Anyone that doubts Nigeria as an impoverished country must either be living in the outer space or must be a champion of sharp corrupt practices. In fact, Nigeria has never since creation been a rich country as claimed in the economic sense of the word. The assumption of wealth has always been hyphenated to the abundance of crude oil and other natural resources. But those alone do not make the country rich. As a matter of fact, the expropriation of those resources by the thieving elite has only made the country poorer, wretched – and of course, the poverty capital of the universe.
The price of crude oil has come under immense shock. The US West Texas Intermediate crude price entered negative territory ($2) last few weeks, though Brent crude, Nigeria’s brand still trades at $26.36 per barrel. There is no doubt it is a long way from total recovery for the crude market as forecasts by some industry experts. According to Bloomberg, “a near term recovery in prices is unlikely”.
What does this mean for Nigeria where crude oil still accounts for 80 – 90 percent of government’s export revenue? it means the government cannot meet up with some of its obligations to the people. It implies the government may not be able to fund some capital projects and may experience serious challenges in paying monthly salaries. There is a leaner purse; hence there is an exigent need to cut down the cost of governance at this stage of our development. State and Local Governments must be cautioned against the random purchase of exotic automobiles for show and globetrotting in search of non-existing foreign investors or fictitious medical tourism etc.
Already, the federal government has revised the 2020 budget, slashing it by over N320billion; from N10.59trillion to N10.27trillion. But this is not good enough from an objective point of view. At a time Nigerians are losing jobs owing to the adverse impact of COVID-19; when some medical doctors confronting the lethal disease are receiving a mere N5,000 as hazard allowance and even without an insurance cover; when small businesses are closing down. I believe our political office holders and their ‘junior’ brothers and sisters at top positions in the civil service must show exemplary leadership and not leave the cross only to everyday Nigerians to bear.
According to the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the agency empowered to fix salaries and allowances of political office holders, a senator receives, on average, an annual salary and allowance of N12.7million including hardship allowance of N1.2million. Again, this is while doctors and health workers combating COVID-19 earn N5,000 as hazard allowance.
Interestingly, Prof. Itse Sagay had put the annual earnings of a senator to N3billion. He made the claim while delivering the Nigerian Society of International Law (NSIL) Public Lecture entitled: “The Many Afflictions of Anti-Corruption Crusade in Nigeria” in Lagos in September, 2017.
He gave the breakdown as: “Basic Salary, N2,484,245.50; hardship allowance, N1,242,122.70; constituency allowance of N4,968,509.99; furniture allowance N7,452,736.50; newspaper allowance of N1,242,122.70; wardrobe allowance, N621,061.37; recess allowance of N248,424.55; accommodation at N4,968,500.00; utilities N828,081.83; domestic staff N1,863,194.12; entertainment N828,081.83; personal assistant N621,061.37; vehicle maintenance allowance N1,863,184.12; leave allowance N248,424.55; severance gratuity N7,425,736.50, and motor vehicle allowance, N9,936,982.00.
Nevertheless, the biggest cost burden of the government comes from the executive where there seems to be a carte blanche to waste, profligacy and gluttony. While the National Assembly is subject to thorough probes and checks by concerned citizens, the executive carries on in squander with tempered scrutiny.
Also governors, except few, appropriate for themselves whatever of their state’s resources they fancy in the named “security vote”.
I just reliably informed that there is a new one in place in the states named “COVID-19 vote”. What that means remains unclear. But that is not far from a conduit to siphon public funds under the guise of Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, some state governors are beginning to renege in paying the N30,000 minimum wage instancing COVID-19 as the main reason for their financial impotence. If one may ask, what have the governors offered to cushion the unconstitutional lockdowns to warrant such a scenario? Where are the claimed palliatives offered? Let the beneficiaries speak with cogent evidence.
For instances, most states suspended the payments of the approved N30,000 wage and heaped the blame on the economic impact of the pandemic.
Everyday Nigerians should not remain the beast of burden as they are seen by their captors. We cannot keep breaking our backs to sustain the prodigality of the government. President Buhari must show good leadership by directing the RMAFC, in consonance with relevant ministries and bodies, do the needful and desirable by slashing the salaries and allowances of all political office holders now.
Slashing the prodigious salaries and allowances of those stated will be the most effective palliative to suffering Nigerians that benefit nothing from the maggots.
We have to start from somewhere to regain economic vibrancy.
Muhammad is a commentator on national issues.