Not by salary alone
What the citizens would be confronted with at the end of the squabble between Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai and the Speaker of the House of Representatives Yakubu Dogara is not a resolution of the crisis that redounds to the transparency of their financial dealings. For the more either of the parties strives to portray himself as the poster boy for fiscal prudence, the darker the opacity that surrounds their remuneration becomes.
Clearly, we cannot indict these officials for financial impropriety. That is a job for the anti-graft agencies and the courts. However, they represent the political class who has been identified with profligacy. In that case, it may be difficult for them to extricate themselves from the cesspool of corruption that has engulfed the entire political class from the heady days of the oil boom when our leaders did not know what to do with money, through the military era and the current democratic dispensation. For if there had been transparency in the financial dealings of our public officers, this spat would not have arisen. It is because of the lack of transparency that there have been speculations about the humongous salaries of our political office holders. Obviously, the National Assembly and other arms of the government have been so secretive about their remuneration because it is in stark contrast to the nation’s economic crisis that has impoverished the majority of the citizens.
If the lawmakers were keen on bequeathing a legacy of transparency in their financial dealings, they would not have needed an El-Rufai to prod them onto this path. In the past two years since this democratic dispensation, there have been recurrent calls for the National Assembly to make public their remuneration. Their failure to heed these calls has led to a situation where the citizens have come out with a comparison of the remuneration of lawmakers here and that of their counterparts in other parts of the world. The citizens are shocked that lawmakers here are the highest paid in the world. This is despite that they are not as committed to their duties as their counterparts and the fact that in such other nations, their economies are more developed than ours and thus they have more money to pay their lawmakers higher salaries.
Thus, what we are witnessing now is a battle that has failed to throw up either El-Rufai and members of the National Assembly as paragons of financial transparency and prudence in public offices. What is clear is that all our leaders have appropriated their offices as their patrimonies and do not care about the welfare of the citizens.
There is a wide gulf between the citizens’ expectations and the performance of their governors. If the sole aim of the governors and the lawmakers being in their offices is to improve the wellbeing of the citizens, they have failed woefully. Of course, we are not oblivious of the common excuse by state governors that they are hamstrung by the recession and thus they operate within tight budgets. But what could make the citizens gloss over the poor performance of the governors occasioned by the recession is the sincerity of purpose that underwrites the little they are doing. But in most cases, such sincerity is rare. Thus, we are faced with the prospect that even if there were enough resources, the state governors would not do better as they would rather cater to their personal needs.
In most of the states, workers and pensioners are not being paid and not so much is being done for better infrastructure. If it is the economic crisis in the country that would make the state governors not to pay workers, the question then arises as to how it is affecting them personally. Has the crisis made them to give up their bogus allowances and stopped them from living extravagantly? Has it stopped them from making laws that guarantee them pensions for life and other perks such as houses, vehicles and medical facilities after their tenures? Has it stopped them from taking security votes that are not accounted for? El-Rufai needs to respond to the challenge by Dogara that the former only published his state security budget and not his personal security vote. What Dogara wants us to do is to forget El-Rufai’s claim of having judiciously used his security vote. He wants us to be interested in the forensic analysis of the details of the expenditure. So the governor awarded a contract for the supply of security items to the state? How are we sure that the contract was not phoney and that if at all it was awarded it was not to a front? The fact is that we have no reason to trust our governors and other public officials yet. They have various means of stealing from the treasury while saying that they cannot pay workers because there is no money. And this accounts for the so much haze that has surrounded how governors have spent the billions from the Paris Club refunds. After all, if what they claim as their salaries are all they get, why are they maiming and killing to get those offices?
They cannot claim that it is because they want to serve the people. It is rather because they want to cater to their own greed. Through their lifestyles, our political leaders cannot persuade the citizens that they are not corrupt. In fact, they do not bankroll these lifestyles by only their salaries. This is why even council chairmen who were nobodies before suddenly start building houses all over the place when they assume their offices. If these political office holders live by their salaries, how do they get so much money that they do not know what to do with it but to sponsor weddings of not only their children but those of musicians abroad? How do they become billionaires shortly after assuming their offices and set up universities? Dogara cannot lay claim to financial transparency when the citizens’ lives are not improved by the so-called constituency projects for which billions are voted. Nor have the lawmakers discharged themselves of the allegations of their jostling for choice committees because they are means of advancing their financial interests.
But we must note that Dogara is right when he argued that a campaign for transparency in the finances of our public office holders should not be focused on only one arm of government. It should involve all the arms of government.
Since this squabble has not given us the true picture of how our governors and lawmakers make their money, it is better they do not disturb the citizens with it. They cannot succeed in deceiving the citizens that all they do while in their offices is to live by their salaries. They should avoid this distraction and focus on good governance for which they were elected into offices. El-Rufai should focus on how to engender enduring peace in Kaduna by making the citizens to live harmoniously. He can only achieve this when there is good governance that is hallmarked by equity. And for the lawmakers, the citizens expect them to drive legislations that would improve their lot. It is self-delusion to expect the citizens to applaud them for their financial transparency when it is clear that they do not live only by their salaries.
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