POLITICS is a lucrative venture in Nigeria.
Although it should be a vocation, many now errorneously embrace it as a career; a big occupation of economic and social value.
Government, therefore, is attractive because of the pecks of office, which may come with or without much sweat. The corridor of power is perceived as an avenue for primitive accumulation by effected and appointed officials, instead of an avenue for service delivery. This is counter-productive.
Not all politicians or public servants follow the path of aggrandisment. But, the tribe of those bubbling with the real sense vision and service appears to be on decline. The attraction, to the majority, is money and what it can do.
At issue today is the cost of ruling; the cost of administration, the cost of governance, which has ultimately become an institutionalised drain, a collective burden and liability.
Why, for example, should a former governor, who is now a minister, senator or ambassador, collect pensions while still collecting salary due to his current position? What is the wisdom in paying millions as annual pension to a former governor and his deputy by states that cannot afford to pay N30,000 minimum wage?
It is the tragedy of a country that like to indulge in waste, an economically fragile nation overburdened with the payment of double emoluments to certain privileged persons.
Few days ago, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu attempted to blaze the trail in critically reducing the cost of governance by halting the implementation of the pension law granting retirement benefits to his predecessors and their deputies. The semblance of value engineering; a creativity method geared towards cost reduction; elicited some applause by stakeholders.
But, pension laws are not the only problems. By nature, the executive presidency is not cost-effective. The political bureaucracy is akin to an employment opportunity and the key to state resources.
Under the presidential system, the cost of governance is high. The President is expected to preside over the Federal Executive Council, which is made up of, at least, 36 ministers and special advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants, and Personal Assistants. The ministries and departments are usually duplicated.
In the Second Republic, while President Shehu Shagari had minister of education and minister of state for education, he also appointed a minister of student affairs. He had a Special Adviser on Political Matters. But, he also appointed another person as ‘Political Adviser.’ It was a case of jobs for party men and women, and surrogates.
The National Assembly is bi-cameral. In the Senate, there are 109 members. The House of Representatives has 360 legislators. All of them have special assistants and other legislative aides. The size of the government is huge, making the recurrent expenditure to account for over 55 per cent of the budget, leaving 45 per cent for capital projects.
Governors at the state level also have over-sized ‘cabinets,’ made up of, in some cases, 40 members-commissioners, senior special advisers, and special advisers. Not all the states are buoyant. It is one of the wonders of the Nigerian brand of federalism that governors are placed on the same salary structure, despite the fact that their states are different in terms of resources, opportunities, endowment and potentials. Nigerian federalism is about uniformity, not peculiarity.
The council chairmen pose as ‘local governors’ with a measure of semi-autonomous executive powers and functions. Presidentialism is also practiced at the local government level, with appointed supervisory councillors and elected councillors and their countless aides competing for the meagre council revenue.
When new governors and Houses of Assembly are inaugurated, the governors, commissioners, special advisers, Speakers and lawmakers are not to inherit the official vehicles of their predecessors. New vehicles have to be purchased. The offices have to be refurbished. Old cars paled into a subset of severance allowance. It is a recurring decimal.
The legitimate pecks of office are in order. But, the penchant for wealth accumulation by public officers is condemnable. Indeed, many government officials at often capitalise on loopholes to perpetrate graft. There is no fiscal discipline. Therefore, national development is sacrificed on the altar of corruption. It would appear that governance is just for the benefit of those in power, their lackeys and confederates.
In 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) slashed their salaries by 50 per cent. They also reiterated their commitment to the anti-graft war to stem the misappropriation of public funds. The National Assembly members, governors and elected officials have refused to emulate them.
Some elder statesmen have attributed the high political expenditure to the neglect of parliamentary system. It is debatable. The only exceptionality was that non-ministerial parliamentarians were not full time legislators. Therefore, they kept their jobs as teachers, lawyers, businessmen and professionals in their fields. They only took time off from work to attend parliamentary sessions.
However, to reduce rivalry between the crop of parliamentarians who were ministers and those who were not, the later were also appointed as parliamentary secretaries. The Senate was ceremonial like the Regional House of Chiefs.
Lamentable, the treasury has become the inheritance of the political class. There is the pervading feeling that the quest for political power is tantamount to a political investment and investors must always garner returns. As those in power get rich, the poor is abandoned in penury.
How would citizens not perceive government as a burden when its recurrent expenditure is repeatedly higher than its capital expenditure, which should impact positively on the economy, especially in the areas of employment generation, investment and other activities that induce growth?
This is the challenge that stares Nigeria in the face because less than five percent of the projected 200 million population consumes the huge sum. The effects of over-bloated political bureaucracies involving the big Federal Government, 36 state governments and 774 local governments are alarming. There is disquiet among experts who believe that, when recurrent expenditure is high, it may impact negatively on implementation of capital projects and delay the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, delegates to the 2004 collapsed National Political Conference in Abuja were alarmed by the retinue of presidential aides and appointees at the state levels. They recommended that the structure should be trimmed. During the Jonathan administration, some technocrats also suggested that certain ministries and departments should be merged or fused.
Also, some experts have argued that the rising cost of governance has not been accompanied by corresponding service delivery and efficiency of structures for function performance. For example, they pointed out that the defunct Western Region, has been split to eight states. However, the output of the states have not matched the achievements of the golden era of Obafemi Awolowo’s premiership.
Up to now, the bogus salaries paid to senators continue to generate controversy, particularly after the disclosure by Senator Shehu Sani from Kaduna State. It was being suggested that Nigerian senators and Representatives earn more than their counterparts in Europe and America.
Governors and council chairmen have convenient access to resources through the inexplicable security votes. In fact, the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission had been overwhelmed by the mounting allowances of public officers across the three arms of government at the state, federal and local levels. Apart from basic salaries, allowances cover details such as accommodation, furniture, overseas trips, motor vehicle loan, car fuelling, medicals, special assistance, domestic staff, entertainment, leave, and severance gratuity.
At a time poor Nigerians lack water, electricity, and quality schools, budgetary proposals and political emoluments should reflect national soberness.
The political class should also learn lessons from the selfless service of the men of the old order-Ahmadu Bello, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, Aminu Kano, Adekunle Ajasin, Lateef Jakande and Awolowo.
Instructively, Awo, who never lived in Government Quarters, had admonished his associates in government not to embrace the lifestyle they could not sustain outside office.
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