Japheth Omojuwa: Charity, as the opportunity cost of poverty (Y! FrontPage)

by Japheth Omojuwa

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We are not better off collecting stipends from our politicians than we’d be if we freed up our national wealth building infrastructure that’d benefit far more people.

It is very easy to look at the pay of Nigerian legislators and accuse them of injustice like I did in today’s Punch newspaper. It is so easy to see one side of the story and assume that is all there is to the whole story. There is always more. The opportunity cost of poverty in Nigeria is charity. Nigerians are essentially poor because they make demands on the rich, especially those governing them in a way that seemingly justifies the stealing of public funds and in less immoral fashion, the allocation of inconsiderate allowances to public officials.

I recently met one of the leaders of the national assembly and I told him in plain times that the next time Nigerians march for their rights, it would be over the budgetary allocations to the national assembly. He had an argument to defend their pay but these arguments held no water to me. Having said that, there is a part of his argument that cannot be ignored. The American lawmaker after paying his tax only has his family to feed and cater for off his salary and allowances, the Nigerian lawmaker lives under a different reality. Nigerian lawmakers, at least those of them who care about the next elections, are forced to share their earnings with their constituents.

They are forced to pay school fees of some constituents, they are expected to cloth and feed the poor, and they are seen as breadwinners of their constituents who must share the national cake or perish at the next elections. This is true and there is no denying it. One would wish Nigerians would see the bigger picture. That we are not better off collecting stipends from our politicians than we’d be if we freed up our national wealth building infrastructure that’d benefit far more people. We expect instant gratification, when delayed gratification would be more gratifying in the long run.

Having said that, my argument against the lawmaker was that since he justifies their inconsiderate pay based on the fact that his salaries and allowances are shared with his constituents, the politician who steals might as well justify himself/herself based on the same excuse. I mentioned how that is not peculiar to politicians. Once you are rich or perceived to be rich in Nigeria, the system wants to feed off you. A person cannot give what s/he does not have. That some members of their constituents expect to be taken care of from such salaries and allowances is not enough justification not to free up some fund for the provision of necessary infrastructure for those who have none of such expectations.

We both agreed on the reality of poverty in Nigeria. We both agreed on why as a people we are collectively responsible for where we are. We agreed on the fact that an average lawmaker, public office holder and politician has families depending on him or her. This does not justify the inconsiderate salaries and allowances they collect. If it is wrong it is wrong, nothing can justify injustice irrespective of how many people benefit from it. If the charity of politicians is what must stop for us to have them collect smaller salaries and allowances, we had better look to stop that and stop feeding off them.

As we made to leave the lawmakers office, two well-dressed men walked up to him as he made to drive out. They called him bros as though they had always been friends or something of that sort. His response showed he knew them from nowhere. They were asking him to give them something for their transport fare. The script could not have been better written.

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