Lawmakers, jumbo pay and public waste

By Casmir Igbokwe
Published: Sunday, 10 Feb 2008
The day after the Super Eagles lost their quarter-final match to Ghana, Coca Cola came up with an advert. It reads: “No shaking, 2010 still dey.” Perhaps, the advert was meant to lift up the spirit of Nigerian soccer fans, who felt disappointed about the nation‘s dismal performance at the African Nations Cup that ends today in Ghana. But can there be “no shaking” in a country where an incompetent coach in the name of Berti Vogts reportedly collects as much as €50,000 per month? Can there be “no shaking” in a country where money is wasted on people and projects that yield no result?
The story of the Super Eagles is the story of Nigeria –– a nation that celebrates waste and incompetence. Take the sham elections that took place last April, for instance. The Independent National Electoral Commission wasted the resources of this country not to conduct free and fair elections, but to thwart the wishes of the people. Last Wednesday, the Court of Appeal in Abuja upheld the nullification of the election of Kogi State Governor, Alhaji Ibrahim Idris, by the Kogi State Election Petitions Tribunal.

Within 90 days, INEC will pump money again into a fresh gubernatorial election in that state. The Commission created the mess in the first place by appropriating powers it doesn‘t have. As in Kogi, it disqualified candidates based on their spurious indictment by some commissions of enquiry set up by either the Federal or some state governments. In saner environments, the Chairman of the Commission should have either resigned or been forced out of office. The National Assembly should also have been probing its finances by now. Not here.

Our own lawmakers are more interested in cornering a greater share of the national wealth. Last Tuesday, members of the House of Representatives reportedly demanded a pay rise from Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission. The Deputy Speaker of the House, Mr. Bayero Nafada, was quoted to have said that the salaries and allowances of parliamentarians were nothing to write home about. Hence, the honourable members resolved that the RMAFC should adjust the salaries to befit their status.

Part of the problem with Nigeria is that we place so much emphasis on status. That is why no motorist should be on the road when the governor‘s convoy is passing. That is why a local government chairman moves with a swagger stick and desires to move with a siren that should be louder than that of the President. And that is why a company executive talks to his subordinates like slaves.

The same lawmakers who are complaining now got an increase in their salaries and allowances last year. Sequel to the new pay package, each Senator was entitled to N53.7 million while each member of the House of Representatives got about N47.9 million. A breakdown of the money shows that every member of the National Assembly got N600,000 per annum as entertainment allowance; each Senator and Rep got N126,650 and N124,075 as a monthly car maintenance allowance respectively; and N500,000 for each of the lawmakers as an annual wardrobe allowance. Also, there were other sundry allowances and perks such as the N5 million-constituency allowance for each senator and N2 million for each Rep. member. In different state Houses of Assembly, the story is the same. Some lawmakers, like the ones from Delta State, received generous car gifts from the James Ibori government.

What is really wrong with our politicians? Leadership is not about personal aggrandisement. It is not about wealth accumulation. It is about service. This ideal is defeated when public officers continue to give the impression that all that matters to them is money.

The lawmakers’ recent clamour for pay rise was a reaction to the Bill for an Act to amend the salaries and allowances of certain political and judicial office holders. The bill, passed by the Senate on January 22, 2008, stipulates an annual basic salary of N3,514,705 for the President of Nigeria. The current pay is N1,405,882. The Vice President’s recommended pay is N3,031,573.50, up from the current N1,212,629. This translates to N292,892.08 and N252,631.12 respectively per month. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo and members of his cabinet will also enjoy this new package in arrears as it is deemed to have taken effect from February 2007.

As political leaders enjoy jumbo salaries and allowances, no serious thought is given to the development of physical infrastructure. For instance, in 1998, payroll and overheads gulped about N124 billion. By 2002 when Obasanjo had already assumed power, the expenditure had jumped to N493 billion. Capital expenditure within the same period went down to 32 per cent from 63 per cent. We have heard that Obasanjo’s government spent N500 billion on roads. The state of roads in Nigeria today is worse off. The nation also spent billions of naira on the national ID card scheme. Today, most Nigerians have not seen this card. There are conflicting reports on the actual amount wasted on the power sector. President Umaru Yar’Adua said $10 billion. The Speaker of the House of Representatives said $16 billion. Today, the power situation in the country has not improved.

The lawmakers’ demand, simply put, is not realistic in the face of the abject poverty dealing with many Nigerians. It is not justified in the face of paltry national minimum wage of N7,500. Today, many Nigerian children are dying of malaria, cholera, typhoid and other preventable diseases. In the State of the World Children Report for 2007, UNICEF noted that more than one million Nigerian children under the age of five years die annually. In a similar report, the United Nations Development Programme put infant mortality rate at about 160 deaths per 1,000 live births. There is poor access to improved sanitation and clean drinking water. Life expectancy revolves around 43.4 years.

There is anger in the land. That anger is now expressed in rising armed robbery cases, ritual killings, kidnappings and militant activities, especially in the Niger Delta. If the national leaders are not careful, the problem will spread to every part of the country. No rich man will enjoy his wealth when the majority of the people surrounding him are poor.

I just read an online report, which put the total wealth of the former American President, Bill Clinton, and his wife, Hilary, to between $10 and $50 million. This is peanut compared to what some political office holders acquire while in office in Nigeria. Corruption and mismanagement of resources have become the major bane of the country.

This is why leaders at all levels should emphasise service. The legislators, for instance, should use their constituency allowance to do tangible things for their people. Left for me, they should only collect sitting allowances and stop any further agitation for salary increases. If they insist on increasing their salaries and allowances, the Nigeria Labour Congress should also insist on increasing the minimum wage in the country.

Nigerians need a break from this vicious cycle of misplacement of priorities by arrogant leaders.

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