Sonnie Ekwowusi canvasses an urgent need to trim the cost of governance

Last Thursday the House of Representatives declared viva voce that it would not reduce the humongous salaries, allowances and emoluments of its members despite the persistent demands of the public to that effect. The House argues that it is the executive arm of government which manages a large chunk of the national wealth that should reduce its salaries, not the National Assembly which manages just a paltry per centage. Hear the House of Representatives Spokesman Benjamin Kalu, “The 0.8% of the national budget for the National Assembly is not enough to run the National Assembly. If you want to cut salaries, expenses, cost of governance, start it from the Executive…people think that the money that comes to the National Assembly is divided by members of the House of Representatives and the Senate. That’s a wrong narrative…Nigerians will be shocked that people they thought were rich are not able to meet their needs and that’s the truth….”

It is preposterous that amid the vicious cycle of poverty in the land and dwindling government income occasioned by plummeting oil prices, members of the National Assembly are opposed to the reduction of their fat salaries and emoluments. You will recall that one of demands of the Nigerian youths during the #EndSARS protests was the reduction of the scandalous salaries and emoluments of the members of the National Assembly. Besides in August this year the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila stated that the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic had had a huge negative impact on the country’s revenue and therefore Nigeria was inevitably committed to drastically reduce the cost of governance in order to stabilize the economy. Last June President Muhammadu Buhari approved the implementation of the report of the Rationalization and Restructuring of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies (popularly called the Oronsaye Report) which recommended the merger, conversion and scrapping of many government agencies. Former Governor of Central Bank Lamido Sanusi once shocked the nation when he revealed that 25 per cent of the entire federal overheads were expended on the National Assembly and that that the National Assembly alone was getting N136bn, that is exactly 25.4 per cent of the total federal government overhead of N536, 268, 49,280. So, the high cost of governance in Nigeria has become such a disturbing phenomenon that everybody in Nigeria wants a reduction of the cost of governance in order to save Nigeria from final collapse.

If consensus had been reached across board on the need to reduce the cost of governance in Nigeria, why the procrastination in doing so? Why the sudden volte-face of the House of Representatives after Speaker Gbajabiamila had said that the house was committed to reducing the cost of governance? The monthly emoluments of our federal legislators are said to be higher than that of the presidents of most countries. So, why are the federal legislators complaining that they are not earning enough? Why are they making a counter-accusation and alleging that it is the executive arm that should reduce the salaries of its members not the legislature? Why the foot-dragging in implementing the Oronsaye Report? Nigeria has become a theatre of absurdities otherwise why should the executive and legislature which are supposed to be acting as checks and balances on each other quarrelling over the sharing of the spoils of office? The federal government is about to borrow another $750 million from the World Bank. What for? I wouldn’t be surprised if the monies are used to settle the scandalous salaries, emoluments, travel allowances, wardrobe allowances, housing benefits and others of our legislators and public office holders.

The Buhari government is broke. So, common sense dictates that it should stop borrowing money for fanciful projects, and wasteful expenditure. Ours is a country of sheer waste. For example, the running of the Presidency alone guzzles a good chunk of the nation’s wealth. Likewise running a state government. A state governor was once quoted as boasting before a senator: “you people get N53 million every quarter, we get N3 billion every month”. Look at the scandalous amount budgeted to maintain the presidential fleet. The Presidency has more than six aircraft. In the 2020 budget about N3 billion has been officially budgeted as travelling allowances of the President and Vice-President alone. Little or no work is done in many of the federal government Ministries, Departments and Agencies in Abuja yet the idle public officers employed therein are paid every month for doing nothing. During working hours, many of the so-called government workers are seen idling away along the corridors. Once I went to the office of the Federal Character Commission, Abuja to ascertain the functions of the Commission. Not even the staffers of the Commission could explain to me the specific functions of the commission. How long shall we continue to sustain this rip-off called democracy at the expense of the poverty-stricken people of Nigeria? How long shall we continue to tolerate a rip-off democracy in which the average federal legislator rakes home about N53 million every quarter?

Therefore the Buhari government should muster the political will to implement the Oronsaye Report in order to trim the cost of governance. All the Presidential jets should be sold off except one. Salaries and emoluments of our federal legislators must be slashed now. The Presidency does not need about 100 government parastatals under it. Government bureaucracies should be reduced and streamlined. Pursuant to section 147 of the Nigerian Constitution, we need 36 ministers not 43 ministers. A minister does not need 10 official cars, 10 drivers, 10 special assistants and about five personal assistants. A deputy-director of a parastatal or a ministry does not need five official cars and five drivers. A legislator does not need a retinue of idle staff to be sleeping in the office every day. Since the Nigeria Police Force, ICPC, EFCC, CID, NDLEA and DSS are mostly performing the same functions, why retain all of them? It is necessary to foster frugal lifestyles among our political office holders in which extravagance, and waste would be minimized.