A TIME FOR SHARED SACRIFICE

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The economic downturn offers a great opportunity to prune the cost of running government

In more than 25 states of the country today, salary arrears are mounting and so are pensions obligations. Basic services are no longer being provided while in a few states workers have taken to begging. With dwindling revenues from the sale of crude oil, no government (whether at the federal or state level) in Nigeria has taken the diversification of the economy beyond rhetoric. And with unrestrained official profligacy, many states and local governments are almost bankrupt while the federal government is finding it difficult to stay afloat.

Yet even at a time like this, our public officers still allocate to themselves jumbo travelling allowances or estacodes while our legislators remain the highest paid in the world. Besides, after collecting allowances for vehicles, which are already monetised, federal legislators have also placed orders for the purchase of exotic cars. Perhaps because there is not much lawmaking going on, these same legislators have opted for the business of executing constituency projects and conducting public hearings on all matters, including the investigation of criminal offences and the audit/probe of public accounts—jobs meant for the police and office of the auditor-general.

There are several questions begging for answers in Nigeria today about the structure of government. With houses of assembly in all the 36 states, what is the justification for retaining the legislative council in each of the 774 local government councils and the six area councils in the FCT? Does democracy have to sack the treasury to serve the cause of freedom? Can a democratic polity led by an unproductive elite promote development? Where the laws and rules for the appropriation of public funds are made by the same people responsible for the high cost of government, who will bring the system to order? But much more importantly, how long can the nation continue to sustain this gruelling rip-off at the expense of the poverty-stricken people of Nigeria?

Up till now, no tier of government in the country has taken steps to reduce the expensive cost of running the public service. Over 70 per cent of the budget still goes for servicing our parasitic bureaucracy. No government has reviewed projects that constitute a drain on public treasury. To worsen matters, across the country today, there is no sign that we are going through tough times. Governors travel so regularly to Abuja and other places in private jets paid for from the treasury. Many of them still move around in long convoys while retaining hundreds of idle aides.

Some ministers, senators and other public officers earn double or triple salaries while no state has reduced the scandalous pension package for ex-governors in terms of salaries for life, houses in the state capitals and Abuja, medical, vehicle and other allowances. At the federal level, some officers serve for four or five years and retire at less than 50 years of age in some agencies only to be paid an exit package of between N200 million and N500 million. Our austere president has retained the 11 planes inherited by him.

Granted, democracy is expensive everywhere, but it is scandalously more so in our country due largely due to the personal aggrandisement and greed of the average Nigerian political office holder. However, against the background of dwindling oil prices that has in turn made the federal government to hike the price of petrol with the attendant implications for majority of Nigerians, should public officials at the state and federal levels still retain all their privileges?

We believe there can be no better time than now to review the structure of government in Nigeria. If the ordinary people on the street must sacrifice to keep the country afloat, those elected or appointed to serve them cannot continue to live in obscene opulence.