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Buhari’s big budget for president’s new medical unit dwarfs project funding for 14 teaching hospitals - PREMIUM TIMES

OCTOBER 15, 2021

If approved by the National Assembly, facilities that care for millions of Nigerians will receive less than the presidential wing of the clinic.

By Abdulkareem Mojeed

President Muhammadu Buhari plans to pump over N20 billion into the construction of a new presidential wing at the State House Clinic which he rarely uses, an amount that far outstrips allocations for new and ongoing projects in 14 federal teaching hospitals, an analysis of the 2022 budget shows.

The president has asked the National Assembly to approve N21.9 billion for the “construction of a presidential wing at the State House Medical Center” in 2022. The project has already received N1.4 billion since 2020, meaning by next year it would have received N23.3 billion in total.

The N16.31 trillion budget passed a second reading at the Senate on Wednesday amid complaints by lawmakers that the nation’s budgets were increasingly making less impact on the citizens, and have consistently paid more attention on vague and non-critical projects, than key items such as education, healthcare and job creation.

“We must change our implementation strategy and our budget system, so that Nigerians can benefit from this annual ritual called budget,” said Abba Moro, PDP senator from Benue State.

“We must try as much as possible to block the leakages in our economy, so that we can conserve funds for the development of our infrastructure. I don’t know the place of education in this budget yet we want to enthrone a vibrant population in our country.

“Poverty is on the rise. Several programmes have been churned out by this administration in all our budgets. We must change our budget system. The envelope system is a system that duplicates and continues to do one thing all over and over again and we will not expect a new result,” Mr Moro, a former Minister of Interior, said.

The huge proposal for the “presidential wing” is the latest example of how successive governments have continued to commit scarce resources to projects that promise limited value as they are aimed at providing services to a few individuals — in this case the president, vice president and their families – at the expense of critical projects that should serve millions of Nigerians.

For years, the State House Clinic has been a magnet for oversized budgetary allocations, but its efficiency has remained below par. In 2017, the first lady, Aisha Buhari, said the facility was poorly run despite billions committed to it over the years and her daughter, Zahra, said the hospital was unable to provide “paracetamol”.

“I called the Aso Clinic to find out if they have an X-Ray machine, they said it’s not working. In the end I had to go to a hospital owned and operated by foreigners 100 per cent,” Mrs Buhari said at the time.

“There is a budget for the hospital and if you go there now, you will see a number of constructions going on but they don’t have a single syringe there. What is the purpose of the buildings if there are no equipment there to work with?

“You can imagine what happens across the states to governors’ wives if this will happen to me in Abuja.”

The Aso Rock Clinic management blamed the poor services on poor funding and said the president had been briefed on the poor state of the hospital. Officials told lawmakers who probed the matter at the time that the amount released for the running of the hospital often fell short of the figure approved in the budget, a common problem often caused by low federal income.

In 2018, they said the total release for the clinic’s overhead expenditure was N331.7 million, representing 99.9 per cent of the approved figure, while only N231.9 million was made available for capital projects, representing 33.2 per cent of what it should have been.

Developments this year show that years after, the facility has continued to be dysfunctional. Mr Buhari himself has continued to spend public funds on foreign medical trips since coming to office, preferring to be treated in the United Kingdom. His latest medical trip was in July shortly before medical doctors in Nigeria began an indefinite strike that paralysed the sector for weeks.

After authorising the restriction of public access to the State House Clinic in 2020, the president in August this year approved a site for the construction of a new presidential wing at the State House clinic.

It remained unclear if Mr Buhari will end his UK medical trips and instead patronise the new facility he commissioned.

The permanent secretary, State House, Umar Tijjani, said in August that the “state of the art clinic” would particularly cater for the medical needs of the president, vice president, members of their families as well as other government officials. According to him, the project is expected to be completed in the next two years before the end of the Buhari administration.

He re-echoed calls for improved funding, saying that of N8.699 billion budgeted for State House in the 2018 fiscal year, only N5.083 billion was released. In 2019, out of about N6.955 billion budgeted, N2 billion.

He, however, admitted the funding rose in 2020 and the entire approved amount that year – N4.88 billion – was released, an indication that the problems of the facility go beyond lack of funding.

Presidential Wing More Critical Than Teaching Hospitals

Mr Tijjani said the biggest intervention needed by the State House was the building and construction of the presidential wing at the State House clinic.

“And by the time this administration leaves office, we would have the presidential wing of the State House Clinic in place,” he told senators who visited the clinic.

“For now, we have already started in earnest with activities that are required for the construction, we have received the necessary approvals. We have received no objection from the Bureau of Public Procurement. We have already directed the contractor because he’s going to come in the form of a turnkey project, in order to mobilise and take over the site.”

That project will cost N21.9 billion in 2022 if the National Assembly gives approval. It received N1.064 billion in 2021 and N416.7 million in 2020.

The 2022 figure is N2.7 billion more than the total capital allocation for 14 teaching hospitals in the country.

Capital allocations are for new and ongoing projects, different from recurrent which deals with administrative (overhead) and personnel costs.

According to the proposed budget, below are the amounts proposed for ongoing and new projects in the following hospitals. They sum to N19.17 billion, less than the capital allocation going to the presidential wing of the State House Clinic.


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