30 November 2012

Nigeria: The New Presidential Banquet Hall in Bad Taste


Last Wednesday's regular meeting of the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved a raft of projects for the country that will cost a total cost of 28 billion naira. These include a luxury train shuttle between Kano and Lagos, and what has become the perennial sinkhole, the national identity card scheme. Also among the projects is a plan to build another banquet hall inside the Presidential Villa.

The new banquet hall project, to be built at a cost of 2.2 billion naira, is another sign of a government that is out of touch with the real problems that confront the nation today.

Beside the vain, ostentatious and wasteful nature of the project, it is entirely superfluous.

There already exists a Presidential Banquet Hall inside the Villa. This was built in 2003, and has undergone several renovations and refurbishments since. Moreover, the capacity of the present banquet hall dwarfs the very spacious Congress Hall of TRANSCOP Hilton Hotel. There is also the International Conference Centre where events like National Honours Award ceremony take place.

The insensitivity of the planners of the project can be seen when it is compared with the state of decaying public infrastructure in the country, which the 2.2 billion would have gone some way in addressing if it was applied there. For example the amount voted for another banquet Hall could be better spent on improving the facilities at say the National Hospital by purchasing life saving equipment, lack of which now makes many well to do Nigerians to travel abroad for medical tourism.

Coming at a time that citizens are groaning under severe economic conditions, and with several parts of the country trying to recover from the devastation caused by the recent floods; with the shock of the knowledge that the Presidency alone had budgeted 1.7 billion naira for drinks and food for itself, and the sniggering, patronising response of some its officials claiming that even that amount was not nearly enough, a new banquet hall in the Presidential Villa does not make sense.

What are the inadequacies of the current facilities, we are not told. No effort was made to offer any justification for it, whether by the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Alhaji Bala Mohammed, who announced the government's proposal, or by presidential spokesmen. There is also no word on the in adequacy of the current one.

The unfortunate impression that a project like a new banquet hall in the villa will create is that of an administration that is out of touch, venal and only concerned with its own creature comfort rather than improving the lot of Nigerians.

President Goodluck Jonathan has been at the forefront in his administration's effort to convince Nigerians to abandon bread and other confectionary products made from wheat flour, and begin to patronize cassava bread. Here is an opportunity to put 2.2 billion naira to fruitful use in the effort to realise Jonathan's goal of weaning Nigerians from their apparent addiction to wheat-based products. That money would be more than enough to do one of two things, or both, in that regard.

The new banquet hall project would have been a laughable proposition, something to jeer and poke fun at, were it not another example of a serious aspect of the reckless profligacy of this administration, when there a are more pressing and urgent areas that require its attention, and not getting it. Seriously however, there simply are many projects that 2.2 million can start, and which can have a meaningful and life-changing impact on many Nigerians.

A banquet hall is certainly not one of them.

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