By Les Leba
Democracy is popularly defined as a system of government designed by the people for the people. The adoption of this style as best practice of governance by several nation states is supported by the far reaching economic and social progress made by those countries with strong democratic principles and structures.
In this regard, the superior prosperity of the United States of America is seen as the result of its strong democratic structure, while the comparative poverty in North Korea, for example, is contrasted with the relative prosperity of its more democratic Southern neighbour.
Now, democracy invariably implies the adoption of the doctrine of one man one vote as the state is characterized by formal equality of rights and priviledges for all citizens. The system also expects eligible citizens to exercise their right to vote or be voted for.
Thus, the principle of democracy would be breached wherever eligible citizens are denied their vote whether as a result of negligence or deliberate government manipulation. However, above conditionalities of voting rights must first be predicated on a formal agreement by groups of people who have freely expressed their mutual desires to live together and be governed within an accepted framework of rules and procedures generally defined as a Constitution! Vital ingredients for a successful Constitution must also include individual freedom of speech, equity and justice!
Thus, a social contract, which creates a master/slave relationship or ‘monkey de work, baboon de chop’ syndrome is unlikely to sustain an enduringly stable community or nation.
It is for this reason that although hundreds of nation states may claim to be democratically inclined, a country such as ours also professes democracy but regrettably, the practice is inequitable and unjust because the motivation for electoral office and leadership is driven by primitive self interest! This is the critical difference between the continuous progress in social welfare of so-called economically advanced countries and retrogressive, poverty-stricken state of most of those countries, which are endlessly developing!
A fine example of inequality and injustice that continue to deform our progress is evident in the size and value of remuneration or emolument packages enjoyed by those who are elected or selected to make our laws or administer our welfare! Nigerians have indeed been kept in the dark these last ten years or so, on the burden of cost of operating our democracy, even when it is clear that such secrecy is against the grain of transparency and accountability expected in a true democracy.
However, the cat was let out of the bag recently when former President Obasanjo addressed the Niger State Senior Civil Servants at a retreat on Wednesday, 4/8/2010; Uncle Shege’s admonition was that “we should look closely at the Legislature so that they can be more open and transparent in the way they do their work. Nobody knows in detail how much it costs us to maintain a senator. I believe it is more than N250m”.
Well, the gentleman’s guestimate must be respected to be fairly accurate; afterall, he was our country’s president for eight years. In any event, he remains a critical member of the ruling party and may still have fair estimates of what his ‘boys’ are earning in the field.
In any event, Obasanjo’s guestimate appears to be corroborated by Professor Itse Sagay, a respectable and accomplished constitutional scholar in a lecture titled “Legislating for the common good: contemporary issues and perspective” Sagay’s observation are weighty and serious, especially in a country which United Nations Development indicators put amongst the poorest nations in the world, with over 70% of population i.e. over 100 million people living below the poverty line with incomes of less than $2/day!
“Sagay noted that in 2009, a senator earned N240m in salaries and allowances, while his House of Representatives counterpart earned N203.76m. In other words, a senator earned about $1.7m and the members of the House earned $1.45m annually. By contrast, a US senator earned $174,000 and in the UK, a parliamentarian earned about 64,000 pounds, annually.
“In 2009, the federal legislature received N102.8bn comprising N11.8bn as salaries and N90.96bn (non taxable) as allowances. Is the taxpayer getting value for this colossal sum in the current democratic dispensation? Should five per cent of Nigeria’s annual budget be spent on 109 senators and 360 House of Representatives members? In other words, should 469 Nigerians gulp five percent of our budget leaving the remaining 150m of us to N1,000 each?
“Barack Obama, the President of the richest country in the world earns $400,000 annually. The British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron earns £190,000 annually, while a Nigerian senator earns $1.7m. It’s absurd. It is as someone has called it; a feeding frenzy.
“The Senate President is reported to be earning N250m quarterly or N83.3m per month while his deputy earns N50m monthly. The senate has allocated N1.02bn as a quarterly allowance to its principal officers, known collectively as Senate leadership. Each of the other principal officers earns N78m every three months or N25m per month.
“This tragic state of affairs is unsustainable. Those in this feeding frenzy are endangering our democracy.”
However, the curious twist in above reports is the response of the National Assembly, who did not refute the allegations as incorrect, but helplessly pointed fingers at whom they called the founder or progenitor of the abuse of public trust!
