By Tonnie Iredia
A University convocation lecturer is expected to make fundamental statements for the progress of society. Indeed, the occasion is not for generalized comments that add nothing to nothing. Rather, it is an apt opportunity to take a hard look at society, point to its most problematic areas and take a stand.
The lecturer who may be harassed thereafter by those he indicted need not worry for as long as he has made his point succinctly without mincing words bearing in mind the verdict of history.
In 2004, I attempted to do so as the 38th Convocation Lecturer of the University of Maiduguri where I opined that the main reason why development was eluding Nigeria was because its political class was ceaselessly behaving “like a child born drunk”.
As Director-General of the government owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) at the time, the ruling party pressed hard for my removal. I cannot really put my hands on why it didn’t happen but looking back now some 6years later, it is obvious that I was so accurate that if I had opted to be a soothsayer, the occupation would have turned me into a millionaire with many people trooping in to inquire about their lives and the future. Saying things as they are can therefore be quite rewarding.
Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, may have thought likewise on November 27, 2010; when he spoke on ‘Growth prospects for the Nigerian economy’ at the convocation of the Igbinedion University, Okada. Lamido asserted that the nation’s economy would not develop if the Federal Government did not reduce its cosmetic expenditures.
What irked Sanusi the most was his discovery that 25 per cent of federal ‘spending’ was being consumed by the National Assembly. A few days later, the Minister of finance, Olusegun Aganga allegedly said he had personally raised the same issue in the past adding that a committee on expenditure review was currently working on it.
The minister reportedly said that “we know the issue and we are on top of it. There are changes which we will have to make; there could be tough issues but we have to make them with human face” When invited by the Senate on the subject, Minister Aganga denied these quotations. Perhaps the mischievous media planted them into his press briefing. But for Sanusi Lamido, there was nothing to apologize about.
The argument that the 25per cent he quoted concerns recurrent expenditure or overheads and not the entire federal government spending was puerile. Why would a single body expropriate one quarter of any public resource irrespective of how it is titled? Secondly, it is hard to sustain the charge by the senate that Lamido deliberately misled Nigerians when he merely quoted the Budget office.
Lamido’s comment on profligacy in the legislature was also not new because renowned law Professor, Itse Sagay had earlier in July revealed that Nigerian lawmakers were the highest paid in the globe. For a senator to earn N240 million ($1.7 million) in salaries and allowances while his counterpart in the House of Representatives earns about N204 million ($1.45 million) per annum, was according to Sagay “negative and a breach of public trust”.
He premised his findings on the fact that an American senator “earns $174, 000 while a UK parliamentarian earns about $64, 000 per annum.
Interestingly, Lamido and Sagay may have under quoted using only official figures. What the legislators get when unofficial items are added would certainly surpass 25 percent. Anyone who reads prolific writers like Reuben Abati will encounter statements like that our law-makers are overpaid and underworked.
The only time they are vocal is when they are hustling for jumbo pay and allowances or when bribed to impeach someone.
In the states, legislators are perpetually fighting the Governors for more money. Most lawmakers are usually absent from duty, running after and making dubious political and financial deals and busy chasing contracts in government departments or peddling influence around town, or harassing companies and MDAs over which they exercise oversight functions.
Anytime they visit MDAs, it is actually to blackmail and collect money from hapless civil servants. In short, the Global Coordinators of Champions For Nigerian Organizations says a legislator’s salary has the under listed components:
Basic Salary (BS) 2,484245.50
Hardship Allowance @ 50% of BS 1242122.70
Constituency allowance @ 200% of BS 4968509.00
Furniture Allowance @ 300% of BS 7452736.50
Newspaper allowance @ 50% of BS1242122.70
Wardrobe allowance @ 25% of BS 621061.37
Recess Allowance @ 10% of BS 248424.55
Accommodation @ 200% of BS 4968509.00
Utilities @ 30% of BS 828081.83
Domestic Staff @ 75% of BS 1863184.12
Entertainment @ 30% of BS 828081.83
Personal Assistants @ 25% of BS 621061.37
Veh. Maintenance Allowance @ 75% of BS1863 184.12
Leave Allowance @10% of BS 248424.55
Based on the above, the Coordinator of the group Akintokunbo Adejumo suggested a part –time legislature that sits for no more than 30 days a year. According to him, there is no reason why a country half the size of the State of Texas should have as many legislators as the whole of the United States.
Meanwhile, those of us in the media who have a duty to set an agenda for the nation need to publicize Sanusi Lamido’s speech particularly the part where he said: “The solution to Nigeria’s problem is not in the interest of a very few group of people who have held the country to ransom.
The answer lies in every Nigerian simply standing up to this group that enough is enough. Very often you look at the problems of the country and you look at the powerful vested interest that are benefitting from these problems and you think that the problems cannot be resolved.
Let me tell you one thing; stand up to them, face them, the country belongs to you and we must claim it. And the only way Nigeria will change is if we stop complaining about these people and do something about them”.
Sanusi is certainly more eager about the nation than himself. Who else could have at his screening by the Senate rubbished the ill-fated 7point agenda? The man is simply a courageous patriot.