The Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), promised, on Monday, to release details of the allowances of Principal Officers of the National Assembly just so that Nigerians would know how much of a drain these few ladies and gentlemen are on national resources.
Sagay, sort of legendary in his antagonism and irritation with the spindrift nature of the constituents of the National Assembly was reacting to a recent revelation by Senator Shehu Sani.
Sani representing Kaduna Central Senatorial District had taken off the lid over the hitherto well-sealed can of secret remuneration of the legislators when he told the nation that each of the 109 senators got a monthly allowance of N13m. Nigeria erupted in angst against what a lot of us consider to be daylight rape of the country by those elected to protect our interests.
Sagay hinted that Nigerians have only seen the costume, not the masquerader and that when he reveals the real deal, they would be scandalised at the audacity of the national exploitation by leaders of the National Assembly. I promise even yours truly cannot wait for this exposé to happen. But to what effect, really?
Truth be told, the damage these revelations, that is the one already made by Sani and the one Sagay, have now threatened to unleash on us, are of no effect at all! And I will explain.
Since the return to civil government in 1999 in particular, the National Assembly has been the example of what is criminal, extravagant and inconsiderate of our elite political class.
It is hard to fault this perception because at various times, the national lawmakers have been populated with quite a number of people with various levels of shadiness. While some had criminal pasts from where they accumulated resources which aided their election into either of the two chambers, so many others got sucked by the air of compromise that blows around the National Assembly.
Notable Nigerians, most significantly, former President Olusegun Obasanjo and the Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, when he was the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, had called out these legislators over accusations of our outright criminality or mindless appropriation of national resources.
These accusations, alongside occasional accidental unearthing of outrageous office perks like furniture allowances, wardrobe allowances, inflated costs of cars and others, have already diminished the image of the average member of the National Assembly in the perception of all Nigerians. Since 2015 in particular, it is doubtful that the average Nigerian sees anything positive out of the National Assembly. These 369 men and women are perceived as a piece of bad news to Nigerians and I do not see anything anyone says about them at the moment that would achieve more than the melodramatic effect, it would just be an anti-climax.
The first question to ask is, what exactly does the nation want to achieve with this information and how much of the previously released information have we utilised for that purpose? I would say none! What all of this has amounted to every time bits and pieces of information on this issue have been released, is a week or two of public opprobrium against the legislators and then we recoil into our shells until the next disgruntled member or an anti-corruption activist drops another bombshell.
So, of the very essential and urgent task of reducing the cost of governance in our country, how much do we accomplish by our social media rants, armchair criticisms and whining? Of course, nothing.
However, our failure to get much traction on this front is not just because we have not done much about our discovery of the excess of the legislative arm of government, there is also the fact that we neglected the huge cost with which the executive arm of government also runs.
Take it from the Presidency, check the number of airplanes on the presidential fleet and the cost of fuelling, sustaining maintenance checks and retaining the personnel that operate these aircraft. At a point last year, the presidential aircraft was parked in London waiting on President Buhari for months. Although spokespersons for the President spoke about waivers usually allowed airplanes conveying heads of governments, there were speculations that parking fees could be as high as 4,000 pounds daily. In the 2018 budget proposals, the sum of N7.26 billion comprising N4.3 billion recurrent expenditure and N2.8 capital expenditure was proposed for the Presidential Air Fleet!
That is not to speak about the numbers of Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants and Special Assistants serving the President, the Vice President, Chief of Staff and other top wigs at the Presidency.
And the members of the Federal Executive Council? How many personal staff does each of these ones have? How many cars does each of our ministers has in their convoy? How much does each of these convoys costs the country?
What about the 36 state governors. Not too long ago, a state governor was said to have the complement of close to 3,000 assistants! Do they work for free? Has the recent economic downturn in the country discouraged them from indulgences like chattered private jets and their ungodly and unregulated security votes?
My point is that the political class across all arms and tiers of government currently holds Nigerians hostage and suggesting that just the National Assembly needs to cut down on the measure of excess that they currently have of national resources is to deceive ourselves.
But this is what has become our proclivity since the return to democracy and this gives the impression that we are not a country that takes ourselves seriously. When people who elect to serve choose to self-appropriate and feed fat on the meagre resources that should keep the country together and we only just pontificate for a while and then look the other way, we do not behave like responsible citizens.
While discussing the tendency of our politicians to turn Nigerians into their Automated Teller Machines, we also must talk about the need to reform the high cost of electioneering in Nigeria.
Our political system puts so much pressure on aspirants into political offices that some even go borrow money to execute their campaigns.
Citizens receive monies and other times from political aspirants as inducement for votes and so when such people get elect, their immediate plan is not to benefit the people but what looks like the investment that their election has been. There is, as a result, no sense of obligation to the electorate.
Reforms that will change the disposition of Nigerians and their leaders positively is what one expects that revelations like that of Sani would precipitate. And this is why the lame posture of the civil society in Nigeria is unfortunate. Known as the third sector by political theorists, the civil society is central to democratisation and consolidation of democratic process and it is the lacuna that Nigeria currently suffers.
What happens in Nigeria is that the civil society comes together for the purpose of election monitoring alone rather than providing the platform for training politicians on the science of social contract and responsibility as well as build the capacity of Nigerians to make credible choices and stand by the choice that they make. The absence of such empowerment is why Nigerians keep talking about the same thing year in year out. Unless this changes, even the ongoing rumble about the thoughtlessness of the National Assembly would go bear no benefit.
– Twitter: @niranadedokun