Battle for Public Offices: Nigerians Yearning to Serve?

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In just under two years, Nigerians would be called upon to exercise their constitutional rights of voting for leaders of their constituencies, state governments and most importantly, their nation. This wonderful process of democracy allows Nigerians to give their mandate to whomever they so desire, being accountable to no one but themselves. Although the elections are not yet in our faces, the campaign and propaganda are. Depending on where your sentiments lie, you may find the ‘we-have-performed’ claims from those in power either laughable or laudable. On the other hand, you may find the ‘we-are-saints-and-messiahs’ insinuations from the opposition either nauseating or stimulating.

Regardless of the political bandwagon you hop on, you can’t deny sensing the palpable tension leading up to 2015. The trash talk between political rivals alone is enough to give one nightmares. All this hullabaloo leads one to mindlessly defy temporal dimensions and think 2015 is tomorrow. Indubitably, it is not. Then why are we being bombarded with such hoopla and noisy clamor at this early stage? Well, for the novice, it may seem early. For the political office hustler, it is just right. The power struggle for those fat-cheque-paying offices is well worth the fracas. Public offices shouldn’t be seen in that manner, however. They shouldn’t be seen as opportunities for personal wealth accumulation, bully pulpits for intimidation, platforms for settling political/personal vendettas or ways to lay dibs on a piece of the so-called ‘national cake’.  Public offices should only be seen as avenues to be used to positively impact and better the lives of common Nigerians. Judging from the state of the nation, it is clear that these offices, along with their monetary allures, are regarded as routes to utopia and getting to them should be nothing short of a do-or-die affair. Aspirants of such offices entice us with their often overly optimistic and unrealistic promises, camouflaging under the name of patriotism and dismissing any allegations that pecuniary magnetisms are the primary reasons behind their contest. But how true is that? Well, let us look at a very popular example: The Nigerian lawmakers.

According to PM NEWS, each Nigerian senator heads home with an annual allowance of N180 million ($1.2 million) and a member of the House of Representatives laughs to the bank with an annual allowance of N144 million. This is excluding their basic salary and the estacodes for in-house and foreign committee work. There are 109 serving senators and 360 House of Representative members. In 2011, the CBN Governor, Lamido Sanusi, infamously stated that “Twenty five per cent of the overhead of the Federal Government budget goes to National Assembly’’. He added that as of 2010, ‘’total government overhead was N536, 268, 492, 080. Total overhead of the National Assembly was N136, 259,768,112 which was exactly 25.1 per cent of Federal Government overhead’’.

To put this in context, a lawmaker in India earns N3.7 million ($23,988) per annum and so will need to work for at least 49 years to earn the annual allowance of a Nigerian senator and at least 39 years to earn the N144m annual allowance of a member of the House of Representatives. The Nigerian lawmakers are unsurprisingly, the highest paid in the world. Section 70 of the 1999 constitution states that the salaries and allowances of the federal legislators shall be determined and fixed by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Therefore, these outrageous sums are apparently in perfect alliance with the laws of the land.

It is worth noting that non-electable public offices are no different. According to the report by the Adamu Fika led-committee on the Reform Processes in the Public Service, salaries and allowances of permanent secretaries and top civil servants rose from N126.7 billion in 2007 to N1.126 trillion in 2012. It added that ’’Out of this, salaries took a mere N94.56 billion, while allowances gulped the whole of N1.03 trillion, which represented 91.56 per cent’’. This shocking sum is once again approved by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). It is worth noting that the entire civil service makes up less than 0.013 per cent of the total population of the country.

Let us delve into the discussion of this unsustainable, insensitive, immoral and indefensible package of allowances by looking at current state of the nation. According to the Bureau of National Statistics (BNS), the current unemployment rate is 23.9 percent. The labor force total in Nigeria was last reported at 51,669,297 in 2011. This means at least 12 million people are unemployed. To put this in context, Chad has a population of 12 million people. In addition, over 70 percent of the Nigerian population ekes a living on less than N160 a day. So how is it morally acceptable or socially just for the House of Assembly (469 people) to pocket revenues worth 25 percent of the federal overheads? Are we waiting for the lawmakers to say ‘cut my allowances, we’ve had enough’ before we act?

Nigeria ranks 187 out of 200 countries in the World’s health systems rating by the World Health Organisation (WHO), way below countries like Chad, Rwanda and Mali. General government expenditure on health as a percentage of total government expenditure is 7.5 percent. In terms of education, over 70 percent of students that take the WAEC every year fail and only 1 out of 5 university applicants gets offered a place. So how would we ever ripen sectors such as health and education (that are paramount to our development) when the civil service (<0.013 percent of the population) alone hijacks 70 kobo out of every N1 that Nigeria earns? This leaves just 30 percent of the yearly Nigerian budget to serve the remaining 168 million people.

Section 4 of the 1999 constitution tasks the legislature to make laws for “the peace, order and good government of the federation” but many believe the House of Assembly is the bane of our development. With over 70 percent of the Nigerian budget accounting for recurrent expenditure (payment of salaries, allowances and government running costs), when should we expect the much needed infrastructural development? 30 percent of the budget allocated for capital expenditure is grossly insufficient to impact a continuously growing population.

Many have expressed their disagreement with this social injustice, the prominent ones being the CBN governor, Lamido Sanusi Lamido,  Mr Femi Falana, Solomon Kehinde and the Adamu Fika-led committee. Personally, what worries me most is not the financial aspect of things, but the psychological impact this unfairness has on the youths. It’s an undisputed fact that our education, health and security sectors need major reforms. But how do you convince the youths to follow career paths in these sectors? How would you convince them that, in the interest of the nation, it is better to be referred to as ‘Mr. lecturer’ rather than ‘Honourable’ or ‘His Excellency’? Nigeria is not in need of more politicians; it is in dire need of good teachers, doctors, policemen and entrepreneurs. But would you convince your child to join the police force and earn N40, 000 – N50, 000 a month as a constable, while risking his life in service? Or would you rather see him at the air-conditioned national assembly gatherings in his flowing Agbada? The sooner we reduce the monetary appeals of public offices, the sooner we would know those who really want to serve the nation. The sooner we tackle this lopsided allowance and salary structure, the quicker we would reverse the unhealthy trend of spending 70 percent of the national budget on recurrent expenditure. In conclusion, the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) needs to revise their salary and allowances allocation formula to a more sustainable, fair and patriotic alignment.

 

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