By Clarius Ugwuoha
THE presidential aspirants have clearly articulated their programmes and policies. From lifting 80 million Nigerians out of poverty and creating 10 million jobs, to increasing the minimum wage to N100,000. I see a severe shortfall. The cardinal problems of the country are completely negated ignorantly or willfully. If I were one of the aspirants, I would harp on the core issues. The first major issue is an overcrowded presidency.
There are far too many officials with highfalutin salaries, leaving out little or nothing for capital projects. We should have a 12-man ministerial team. A bill of the National Assembly prescribing a Minister for each state ought to be abrogated in favour of two ministers for each geo-polity. Special assistants ought to be at the expense of the employing ministers and the Presidency. Without a drastic cut in the cost of governance, corollary to the above is high cost of governance. There is far too much money in circulation at the acme of governance for comfort. Apart from drastic cut in bills to the presidency, Nigeria could opt for unicameral legislature. We cannot have one assembly in each state of the federation and continue bicameral at the federal level.
Institutions are not strong enough to resist political inducements.
In most countries, the law is above everyone else. In Nigeria, there are many strong men above the institutions of State. In the USA, a sitting president could be jailed. In Brazil, the former President, Lula Da Silva is facing 13 years jail term. In Israel, ex-President Ehud Olmert is serving term for tax fraud. These scenarios are an aberration in Nigeria.
Delay of salaries of public servants:
It is evidently counter-productive that the chief executives of the states and the Federal Government are saddled with the payment of salaries of public servants. This invariably leads to prioritisation with salaries of civil servants in the lowest rung. An ideal solution is a situation whereby all public servants in every state are captured and paid directly from the Federation Account through the Accountant-General of the Federation in liaison with the state Commissioners of Finance. What this means is that allocations to the states through the Governors would now become allocation accruing to the state less sum of salaries of public servants in the payroll of that state. Not only would this eliminate ghost workers as salaries would be paid through Bank Verification Numbers’ clearance, everyone would receive their salaries at a given date without delay.
I have posited ad nauseam that in lieu of increasing minimum wage at this stage of our nation, the more profitable option is a drastic cut in maximum wage. Whenever there is a new minimum wage, the food sellers next door, the transporters, etc, also increase the price of their wares and fares, almost cancelling the effect of such increment. One in effect, has received more money that hadn’t increased one’s purchasing power. We are all witnesses to what effect hyperinflation can cause in a polity as in then Zimbabwe, where everyone suddenly became millionaires yet poor! Let us calibrate a wage structure for public servants, civil and political. A bill could criminalise a maximum salary more than, say, ten times the minimum wage earnable. We should not circumvent this provision by structuring highfalutin allowances. That way, the amount of money in circulation would reduce drastically leading to higher value of the naira. This means that whatever minimum wage we have could at least take one home. We could have a N100,000 minimum wage that cannot take you through just a week’s need, however skinny the budget, if the current hyperinflation trend is sustained.
We cannot seriously comment on corruption in the polity when forms for political offices are sold to the highest bidder. Politics is seen as a very lucrative business with mind-blowing returns. Unless we can conscientiously de-emphasise and criminalise money politics so that someone on minimum wage can aspire to any position in the land, we cannot be said to be sincere in our fight against corruption. Forms for political offices should be brought to five figures, but with rigorous nomination processes that would eliminate people without the necessary qualification and acceptance. For instance, someone aspiring for the presidency could secure the endorsement of permanent secretaries in at least two-third of the states of the federation.
The current limit on campaign expenditure is still very high. Jail terms and disqualification should be dangled before anyone seen sharing money as campaign strategy. Let our campaigns become issue-based!
The fight against corruption is weak and ineffective. The ICPC and EFCC could be subsumed into an anti-corruption ministry independent of the Presidency and headed by notable people of stature and proven integrity.
We could consider currency reprints as well as naira re-denomination as posited by Prof. Charles Soludo. This combination would render obsolete any money kept in overhead tanks and soakaway pits; strengthen the naira and reduce the naira equivalence of fund illicitly stashed in overseas bank vaults.
You cannot successfully fight insecurity without creating an enabling environment for youths and everyone to attain their dreams. The widening poor-rich disparity is at the bottom of the increasing insecurity in Nigeria. Let us accept the truth. You cannot enjoy your wealth amid mind-bending poverty. People are easily brainwashed into suicidal missions and insurgency when they have lost all hope for a better life. Let us create an enabling environment for the youths to grow.
Better equipped armed forces and the Police is imperative. The current lack of equipment for the armed forces leading to unacceptable casualty figures in the fight against insurgency is reprehensible.
There is no way the economy can be successfully planned, monitored and stimulated without a knowledge of the population of the country. What is the exact population of Nigeria? What is available is mere conjecture. We need an accurate population figure to enable us determine our per capita income with certainty. This will help economic projections and plans.
Diversification of the economy
A mono-economy like Nigeria’s is always over-saddled and threatened. Instead of the current search for oil in the Lake Chad Basin with glut of oil in Nigeria and dwindling demand globally, we could think beyond oil. With abundant sunshine in the North, more appropriate would be solar panels to harvest solar energy. This could drastically reduce electrification costs and bring us closer to solving the perennial power challenge.
We should invest more in agriculture. The groundnut pyramids and Palm oil, hides and skin, etc should be resuscitated.
Mr. Ugwuoha, a public affairs analyst, wrote from Egbema, Rivers State.