Monday, 11th December 2023

Nigeria@63: Politicians’ jumbo pay and impunity must go!

By Ayo Baje
02 October 2023   |   3:22 am
To strike the delicate balance between Nigeria’s vast, God-given resources of oil and gas, fertile fields for huge agricultural practices, rare solid minerals, places of scenic, spell-binding tourist attractions and the persisting paradox of pervasive poverty

Nigeria’s 63rd Independence anniversary in Abuja… .PHOTO: PHILIP OJISUA

To strike the delicate balance between Nigeria’s vast, God-given resources of oil and gas, fertile fields for huge agricultural practices, rare solid minerals, places of scenic, spell-binding tourist attractions and the persisting paradox of pervasive poverty of the led majority is not rocket science for Nigerian-born best of brains such as the Philip Emeagwalis, the Gabriel Oyibos, Jelani Aliyus  or Silas Adekunles. No! The salient reasons behind the ever-widening, socio-economic gap between the leaders and the masses is patently obvious.

In fact, not a few of our crop of political leaders-spanning the spectrum of the so called democrats and the military despots-have, out of overt greed, over the decades, brought the country to its begging knees. So, when yours truly refers to their antics as “a restless run of avaricious locusts”, it is stating it as it is. If in doubt consider these startling statistics.

For instance, “in 1960, Nigeria’s poverty level was at 15 per cent. But it increased to 28.1 percent in 1980. But by 2018 it was ranked by Oxfam report as the world’s capital of extreme poverty. That was when more than 112 million people were said to be living in poverty in Nigeria. But wait for this. 

That same year it was assessed that Nigeria’s five richest men- worth a staggering $29.9 billion- could end extreme poverty at a national level. In fact, the country’s richest man then would have to spend $1 million (current equivalent of N1 billion) every day for 42 years to exhaust his fortune. Yet, at that time in 2018, some 5 million citizens were facing excruciating hunger!

But unfortunately, the situation is much worse today. According to the World Poverty Clock, 2023: “Nigeria has the awful distinction of being the world capital of poverty, with 71 million people living in extreme poverty today and a total of 133 million people classed as multi-dimensionally poor”. That is with regards to National Bureau of Statistics data as at June, 2023. This is based on the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a measure of the average citizen’s access to safe, nutritious food and water, quality healthcare delivery and decent accommodation.

As if that was not enough a scandalous figure, the number of school-aged children still out-of-school has jumped from 13.2 million in 2021 back to 20 million as at January in 2023. That is according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

What all these mean, as it relates to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030 Agenda,  with the moving mantra of ‘leave no one behind’, is that Nigeria is not likely to meet SDGs. It shows the inter-linkages of deprivations experienced by poor people with : No Poverty (SDG 1); Zero Hunger (SDG 2); Health and Well-being (SDG 3); Quality Education (SDG 4); Clean Water and Sanitation (SDG 6); Affordable and Clean Energy (SDG 7); and Sustainable Cities and Communities (SDG 11).

But if we can understand that some of the richest Nigerians made their wealth from their entrepreneurial prowess, how do we justify the huge pay packages of the rotten-rich Nigerian political jobbers, at this challenging period of economic downturn?

The fact that most Nigerians have become suddenly poorer, caused by the abrupt removal of fuel subsidy by the President Ahmed Tinubu-led administration without poverty-reducing palliatives in place means that it is time for the political elite to make the needed sacrifice. There should be a drastic reduction in their huge pay packages, so that such funds should be channeled to providing the enabling environment for small and medium scale enterprises to thrive.

In fact, it amounts to sheer cruelty, that 63 years after political independence the long-suffering citizens who were made poorer under the eight tortuous years of the Buhari-led government are currently made to pay more for electricity, food, consumables with inflation rising to over 25 % and worse still, school fees in higher institutions of learning that has led to some STUDENTS dropping out of school!
Also, it is also time for the leadership to focus on getting our refineries working; to produce fuel and reduce the cost of premium motor spirit, instead of unbridled importation of the refined products of what God has graciously blessed us with.

Methinks that the Tinubu-led government should have borrowed a fresh, green leaf from former American President Barack Obama on what he did back in 2013. According the Washington Post: “President Obama and Congress increased taxes abruptly on the wealthiest Americans. In response, the rich paid up — and then went on with their lives as before, according to a new working paper”. According to respected economist Emmanuel Saez the economy stabilized within three years. But what do we have here?

Shehu is insisting that the president earns less than N1.5 million as salary while each legislator is paid less than N1 million per month, while some members of staff of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN who are not directors and others working with the NNPC, NCC and the NPA smile home every month-end with much higher emoluments than the ministers. But is this sustainable? That is the million-naira question.

Of course, it is not. And that brings us to the way forward. The current 1999 constitution must be amended much thoroughly again, such that the political parties should not fix the price of the candidates’ nomination forms above N2 million.

Indeed, such huge fees paid means that politics is meant as a business venture for only the rich. It also excludes those who might have brilliant ideas on governance but lack the humongous financial muscle to fulfill their dreams. Also, room should be created for independent candidacy.
Now is the right time for political restructuring, buoyed by fiscal federalism. Let the states control their God-given resources and pay an agreed tax to the centre, which should be devolved of issues such as education, healthcare, transportation and housing. Needed too is state policing to boost security. These should be taken over by the states and local governments that should be freed from the apron strings of the overbearing state governments.

Political appointments should run in sync with the provisions of Federal Character Commission (FCC), to ensure equity, fairness and justice, devoid of nepotism and ethno-religious sentiments.

Perhaps, with all that, the noble dreams of our founding fathers such as Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Dr. Nnamidi Azikiwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Michael Okpara, Herbert Macaulay, Prof. Eyo Ita and a patriot, Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti will see the light of the day. They will sleep well in their resting places and Nigerians will smile again.