Financial crunch, salary cut and sponsored bride price

Casmir Igbokwe

First published Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009

 By now, bachelors in Yobe State must be full of smiles. Global financial crunch notwithstanding, the governor of that state, Ibrahim Geidam, has promised to pay the bride price of any young man from that state who wishes to marry. Media reports yesterday indicated that the only condition attached was that the eligible bachelor should fix the solemnisation of the marriage at Damaturu Central Mosque. For this singular gesture, aimed at discouraging immoral acts by single men, the congregation reportedly chanted “Allahu Akbar.”

 I guess the mosque will not accommodate the number of bachelors who will throng there soonest to solemnise their marriages. If you think the governor is not serious, consider what one of my readers sent to me last week as his own way of tackling the current recession.

 He says, “Casmir, in this period of economic recession, financial prudence is the watchword. I’m considering dropping my Igbo girlfriend; it will be silly to go ahead, knowing what chunk of money I must willy-nilly cough up as bride price. I want to advise young girls to go on a protest, demanding the abolition of bride price. This way, many of them will find husbands in no time.”

Assuming Geidam helps people like this young man with the bride price, will that solve their problems? Or will the governor, as they say in Igbo, give them wives and also buy mats for them? Will the settlement of the bride price bring food on their table? Or take care of the children that will definitely come?

Whatever, this bride price sponsorship equals the salary cut the Federal Government has proposed as part of its response to the global credit crisis. Recall that President Umaru Yar’Adua, last week, directed the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission to review downwards the salaries and allowances of all political office-holders in the country. The President believes that the present remunerations are untenable and unjustifiable.

For instance, the current annual basic salary of the President is N3, 514, 705.00. That of a governor is N2, 223, 705.00. A local government chairman takes home N908, 312.00. The Chief Justice of Nigeria, on his part, earns N3, 363, 972.50 as annual basic while a state Chief Judge earns N1, 940, 095.55.

On the face of it, the President’s action looks noble. It is no small sacrifice for someone to cut his own pay to please his people. It is also disturbing that out of the N2.9tn budgeted for 2009, salaries and allowances of political office-holders are to gulp N1.13tn. This is unacceptable and the President deserves commendation for his courage.

However, he needs to go deeper than salary cut. He needs to study how the advanced nations are grappling with the situation. The United States government, for instance, gave a loan of $4bn to carmaker, Chrysler, last month to save it from collapse. This is said to be part of a $13.4bn rescue package approved by the government for Chrysler and America’s largest car manufacturer, General Motors. There are other rescue packages for the entire economy.

In the United Kingdom, the government plans to guarantee loans to small and medium-sized enterprises. According to the plan, the government will reportedly secure up to £20bn of short-term loans to companies with a turnover of up to £500m; and £1.3bn loan guarantee to small firms with about £25m turnover. There is an additional £50bn from the government and £25bn from banks for small enterprises that need cash. This is to help them survive the downturn.

Nevertheless, some critics do not think the government is doing enough. Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Alan Duncan, reportedly dismissed the measure as “a small bandage on a massive wound.”

 Due to the peculiarities of our own environment, it may not be feasible for the government to guarantee loans to all companies. It is already trying to revive the textile industry, which is good. It will also be good if it could do some other things to help our sick economy.

For instance, let the government compel its functionaries to be sincere in tackling corruption. Last Wednesday, the House of Representatives alleged that a $45.65m World Bank grant meant for the procurement of 10 fire tenders and navigational equipment was misapplied. Also allegedly misapplied was a $6.2m grant by the same body for the provision of some infrastructure at the Port Harcourt Airport. With this type of culture, a cut in salary will make no meaning.

 Besides, for the greater part of last year, we were full of smiles because of the high price of crude oil in the international market. We made enough money to fix our decaying infrastructure. But some political office-holders looted some and returned over N400bn as unspent funds.

 From the federal down to the local governments, all we see is sleaze everywhere. But rather than identify, punish and isolate those milking us dry, the Federal Government tends to be hobnobbing with some of them.

The problem did not start today. It has been with us over the years. Forget former Transport Minister, Umaru Dikko, who presented a saintly mien last week. He was reported to have accused current office holders of corrupt enrichment and urged them to focus more on the socio-economic development of their people. It will be interesting if Dikko could tell us how he helped fight this corruption in the Second Republic.

The earlier we tell ourselves the home truth; the earlier we stop providing cosmetic solutions to our problems, the better for us.

 Mr President, cutting your salary is wonderful. But it is like promising to pay the bride price of somebody who cannot feed himself. It is only a step in the journey of a thousand miles.

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