by Bisi Lawrence
The legislators at last bestirred themselves. Yes, they welcomed a public airing of the issue, said their spokesman, but would Oby mind, first of all, to state how she disbursed the “jumbo” payments she too received while she was in the Ministry of Education?
The pages of newspapers have been rustling, in the past few days, about what is so cheaply described as the “jumbo” remuneration of our legislators. It has been reported that they each make over two million naira or more a month, with all sorts of allowances. No one seems really sure because it appears that the salaries and details of other items of remuneration paid to our law-makers are the best-kept secrets outside Fort Knox.
The legislators and other benefactors of the same ilk have tended to shrug the worrisome prattle aside until Oby Ezekwesili brought it all to a head when she declared that payments in this regard have totalled about one trillion naira in the past eight years.
Oby, a former Minister of Education, seemed to have tactfully left out the salaries and allowances of the cabinet in the expression of her justifiable concern for the alleged extravagance of government in the reward of high officials which she fervently complained about. But she went on further to challenge the legislators to a public debate if they dared to dispute her indictment of their outrageous salaries and allowances. That did it.
The legislators at last bestirred themselves. Yes, they welcomed a public airing of the issue, said their spokesman, but would Oby mind, first of all, to state how she disbursed the “jumbo” payments she too received while she was in the Ministry of Education? That response, of course, appeared to merely limp beside her bold deposition; it did not even question the authenticity of the figure of one trillion raised, to say nothing about denying it. And since this is all part of the passing scene in our country, it may very well die down without anything more than the brief moments of inconvenience easily suppressed by a shrug, as happens in such matters that hug the headlines and then recede into the limbo of dead headliners.
It is clear, anyway, that the core of the achievement which the former Minister’s observations looked forward to, to wit, the adjustment of the outsize payments the legislators enjoy, would not be realized by someone merely blowing the whistle. The distinguished senators and honourable members are very influential personalities, and though they do disagree on the floor of the house over a myriad of issues, they would naturally remain on the same page on a matter that would adversely affect their “loot” … which is no less than several people see their enumerations as. But they feel entitled to it, no matter how little is allotted to any other sector. And, in some ways, they may be armed with a good defence.
As some of them have been pointing out, it is not as though they themselves allocated these rates to their positions. True enough. They couldn’t have because, though they have to approve the remuneration, the responsibility of determining the rates belongs to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, in the first place. That in fact, applies actually to holders of the highest positions in the country, including the President and his cabinet members, the Chief Justice, the Speakers of the various legislatures. And the list also includes the head of the commission himself.
The approval of the National Assembly, however, stops at the point prescribed by the commission; it cannot go above it, though it may fall below it. One would have to wait until hell freezes over, of course, before Nigerian legislators approve, or even recommend, stipends that are lower that those presented for their approval. The Chairman of the commission too, as a Nigerian, would naturally not be expected to suppress any urge to be generous in allocating a handsome level of earnings to those who would have to approve what he eventually receives. It is really not as convoluted as it appears as long as the strain of what is called “synergy”, these days, is maintained. A crude way might describe it as “mutual back-scratching”.
And that, perhaps, is one of the reasons why it does not seem that anyone, beside those who are paying and those who are being paid, actually knows exactly what are the figures we are being made to believe are absolutely humongous. One should really keep an open mind until we know for sure, and a public enquiry would fit the bill.
A brace of remedies has been suggested for bringing down the payments of our lawmakers if they are indeed outrageously high. A member of the National House of Representative taking home more than a senator in the US, for instance, would indeed make anyone raise an eyebrow. But, more to the point is also the number of the lawmakers and the amount of work they do solely for the whole year. The populace clearly does not feel the full impact of the duties that keep them so occupied, and so a desirable consideration may be afforded the suggestion that we should cut down the number of our lawmakers, while also shortening the length of their lawmaking programme. That would naturally mean that they would then have to earn less.