In a report titled “OBASANJO’S GOVERNMENT PROMOTED CORRUPTION” on pg 6 in Punch edition of 6/8/2010, “Members of House of Representatives under the aegis of the Minority Caucus on Thursday accused the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo of promoting corruption. They spoke against backdrop of media reports on Thursday, in which Obasanjo was credited as saying that members of National Assembly padded budgets and in some cases budgeted for ministries and agencies which they did not ask for.
“He was also credited as saying that with the connivance of bureaucrats such funds were usually withdrawn from budgets for projects that did not benefit the people.”
But leader of the minority caucus in the House, Alhaji Mohammed Ndume, described Obasanjo’s comments as “unfair and uncharitable, arguing that lawmakers would not have bothered if the former president had said that Nigerian politicians were corrupt,” They accused Obasanjo’s government of doling out N50m to each member of National Assembly to support his failed bid for a third term in office.
Alhaji Ndume further noted that …, “National Assembly has 80 percent People Democratic Party members in Senate and in House of Representatives and Obasanjo is the father and godfather of PDP.
“If that is so, then it means if the children are corrupt, then the father and grandfather are also corrupt!
“We all know the level of corruption in this country. It was during his eight-year rule that corruption moved from a low level to a higher level.”
Whao! Fellow Nigerians, are we talking of criminal offences here and not just an unemployed hungry and deprived Nigerian stealing a tuber of yam to keep body and soul together? Well, if anyone believes that this level of sleaze is only peculiar to the Federal Legislature, then he should do a rethink! State Legislatures, Local Government Councils have learnt to play the game of ‘follow your leader’ very well! No wonder elections into public office at all levels have often become a ‘do or die’ matter to ‘serve’! No wonder, a once unemployed rascal with connections acquires a N20m Hummer Jeep as soon as he is selected by his godfather as a local government chairman!
Well, we might ask if the Legislatures by themselves determine outrageous and vexatious emoluments, the answer is of course, no! Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Committee is constitutionally saddled with this responsibility, but any hope that this committee’s decisions are above board were jettisoned by horrid allegations of corruption leveled against this committee when its members paid a courtesy call on Governor Amechi recently in Port Harcourt!
The Rivers state government challenged the Committee Members to do their jobs transparently and should refrain from battering the prompt payments of states allocations with kickbacks or indeed predicating size of allocations and location of oil wells and related revenues on ‘friendliness’ of state governors. Amechi declared that states should never be made to go cap in hand to Abuja every month to collect their allocations!
Well, from above, it is clear we are in deep doodle! Where do the principles of equity, justice transparency, ‘one man one vote’ come in this mess?
Any hope that our democracy is on course has been finally shattered by former Governor Donald Duke’s recent expose on how INEC is compromised by incumbent Governors. Donald Duke has cautioned against any optimism in the electoral process, even if the electoral commission is headed by a saint! Duke’s expose makes interesting reading; in serious countries, the baby-face ex governor would be invited for debriefing by anti corruption and other law enforcement agencies! Duke has brazenly told us how he won his elections or was he narrating experiences which he garnered from the grapevine about what transpired in states other than Cross River?
In view of Duke’s expose, we may just have kissed the over N87bn hurriedly passed by National Assembly goodbye! How Jega hopes to order and receive 150,000 or so units of data capture equipment and other imported equipments within three months will be a big challenge, especially as such equipment are not off the shelf and may require 6 – 8 weeks or more to manufacture and consolidate for shipment with another 3 – 4 weeks lead-time before arrival, port clearing and distribution.
This would be an uphill task therefore, to complete a new voters’ register and organize elections in four weeks before the January election; all these portend failure, but Nigerians are eternal optimists!
Even if all goes well and by some miracle the logistics are possible, and an excellent free and fair elections take place, are we likely to have credible leaders who truly wish to serve? The answer will still be a capital NO! You can use best election practices to choose a leader amongst “Ali Baba’s forty thieves”, but what you will get may be adjudged to be free and fair, but you will end up with a THIEF as victor!
The political space in our country today promotes the survival of thieves and opportunists because the motivations as enshrined in 1999 constitution are self-serving and unjust and oppressive. Only a truly federal constitution will give birth to a new birth in our country and not fraudulently imposed 1999 version that will govern 2011 elections.
This article was first published on 16/08/2010, before the CBN Governor’s recent revelations on legislators’ oppressive emoluments, and the forward shift of the elections to April 2011.
SAVE THE NAIRA, SAVE NIGERIANS!