An honourable prescription
It was the former Chancellor, Nigel Lawson, who referred NHS as the closest thing the English have to a religion. In Nigeria, the closest thing to religion is politics. This is because Nigerian politics is so celebrated that it has become the envy of the world and especially so for those playing politics as opposition party in the country. In fact, the colourful demonstration of impunity and larger than life attitude associated with political office holders and the huge earnings and multiple perks that accompany the office is enough to invoke hatred not just jealousy. Hence, it is a do-or-die affair while politicians contest elections for political offices. More so, the above has always been the reason the opposition parties often choose to accuse the government of the day of waste of resources.
However, from a recent report credited to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, it is cheering that all this will be a thing of the past soonest. After all, our policy makers of the ninth assembly are not that insensitive or selfish to know that the cost of running government is extravagantly on the high side. Therefore, if everything follows the lead as proposed by the Speaker, the House of Representatives will come up with the most radical and daring adjustment ever seen in government in recent times.
While speaking the other day, at the interactive session between the House Joint Committees on Finance Appropriation, National Planning and Economic Development and Aids, loans and debt management and the various ministries among others, Gbajabiamila hinted on the need to impose deep cuts in the cost of governance and fashion out ways to improve internal revenue generation and collection. If you are wondering why it has taken so long to admit that the cost of governance is very high, perhaps one need to look at the reasons that necessitated the open confession.
The Speaker said, “Our country is currently facing a fiscal crisis, compounded by the intense disruption that has been wrought on our economic performance and financial projections by COVID-19 pandemic”. Of late, COVID-19 has become the latest excuse to explain away poor governance and of course, the most extraordinary event of the century that qualifies for failure. Having redefined the way people do things generally, the pandemic, like the first and Second World wars has caused so many people to die so needlessly. Also, never have leaders across the world in recent times faced a grueling campaign for safety and serious test of leadership in fighting an invisible enemy. World leaders are so deeply in thought as they wrestle so hard with their conscience and the nation’s medical abilities in an effort to come up with the right solution to defeat coronavirus. The men and women who regulate principles and take tough decisions with regard to the flow of money around the economy and to a large extent decide the future of the country are facing tough decisions to keep the economy stable. The House of Representatives Speakers’ judgment to seek the long knives to achieve a deep cut on cost of governance is understandable, but how this message is conveyed requires careful diplomacy. It is also easy to sympathise with the Speaker’s observation that COVID-19 pandemic is the reason for the dilemma the nation is facing. However, he is quick to recollect that Nigeria is not alone in this.
Nations all over the world, including those we rightly consider to be leading lights, are facing a moment of reckoning that is redefining the way government operates. Indeed, it is of great importance for the ruling government to look inward because there is no better way of improving the lives of the people than for leaders to make personal sacrifices as well as to internally generate resources to fund policy initiatives.
Indeed it is surprising to hear Mr. Speaker, speak as if he had no knowledge that the nation’s yearly budget is constantly in favour of recurrent expenditure. It therefore reveals the fact that, politics is a complex system, in which politicians with their own motives and fears often disguise in opinion to earn the peoples applause or jostle for positions and benefits. The question whether the House of Representatives will endorse the proposal or not is not certain. This is because no one is entirely sure if the Speaker is genuinely speaking for the House or for himself. Over the years, Nigerians have argued to the deaf ears of government and its officials that the cost of running government is not just high but very huge.
Not too long ago, former Senator Shehu Sani, who represented the Kaduna Central Senatorial District, revealed the earnings of the members of the Nigerian Senate, which apart from a monthly salary of N700,000 other perks and allowances shoots it up to N3.5million per month. Perhaps, in a way to say the above figure is a ‘chicken feed’, the former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi said Nigerians would be angrier if they know what the earning of state governors are. As I once noted, jumbo pay and perks of office are in many ways why government officials abuse power and don’t perform optimally in office. Long before the Speaker’s comment to initiate deep cuts in cost of governance, many political leaders remain in denials about the continued rape of the nations’ resources by a handful of individuals in position of authority. No doubt, the climate of apprehension from the Speaker is understandable, given what the people were told during the election campaign by the ruling party.
The mystery behind the Speaker’s call for a deep cut in cost of governance remains shrouded. Just as Nigerians remain surprisingly indifferent to the brutal facts that one area in which the ruling government has made a mockery of itself is not keeping to its promises. Nonetheless, the cloud remains clumsy as to the extent the House of Representative members would pursue the cut. But they must bear in mind that the House of Representative is certainly an important and distinctive part of our democracy.
It is one of the pillars of democracy and when it functions properly, it is a vehicle for popular representation and defender of the people’s rights. However, there is no smooth path through these perilous times. But the Speaker’s proposal should not in any way run a sail speed in deliberations or made to die on arrival on the floor of the House. The House of Representative members should have at the back of their minds that there weren’t many political triumphs in the ruling government calendar, but the proposed deep cut in cost of governance stands out as a great achievement. For President Muhammadu Buhari administration to be taken seriously, the political class will have to agree to extricate themselves from extraordinary flamboyance and opaque system of leadership. This will bring out golden opportunities for the people and country.
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