With regard to the number of legislators, the Constitution raises an issue that must be addressed. It states that the House of Representatives “shall consist of three hundred and sixty members representing constituencies of nearly equal population as far as possible … “ As for the Senate it prescribes three members from each state and one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja. Nothing changes that except a constitutional reform. And that comes in these circumstances through a co-ordinated movement by the people. That is what we lack in our desire for change.
The populace usually fails dismally to speak with one voice, loud and clear. 0, we are good at commending those who dare speak out, like Oby Ezekwesili. But after the kudos and all, we allow it all to fade away and nothing is changed. We are very articulate when it comes to supporting ASUU, but there is still a lot of room unfilled in the demonstrations. And so we have been witnessing the tide of the pressure ebbing fast into a pool of no direct inv
olvement. So many causes which should spark perennial attention are left to languish, shorn of the massive support they should excite. The matter of our costly, or wasteful, maintenance of governance is itself a case in point. How many times has the issue been raised fervently, but with the proponents later backsliding into apathy after a short while?
Benedict Odiase was never awarded a national honour. At least, no alphabets to that effect, like MFR, or OFR, or CFR, or even MON (which is considered the least in the order of hierarchy) were ever appended after his name. I had assumed that he must have been honoured long ago for his contribution to the image and glory of the nation. He composed our National Anthem, and he performed the feat at a memorable period of the country’s history.
Nigeria never had a National Anthem of her own until we became independent over fifty years ago.
We sang the British Anthem, “God Save Our Gracious Queen” as our anthem till then. However, one of the regions – the Northern Region – had already fashioned an anthem for itself, sponsored by the Premier, Sir Ahmadu Bello. It may interest some people who took a dim view of the premier’s quality of nationalism, to know that he had insisted that the anthem should be composed by a Nigerian.
Among the entries sent in from all over the country was the winner which had a Yoruba, Fela Sowande, as its composer. Not only did the Sardauna accept it enthusiastically, he also summoned “Uncle Fela” to Kaduna to process it, and record it. The title is “0 Fatherland”, a truly beautiful piece which was magnificently arranged and performed under the baton of the maestro himself.
That was in 1957, when the Northern Region attained self-government. The anthem was seldom used but was at hand when the entire country became independent and there was need for a national anthem. However, it was discarded and a new composition was demanded by the Tafawa Balewa government. That was how we got, ‘’Nigeria We Hail Thee”, composed by a Britisher but welcome all the same.
We sang the song until the coup d’etat which brought Obasanjo to power in 1976. The harrowing events of that incident left a sombre mood on the nation, and it was felt that a transformation was needed to build up a new spirit of confidence in the people. One of the ideas to achieve that was the introduction of a new National Anthem. Several musicians again rose to the challenge, but it was the composition of the anthem, “Arise 0 Compatriots”, which we now use that won the day. I knew the composer, Benedict Odiase of the Nigeria Police Band, rather well.
He was a trained musician who was acquainted with the work of the masters. I was working then in the Music Section of Radio Nigeria and, with several of my colleagues had come under the influence of Fela Sowande, who personified the grandest ideals of classical music appreciation. We were therefore inclined to look down on so-called musicians who could hardly tell a minim from a crotchet. But Odiase, as one might put it, really knew the score.
He earned our respect and our friendship. We hailed his anthem when it was accepted as the winning entry. We were able to dissect it right then, and savour its inner core. We appreciated his deference to the military overlords who had commissioned the work, and found the martial rendition, especially the kettle-drum “intro”, tolerable. We decided that, in a more relaxed civilian environment in later years, it might assume a more andante interpretation and a wider appreciation.
Another musician of a different stripe, Fatai Rolling Dollar, passed away around the same time with Odiase. The media was full of that news almost to the total exclusion of the retired police musical director’s death. It could have been due to his self-effacing character, because he was never one for publicity. It could also be because the majority of the media men and women, these days, are of a younger crop. How many of them were around 40, 50 years ago?
But Benedict Odiase did make his mark, and above all, a very humble human being who tended to think more highly of others than himself. He gave so much to his country.
Time out .