If there was ever any doubt that greed and gluttony rules Nigeria, nothing underscores more the culture of insensitivity and impunity than the scandalous profligacy and atrocious remuneration and perks enjoyed by past and serving political office holders. It is an unbelievable shame that President Buhari can be fighting corruption, while legislators, governors and deputy governors are earning outlandish remuneration. The situation has gone to such ridiculous levels as to be perpetuated for life. For people who have stolen as callously, ferociously, brazenly and irresponsibly as the present crop of politicians, this impropriety is pathetic, disgraceful and amounts to naked provocation of the Nigerian people. The President cannot continue to look the other way, while public office holders, under his watch, add to the cost of governance by insisting on sumptuous and mouth-watering perks for doing so little, at a time when moderation is required.
In a nationwide opinion poll conducted by the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), published last Monday, Nigerians overwhelmingly opposed the ongoing payment of life pensions to former governors, their deputies, and legislators both at the federal and state houses of assembly. The respondents noted that some former governors like Bukola Saraki (Kwara) and Godswill Akpabio (Akwa Ibom), who are now Senators, by implication, earn double remuneration. Opinion is unanimous that there should be no further remuneration for any past political office holders; none at all for the kleptomaniacs Nigeria is saddled with who are known to have stolen more than enough, for their unborn generations of children.
Nigeria’s economy has been groaning under the weight of the cost of governance which consumes over 70% of its budget to the detriment of capital projects. Infrastructure has been neglected while other indices of development are de-emphasized in order to foot the cost of governance. While 27 of the 36 States owe workers’ salaries; while the standard of living of the average Nigerian deteriorates daily and majority of citizens have helplessly become hostage to poverty, disease, hunger and insecurity; elected officials are robbing the nation blind.
Nigeria remains a victim of her corrupt, inept, clueless and lawless leadership. To make matters worse, these elected officials refuse to even follow the law in determining their entitlements. Although Section 32(d) of the 3rd schedule to the 1999 Constitution, mandates the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission to determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders, including legislators, what obtains in reality is a situation where lawmakers decree for themselves what suits their ego and appetite, such that 4% of the annual recurrent expenditure for the nation goes to the National Assembly alone.
Of all public officials, Akpabio is a study in selfishness, which has earned him the reputation as the poster boy for the republic of greed. Before leaving office, Akpabio sent a self-serving bill to the Akwa Ibom state house of assembly which passed into law to the effect that he should be entitled inter alia, to N100 million ($300,000) annually as his medical bill. This amount, which is part of his pension package, will also be enjoyed by former deputy governors. Other outrageous provisions ensured Akpabio and future ex-governors upon leaving office, shall be entitled to: “pension for life at a rate equivalent to the salary of the incumbent governor or deputy governor respectively, a new official car and a utility vehicle once in every four years, one personal aide and the provision of adequate security for his person during his lifetime” at the expense of the State government. Not done, it further provides funds to enable the ex-governor employ a cook, chauffeurs and security guards to the equivalent of $50,000 per month.
As if that was not enough, Akpabio is also entitled to “a befitting house not below a five-bedroom maisonette in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja or Akwa Ibom State;” furniture allowance of 300% of annual basic salary once in every four years; provision of yearly maintenance and fueling of vehicle allowance of 300% of annual basic salary; yearly utility allowance of 100% of annual basic salary.”
Added to all other bogus and questionable allowances like wardrobe, constituency, furniture and vehicle allowance taken home today by Akpabio as a sitting Senator, one cannot help but wonder, what kind of ailment is afflicting Akpabio, that requires N100 million naira treatment, which is the amount he got allocated to him. Sadly, Akpabio is not alone in this scandalous and selfish abuse of scarce resources. Former governors Rotimi Amaechi (Rivers), Bukola Saraki (Kwara) and Ibrahim Shekarau (Kano) did something similar. Even in Lagos, Gombe and others, insensitive welfare packages for former governors and deputies are in place.
It is indeed unacceptable that people, who were well paid while in office and went home with huge severance packages, should get so much money for life after office. The insensitivity is simply mind-boggling and inexcusable. For people who have stolen as callously, ferociously, brazenly and irresponsibly as the present crop of politicians, this impropriety is pathetic, disgraceful and devoid of any perfunctory exaggeration.
By this singular act of civic callousness, dancing in mockery even as Nigerians wallow in poverty, public office holders advertise a certain hollowness in morality that has dragged the nation down to a hitherto unprecedented low in ethical degeneration. For lawmakers, to whom much has been given; and from whom much is expected, it is even more grievous, because they earn so much for doing so little. In fact, the business of law making has always been done part-time. Attendance at sittings of both legislative houses is poor as most members go about their personal businesses, and attend sessions only when it is convenient. Besides, both houses sit only between Tuesday and Thursday. In essence, what is believed to be full time is in reality a part-time legislature, where members barely struggle to meet the minimum attendance prescribed by the law.
A part-time legislature cannot consume a fraction of what is at present allocated to the part-time legislature. In the first instance, its members will be entitled only to sitting allowances that will not be obtainable for the mere asking in that it will not be attached by virtue of office simpliciter; it must be earned. A legislator qualifies for allowance only when he or she attends a sitting. This will usher in a new order, one that will detoxicate the system; and institutionalize a culture of service and discipline now lacking in Nigeria’s body politic.
No longer shall the legislature be a veritable and instant source of wealth that it is today, with the result that only serious-minded and patriotic citizens endowed with the spirit of service will find it attractive. And that will begin a revolution that will transform every structure, arm and organ of government, nay every aspect of Nigerian public life. Democracy will acquire a new identity and will live up to its definition as government of the people by the people and for the people.