Last Tuesday, Nigerians were again reminded of the deep-rooted endemic of financial recklessness across state apparatus. The ₦82 billion loan request for mosquito nets included in the proposed 2022 budget by the Ministry of Health is nothing but an embarrassment. It demonstrates the Nigerian government’s appetite for wastefulness. Instead of pushing for such a massive loan acquisition for a need that can be met through less wasteful means, the Ministry of Health should acquire malaria vaccines. Loans should always be a last resort, and the presidency should encourage all federal agencies to embrace economically productive approaches to solving problems.
The ₦82 billion mosquito nets request came as a shock to many Nigerians as it did to members of the Senate Committee on Local and Foreign Loans, particularly as there was another ₦450 million requested in the budget to fight malaria. The question that begs an answer from the health minister, Osagie Ehanire, is how many budget committees exist within the ministry. There has to be more than one if a duplicated proposal for malaria can be submitted to a serious document like the national budget proposal.
Indeed, the acquisition of mosquito nets is a way of fighting malaria. However, how could a separate budget for mosquito nets exist and be more than the total requested for fighting malaria? Is it that Ehanire and his team believe that mosquito nets are the most efficient mitigation against malaria (and other insect-borne diseases), hence the ₦82 billion request? More so, since there is now a separate ₦82 billion requested for mosquito nets, how’d the other ₦450 billion be used? Perhaps, for expenses other than mosquito nets?
It’s also confusing that this ridiculous loan request comes when the World Health Organization celebrates its historic approval of the first malaria vaccine. This approval means that malaria vaccines should soon become available on the international market for countries to buy. It’s a mystery that Ehanire and his colleagues plan to use ₦82 billion to acquire mosquito nets when other countries are thinking of using similar amounts, perhaps less, to buy malaria vaccines. Or, is it the case that the news of the malaria vaccine’s approval is alien to Ehanire and co?
Could it also be that the Ministry of Health plans to ask for a malaria vaccine loan, separate from the ₦82 billion mosquito nets loan, down the line? If it’s the case that they are aware of the approval amid the country’s weak economic situation but chose to be financially reckless, Ehanire and his team should be forced to take courses on project management and budgeting.
Sadly, public officials and state ministries are still stuck in the liability mindset that is largely responsible for the economic mess the nation currently wallows. One would think that Ehanire and others would look at Nigeria’s ₦13 trillion external debt and think of ways to do their jobs without exacerbating that staggering figure. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. But I don’t think it’s the job of Nigerians to lecture individuals like Ehanire in economically productive public health management when they’re already earning millions to lead with innovation. Still, for the sake of restating the obvious, since it appears as though borrowing rather than productivity is the watchword of many federal agencies: loans targeting welfare spending are for countries with fewer means of generating revenue, and loans must always be a last resort.
The millions of Nigerians languishing in poverty or those struggling to send their children to school because they have no money are not asking for mosquito nets to solve their problems. Instead, they want economic reforms that’d make their lives better. Malaria kills, but poverty kills, too. Nigerians can’t eat mosquito nets; they only cry for basic amenities, including water and food.
The same poor Nigerians Ehanire and his ministry believe need mosquito nets are also the same Nigerians whose families have pensioners begging to be paid their benefits by the government. If Enahire could summon the courage to ask such families what they’d rather have—mosquito nets or the pension payment due to their breadwinner, I’m not sure that they’d choose the former.
It’s so unbelievable how far the Nigerian government is from the people. If there should be borrowing to address welfare infrastructures, it should be towards areas like pensions and transportation infrastructures that’d rub off the economy in the long run. Not for mosquito nets.
Nigeria’s ₦13 trillion external debt owes much to corruption as it does past needless expenses. The requested ₦82 billion mosquito net loan is another unnecessary expense, which would be corruptly mismanaged if one considers the country’s financial management history.
Nigeria cannot afford more reckless loan acquisitions. The Ministry of Health and other state agencies should stop dragging the country into debt when they’re paid to find innovative solutions to problems through financially prudent means.
Ibrahim B. Anoba (Bàbátúndé Anọ́ba) is a Nigerian journalist and columnist for Sahara Reporters. He is also an Africa fellow at Atlas Network. He tweets via @Ibrahim_Anoba.