There is a mad man in Tanzania. Less than three months after assuming office as president, John Magufuli has left no one doubt about the seriousness of his mission. One of his first moves behind the rudder was to slash the budget of the typically lavish state dinner that marked the opening of parliament by 90 percent, redirecting the savings to the equipping of hospitals and building of roads. Magufuli has banned public travel for ministers and government officials and placed a moratorium on the purchase of first class tickets. He has pulled government meetings, workshops and conferences out of swanky hotels and restricted them to public buildings, going a step further to set austere benchmarks for refreshments at such engagements.
There are mad men in Nigeria. Seven months, one combustive leadership tussle, zero gestures of seriousness after, the Eighth Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria has decided to purchase 120 brand new vehicles, at the speculated cost of N4.6billion for oversight functions of 65 committees, an amount which constitutes a part of its approved annual budget of N130billion. This is coming against the backdrop of a continuing drop in oil prices, persistent petrol shortages, threats by governors to cut minimum wage, looming increases in electricity tariff and the pump price of fuel; against the backdrop of one of those rare occurrences – a near unanimous agreement between the leadership and the led, on the need to make sacrifices in the short term, to cut waste and free up resources for areas of utmost priority. A concern the senate, by its recurring rhetoric, will have us believe that it shares, but one its actions have consistently betrayed.
There are no mad people on the streets. No heads shaking vigorously, rage traveling out of bellies, spittle blowing in the wind, voices borne by fury screaming ‘buy those cars and see what happens.’ This absence of madness is perhaps the consequence of an abiding variant. The kind directed at keeping landlords at bay and children in school. The “We’re never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy,” variation needed to secure rice and stew and get petrol to keep the lights on. This present madness, expended on who voted for Buhari or who supported Jonathan diatribes, distracts the mind and chips at the will, leaving the bulk of the people without enough rage to reverse the madness of the senate, to insist on the madness of Magufuli.
So the senate will buy its cars and there will be no significant consequence. It has reached into the rickety laws it was elected to fix to extract a justification for its profligacy. It may have a legal basis for this expenditure, but it will never have the moral ground from which to wield it. Senator Aliyu Sabi Abdullahi, Chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, in his response to this issue, insists the senate has been frugal and responsible in its spending and that “…certain expenses and purchase are normal in government.”
Yes, the senators exist in an alternate universe where frugality has an altogether different meaning. And no, Senator Abdullahi, normal is not what is expected under abnormal conditions such as these. What is expected is madness, madness of the Magufuli strain, radical reductions in public spending, every opportunity seized to make symbolic gestures of collective sacrifice with leadership at the helm of it. Symbolic gestures of sacrifice like we will not buy these cars, like we will in fact reduce the number of cars in the convoy of the senate president and his deputy, like we will make do with our motor vehicle allowance which we shall in fact cut. Nothing else suffices as ‘frugal’ and ‘responsible.’ Definitely not N4.7billion.