(Vanguard of Sunday, September 7, 2008)
I almost decided to stop writing this column last week because like many other colleagues of mine, we are just preaching to the deaf. But I quickly got hold of myself and asked me why I thought that it is the reaction of those I worry about that would determine the fate of this column. So, that inner voice won the argument. I will continue to shout and yell and holler and howl and scream and bellow, even shed tears on these pages so that there will be material enough for posterity to look back to this time and say yes some people told them but they would not listen.
What thoroughly unsettled me was what I read about the reported pay package that is being sent to the national assembly for public servants so soon after we had told teachers that we have no money to meet their meager demands. That was what set me on fire, what so incensed me that I wanted to sign off this column. That those we have given the mandate can be persuaded to do anything that may not be in the national interest, that their pockets count first, second and last was discouraging enough.
What has happened to feelings? What has happened to service? What is going on here? Is this not part of a world where people even lay out their resources to meet the requirements of the deprived? Are we going to continue like this, knowing that the oil we all depend on has a life span? Haven’t you heard Barack Obama swear that if elected President of the United States of America, he would ensure that within 10 years, America would not depend on oil as its main source of energy to power their lives? Are you not aware that within the next few years, this oil, even if the wells do not dry up, will be the world’s major pollutant because of more refined sources which will soon be downloaded to man on this earth plane? Can’t you accept that oil was nature’s gift to man in the last century and that what will drive this century is less than 20 years from us? Did we ever think of a computer as replacement for a typewriter; and you think any of these things came from man as inventions! No they came through man and should be located where they belong, no more and no less than discoveries! So, with the indiscipline we are openly exhibiting in our public life, where is the money going to come from to meet these heavy expenses we are loading on our resources?
It was an editorial in the Daily Independent of August 25 that hit me. The paper was, like me, crying because of what the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) was recommending as remuneration for office holders in the public service of the federation and the states. The question is whether they had the right to send such atrocious package to the National Assembly, knowing that we are not growing this country because of the way we spend what we do not even work to access. The unfortunate answer is that yes the commission has the right and the power.
It is one of the federal executive bodies created by section 153 of the Constitution, the same section that created the bodies like the Code of Conduct Bureau, the Council of State, the INEC, the Nigeria Police Council and the Police Service Commission. There is a special mission for the commission. Its duty is less to generate revenue than to ensure the expenditure of revenue generated. If you think I am unfair to the body, see Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the Constitution where the functions of the federal executive bodies are listed. The composition of the body points in one direction, that it has a political agenda.
The chairman has with him members from each state of the federation and Abuja and a third of the members form a quorum. Each member is, by implication, a card-carrying member of a political party because the qualification demands that he/she be qualified to contest election to the House of Representatives. The age factor there is that the member must not be less than 30 years old and he must be sponsored by a political party. So if you want to know the party leanings of those who decide what political office holders must earn, then you have the answer to the body that has just reflected the lack of feelings or sense of mission in the leadership of the polity.
The commission is empowered to monitor the flow of funds into the federation account and the disbursement of the revenue from that account. It is to review the revenue allocation formula and principles in operation “to ensure conformity with changing realities”. It has not seen the realities in the Niger Delta nor the abysmal state of our infrastructures or even the massive unemployment in the land. It is also to advise the federal and state governments on fiscal efficiency and methods by which their revenue can be increased.
I am not aware that lopsided salary awards that ignores what is there to be done with the limited resources at our disposal is a good lecture on fiscal efficiency. The commission has an area of paramount interest and in which it has scored more than a hundred per cent. So, it is doing very well indeed in exercising the power it is given to “determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders”. See that? The commission’s brief is unequivocal, unambiguous. It is to cater for “public office holders”.
These are identified, for the avoidance of doubt, to include the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, ministers, commissioners, special advisers, and legislators. Sections 84 and 124 of the Constitution detail those of them whose positions are pensionable. Section 84 is specific too that it is the national assembly that will fix the remuneration of the listed office holders, but the amount would not exceed what the RMAFC has recommended. Can’t you sense the reasoning behind what advised the balloon offer? So as you can see for yourself, it is not the business of the Revenue Disbursement Commission, for that is a truer reflection of its role, to be interested in what anyone outside its brief earns.
It must watch how the cost of living affects 17,474 Nigerians in the public service of the federation. Obviously, as we all can see the naked dance in the market place, the parameters it uses are not in the context of the general picture of sorrow and abject poverty in the land, but in strict regard to the brief. Not the state of the people, 140 million of them, but the comfort of a segment, 17,474 largely unproductive people. So, it has no business with teachers or any other group of persons. Are teachers political office holders? And is it its brief that it must take note of the collapse of infrastructures? The scheming is ingenious. If the councilor earns little, that little will affect the senator. The more the councilor gets, the more the senator gets.
The remuneration package for the special class in public office will cost us N1.126 trillion every year. They are thinking of spending N4.5 trillion in the next four years, come rain come shine! If you recall that our 2008 budget of N2.748 trillion was reduced to N2.567 trillion, then you can see that what is being handed over to public masters (definitely no longer servants) is about half of the budget. In a letter to the editor published in the Vanguard of Tuesday, September 2, the Education Rights Campaign, an NGO, groaned at the insensitivity of those who plan for us, aware of the collapsing educational sector, an area governments the world over put all they have into.
Are we in doubt of the advice that if you want to build the city, you must first build the man, the architect? How can education suffer because public officers want more money to sustain their greed? The minimum wage of workers which is grudgingly accommodated by state governments is N90,000 per annum. But because of its brief, it is not the business of the commission that there is no water to drink in most parts of Nigeria, that there is no light, that roads are death traps, that erosion is devastating communities the country over and there is no money to stem the gullies. It is not its business that Esther, one of the unemployed millions in the land is begging to work. Esther is from Kogi State. I received a letter from her during the week.
She only met me on this page. She is a graduate and has been for years. She has three children. They are dying of hunger. She asks if I can help. But I can’t, outside of this piece I am doing pointing to her plight, and that of many others, including one whose manhood is swollen and he cannot meet the hospital bill, or the fees of his child who has just gained admission to a secondary school! He is 72. In other places, age would count for him to enjoy the services of the land he has served since he was 12!
I have conceded that the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission has no business with non-public office holders. But the National Assembly, to which the proposal to enable the Senator earn N54million and the member of the House take away N47million from our federation account every year has a business with the whole 140 million of us, of course including the public office holders. Even more than every other person in the land, the president is the commander-in-chief of that army of servers that must ensure the welfare and security of the people.
The President and the National Assembly should reject the treasonable proposals of the commission. There will be trouble if we continue to ignore the welfare and security of the people. But there won’t be trouble, indeed peace will descend on us, if we make political office-holding part time. We have done it before. This is the time to do it again, because we cannot continue to burden the future with our collective greed. I say decongest the political space, revisit the first republic and opt for part time politics, cancel the executive governor position and let the party with the majority in parliament appoint the head of government business. The money flowing into the national kitty is for growing the land and its people, not for the bottomless pockets of insensitive polititricksters.
(Published in Vol. 3 of Democracy Watch, A Monitor’s Diary by Tony Momoh, pages 152 -156; Lagos, 2011).