45,000 only and include both digital and printed photos. This package is for men who are coming with their girlfriends and would like to propose to them inside the Villa. This proposal can be done in the President’s office or the FEC meeting room. A complimentary rose and/or bottle of champagne will also be supplied.
Now this might all seem a bit silly but the point is that it is easy to spend N295m on purchase of residential furniture when you dont have to work for it and the money is simply being allocated to you. Quite frankly, it is the manner of fools to spend money without generating any wealth to replace it or even worry where the money is coming from.
The accounts of ARMCNL can be published on the internet every year for everyone to see. A target of 3 years should be set to float it on the stock exchange so that when it starts making excess profits it can return some of those to Nigerians by way of dividends.
Opening up Aso Rock in this way will also help to bring ordinary Nigerians closer to the seat of govt and let us see the opulence our leaders live in. This cannot be a bad thing for our democracy can it?
So what can kind of revenues can be generated from something like this? The first thing to understand is that once you tie expenditure to independently generated revenue like this, a lot of costs will suddenly dissapear. Think of it as the removal of subsidies for the Presidency; in the same way that removal of petrol subsidies will stop the smuggling of petrol across the border, this can stop at least half of the current budget of the Presidency. There will no longer be an excuse for buying furniture every year for ridiculous amounts or to borrow the govt’s line, perhaps private investors will then be willing to come and invest in furniture for the Presidency to be repaid over a period of time.
So there’s N2.5bn to be generated for running Aso Rock from a very conservative estimate of just 766,500 visitors in a year. Bear in mind that according to official figures (page 16), the state rooms in Buckingham Palace were opened for only 67 days of the year to March 2010 and managed to attract 402,000 vistors in that time.
But a drop from N18bn to N2.5bn is a huge one I hear you say. Well, cry me a river. Ultimately, if the management of Aso Rock want to spend N300m on furniture, it is up to them to find ways to generate it.
When it comes to cutting waste in govt, it’s not enough to just reduce certain types of expenditure. As much as possible certain things need to be completely excised from the budget and public spending. I think funding the President’s feeding and all other appurtenances from the public purse is something that needs to be stopped especially as he’s being paid a salary never mind the black hole that is the security vote.
In the grand scheme of things, N18bn is not a lot of money when we are looking for at least N1trn to save but I believe that starting from the presidency will carry with it what Americans like to call ‘the power of the grand gesture’. If the president leads the way in making such a sacrifice, then it becomes very easy to cascade down to other levels of govt.
We need a complete change of ideas about how public money is spent in Nigeria and perhaps this debate which began with the removal of fuel subsidies will lead us down the path of righteousness in govt spending.
If you want to spend N1bn on feeding yourself, have the decency and courtesy to at least generate it yourself and not force everyone else to go hungry in the process.
I hope to do more of these as the days go by and I hope you’ll get involved too. The full budget for 2012 can be found here. Get your knife and cut stuff. Happy carving