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COP28, Vice President’s Residence And Peter Obi: When charity begins abroad, by Jude Ndukwe

Top on the agenda of the criticism is the size of Nigeria's delegation to the summit as led by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

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COP28, Vice President’s Residence And Peter Obi: When charity begins abroad, by Jude Ndukwe

Nigeria’s participation at the climate change summit, COP28, in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is still a subject of disagreement and criticism among analysts and politicians in the country.

Top on the agenda of the criticism is the size of Nigeria’s delegation to the summit as led by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

It was alleged among other issues that the Presidency sponsored the third highest number of delegates, 1,411 alongside China only after the host country UAE with 4,409 and Brazil with 3,081.

The Labour Party presidential candidate at the last general elections, Mr Peter Obi had lent his voice loudly against the federal government for what he termed a “wasteful” expedition due to the large number of Nigeria’s delegation to the summit.

He had declared that “This huge contingent is out at public expense at a time when most Nigerians can hardly afford food and basic needs as a result of economic hardship.”

He was soon to be followed by the National Chairman of the Labour Party, Mr Julius Abure who lamented and asked “How can a country that is borrowing money to pay workers’ wages, a country plagued by insecurity, battered by power collapse where investors are exiting the country by the day fritter away such a humongous amount of resources on a jamboree?”

Both Peter Obi and Julius Abure could not even be pacified by the explanation given by the Nigerian government that it sponsored only 422 of the delegates and that the rest were individuals or representatives of corporate entities with interest in climate change who registered for the summit outside the government team.

Shortly after, Peter Obi took on the Presidency over the sums it budgeted for the renovation of the Vice President’s residence as featured in the 2024 Appropriation and the 2023 supplementary budget. While the sums of N2.5bn and N3bn were allocated for the renovation of the Vice President’s residences in Abuja and Lagos respectively, another sum of N15bn was appropriated for the construction of a “befitting residence” for the Vice President, Kashim Shettima, making it a total of N20.5bn appropriated in both the 2023 supplementary budget and the 2024 Appropriation Bill for the residences of the Vice President as submitted by the Presidency to the National Assembly.

While one agrees that at such a time as this when the Federal Government has urged Nigerians on multiple occasions to tighten their belt and live in tune with the realities of the current harsh economic situation, it is without doubt disturbing to Nigerians to see the same government embarking on avoidable expenses that could be channeled to other projects that would be more beneficial to Nigerians rather than to one government official, in the case of the vice president’s residences, and that a far leaner delegation could have been sent to Dubai for the climate change summit, if for nothing else, at least, to prove to Nigerians that government is taking the lead in its belt-tightening agenda towards economic recovery.

Peter Obi was therefore right to describe such expenses at this time as ‘shocking and disheartening’.

However, one wonders where Peter Obi got the moral right to make himself a judge over the Federal Government when government and leaders of his own party, the Labour Party, are doing even far worse things in Abia State while he and Julius Abure, the party’s national chairman, look away in odious pretence.

The total amount to be spent by the federal government on the Vice President’s residence, for example, is N20.5bn. This is a one-off expense. Is it not therefore alarming, sickening and even more ‘shocking and disheartenng’ that the Governor of Abia State, Mr Alex Otti who is also of the Labour Party which Peter Obi is its national leader and Abure its national chairman, spent a whopping sum of N5.32bn on his private residence which he has converted to a government house and from where he conducts his personal affairs and official duties?

It is even worse that that humongous amount was what was spent on his private residence in just three months (July – September 2023) according to the Abia State 3rd Quarter 2023 Budget Performance Report as featured on the official website of the Abia State government.

And this is happening when Abia State has three government houses, two in Umuahia and one in Aba (annex). The two in Umuahia are the newly commissioned government house and the old one which is still very functional. To make matters worse, Otti’s private residence which he has converted to a government house at the expense of the state’s resources is neither located in Umuahia the state capital nor in Aba its commercial nerve centre, with all the attendant negative effects of such practice on the capital city.

As if that was not enough, Otti’s government spent N397m on an amorphous ‘welfare package’ and N927m on meals alone in the same short period (July – September) even though it later claimed it was N233m, it is still outrageous. Dr Reuben Abati while analysing the issue on television said, “In Abia State, gluttony is not allowed. They are eating too much. They should cut the budget on refreshments and meals.

“The Governor as a former banker, former newspaper columnist; he has written so many brilliant essays on this subject. Now that he is in the saddle, he should force those gluttonous ministries, departments and agencies in Abia State to be less gluttonous.

“In the same state where (a meagre) N25m (was spent) on public schools…that money they have used to eat jollof rice and pepper soup and drinks at public functions, if they had used that money…to renovate quite a number of public schools there, and that would have been a better thing to do”.

Yet, Peter Obi and Julius Abure have never for once made any comments about this sad and unfortunate development despite its wide reportage in the media. While they are fixated on the federal government, the only governor they produced as a party in Abia State is frittering away the people’s commonwealth on frivolities and dodgy budget heads.

Could the strange silence be that Obi, Abure and the Labour Party are benefitting from Otti’s financial recklessness and maladministration? Because it is bewildering that they have defied the age-long saying that charity begins at home. As it is, Peter Obi’s charity is not only beginning abroad, but it has also pitched its tent there permanently, and this smacks of hypocrisy of the highest order.

One could only imagine the kind of dust Peter Obi would have raised if it was the far larger federal government that embarked on such frivolous expenses, the cacophony would have made headlines as usual and the Obidients in obedience would have feasted voraciously on it.

One would have expected Peter Obi and Julius Abure to have their own little house cleaned before they embark on moralizing on the cleanliness or otherwise of other people’s castles. You can not have logs in your own eyes and pretend to be seeing the specks only in others’.

Abia State is stinking and dying under the weight of gross misgovernance by Mr Alex Otti as exemplified by his reckless spending including awarding a 5.6km of road in Aba for a whopping N30bn. If that is not even more “sickening and disheartening”, one wonders what then is!

Jude Ndukwe sent this piece from Abuja via stjudendukw@gmail.com.

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