by Debo Adejugbe
Even though the report had failed to mention the several mushroom allowances written into their pay packets, they failed to dispute it with facts but gunned for Oby.
To be frank, I didn’t know where to start this piece from, after I had written down the title for several days. To spice up the political atmosphere in Nigeria, there are few things you could do better than bringing up the cost of our democracy. Going a step further, you could incredibly do great by poking fun at the National Assembly and their wages; that normally elicits a “put a sock in it” reply from them and no one seem qualified enough at this point in time than Oby Ezekwesili who stirred the hornets’ nest with her pronouncement on August 19, that over 1Trillion Naira had been spent on the National Assembly in the past eight years.
Ezekwesili made the outrageous claim in a keynote address delivered during a one-day dialogue session on the ‘Cost of governance in Nigeria’. The greased lightning reply from the Assembly had prompted Ezkwesili to propose a public hearing on their budgetary allocations as a way of enriching our democracy and educating the general public on “the very relevant issue of their remuneration”. It didn’t take time for the House of Reps to agree to Ezekwesili’s gauntlet and in the process, requesting why she narrowed the focus of her speech to the National Assembly, leaving out the Executive and the Judiciary. To further show their ire, they reminded us of her “wild claims bordering on the alleged frittering of $45bn of the country’s external reserves, and $22bn in the excess crude account” and conveniently requested her to do this math: “What is the percentage of the National Assembly’s N150bn allocation in a budget of N4.9 trillion?” They missed the point totally.
It is easy to take sides; and which side I’m taking on this issue should be clear to all. I go with Ezekwesili. Now, the reason why I will queue behind her is this: she gave us specific numbers on what she was talking about. While the Assembly members were busy slinging mud, bringing up her tenure as Minister, she was busy crafting out the numbers she got from the Ministry of Finance on the Statutory Transfers (Allocations to the National Assembly) from 2005 to 2013 – The period under review in her paper. It is reproduced below, totaling a little over 1 trillion naira:
She didn’t stop there; she decided to point them to external sources, with the report of the global comparison of legislators’ remuneration across the world done by UK based The Economist magazine her point of call. The report had alleged that Nigerian federal legislators are the highest paid lawmakers in the world, with an annual basic salary of $189,500 (N30.6m). Even though the report had failed to mention the several mushroom allowances written into their pay packets, they failed to dispute it with facts but gunned for Oby.
Perplexed about their scathing reply and the aspersions cast on her person, she posed the question: “Would it therefore not have been more dignifying of our democracy if the spokesmen had used the opportunity of their reaction to offer their own data to contradict or clarify anything conveyed in my speech after reading it? Is the issue of management of our public finance (which) is the core of good governance not too important for the personalizing politics of their reaction?” I think she expects too much from our legislators, don’t you?
Glaringly sorrowful in the reply from the House of Representatives spokesperson is the selective scrutiny given Ezekwesili’s speech. She lamented about the 82% we devote to recurrent cost in our budget. She clamoured for the release of the Orosanye report while also canvassing for part-time legislation as a way to stop the present drain on the economy – a system that will require you to be gainfully employed to contest, thereby limiting the dependence on public funds by officials. No one replied.
In her widely acknowledged frankness, she brushed the subject of oil and questioned why Nigeria is still trapped by oil while others are advancing technologically; flummoxed by the $1.6 billion we lose on this same natural resource to theft. If the spokesperson had taken time to go through her speech, he would have discovered that Oby did not spare the Executive arm; she felt we have not ditched our militaristic tendencies to totally embrace democracy and in the process giving a damning assessment of the Obasanjo era in which she served: “One major mistake of the government under which I served was that we simply got into democracy and did not spend reasonable time getting every citizen; every leader and every institution to do away with militaristic ethos and principles from their minds”.
A quick look at what our legislators get paid from the public treasury as calculated here shows that something is amiss in the Reps’ claim that Oby lied. If there is anything she had done, it is that she understated the fleece going on by limiting her data to the one officially provided by the Finance ministry. For the amount of money they earn, you would think Nigeria is the richest country in the world or they take their job seriously. It is unfathomable that this is a country where infrastructure is almost non-existent, the education sector is nothing to write home about, with a power sector that is epileptic and the cost of running the government (all arms) is alarmingly outrageous. Add that to our meager per capita income per annum, it becomes insanely unfathomable.
It should be termed as a clear act of treason for someone to earn that much while over 60% of the population live in abject poverty, and for doing what? Nothing! How many successful lawmakers-sponsored bills have they passed in the past 14 years of democratic ‘experiment’ and what are their effects on the people? It makes you angrier when their salaries are compared to working economies around the world, giving thoughts to each country’s GDP. Rather than castigating Ezekwesili and chasing shadows on a public debate they will never show up for, they should release figures of how much each legislator earn for us to put the matter to bed once and for all. Anything short of that is classic buffoonery.
And in answer to their question: “What is the total disbursement to the Executive and the judicial arms of government over the same eight-year period?” Why not tell us?!
Debo Adejugbe is a trained Telecommunications/Electronics Engineer and a certified IT professional living in Lagos. Dad to amazing Hailey and an advocate against Sexual and Domestic Abuses. Debo has political sympathy for the Labour Party. He tweets from @deboadejugbe
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.