Thursday, May 24, 2012


Article below was an op-ed in Punch newspaper. I feel the need to reemphasize the need to reevaluate our national spending. There were delays in the payment of  NYSC allowances and civil servant salaries. The government has embarked on a borrowing spree; yet the minister of Finance insists that Nigeria is not broke.

It is time governments at all levels begin to have serious discussions about Nigeria's financial health.

Happy reading.

Who will guard the guards?

I remember a cartoon in one of the dailies where a man’s SUV got into a ditch and was to be pulled out. The area boy that would   do the pulling asked for N500, 000. The owner asked why he was being charged that outrageous amount and the guy replied  that is what we charge National Assembly members'. Also recall that about two weeks ago, Senator Uzamere claimed he was dispossessed of  his car, eight million naira and other valuables at gun point by his driver.  That was a serves-you-right- moment for me and I wondered who will curb the excesses of our legislators?

Compared to other arms of government (the executive and judiciary), the legislature bore the brunt of Nigeria’s military rule and is fairly young (thirteen years old in this democratic dispensation). However, Nigeria’s national assembly is a very smart 13 year- old. How, you may ask? The National Assembly has ensured that about 20% of Nigeria’s federal revenue is allocated to them. The National assembly (same goes for the state legislatures and local councils) is one of the major reasons the cost of governance in this country is high and if most of the revenue we make as a nation goes into over heads for the executive and legislature, how do we develop as a country?

I am particular about the NASS because of the role it plays as the representative of the people. In the presidential system of government that we practice, the legislature represents “we the people”.  This is because we elect people from our various constituencies and senatorial districts to represent our interests at the national level. Nigeria’s legislators have shown that they represent only their own interests. They pass laws that have no relevance to the issues that affect Nigerians, they set up probes that reveal much but change nothing and allocate outlandish allowances to themselves (to prevent them from being susceptible to graft and enable them carry out their duties) and occasionally share exercise books for students in their constituencies as constituency project- another unjustifiable allocation in the budget-.
One would expect that with the outrage and gripe Nigerians have expressed on the pay of NASS members, the 2011 class  would  know and do better. In this class we have 73 freshmen senators and 260 freshmen honourables. Surprisingly, the new legislators rather than change the system have joined the system.
The recklessness of our legislators begs the question who will guard our guards? The executive would not do it because it lacks the moral right to do so, the judiciary is yet to step in, Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) is also helpless. We know the legislators definitely would not pass a law to curb their excesses. So who will ensure that our legislators do not rip us off and actually do what they have been elected to do?
The answer lies in ‘we the people’. We can so this by recalling some NASS members  and make an example of them. We also need to be more involved in the process of choosing legislators. Yes, we Nigerians barely survive  and do not have time for active politics, but until we organize to ensure that NASS members are chosen by us and  not selected for us at the grassroot level, nothing would change and we would only continue to complain.

As a country, we need to take the task of curbing the excesses of  our legislature and reducing the cost  of thanking those who serve us because the current appreciation system is unsustainable. There is the false sense of prosperity that Nigeria is a wealthy nation. We are not.  The nations that buy our oil  are developing alternatives to oil. Nigeria runs on deficit budgets (our expenditures are more than our revenues. These deficits are not a result of  development projects but on overheads and this makes no economic sense.  We see our government shifting the costs of the deficits on the people rather than on itself.
During the fuel subsidy protests, the Minister for Finance justified the removal of fuel subsidy stating that Nigeria may go broke and go the way of Greece.  I agree that if we do not address the problem of cost, we would go broke not because of subsidy but because our system of entitlement and corruption is inefficient. Unlike Greece, Ireland, Italy and Iceland that had Germany to bail them out from bankruptcy, Nigeria has no Germany
We the people need to hold our leaders accountable and remind them that public service is a call to serve and not a call to enrich themselves. Let us start from those that represent us   - our lawmakers.

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