Of Living and Killing Wages in Nigeria By Emmanuel Onwubiko

OPINION

As children in the early 1980’s, growing up in a typical Nigerian community in Kafanchan, Kaduna State, yours faithfully came across this bed-time story that was relayed to us by our elders which ended up teaching us a lesson that all animals are not equal.

The story was about a very elaborate feast that took place in heaven during which all the crawling and flying animals were invited. 

Mr. Tortoise managed to negotiate with some huge birds to air lift him to heaven, with promises of better rewards afterward.

But the story goes that these animals were asked by Mr. Tortoise to take up a name each to make for easy identification by the host especially when the time comes for the distribution of customized souvenirs.

Each of those animals quickly took a name but Tortoise did the unthinkable by naming himself as “All of you”.

When the time came for the event, all of them managed to find their ways to the heavenly host with Mr. Tortoise who took a smooth ride with some gigantic birds. 

But at the party, the host has this tradition of bringing all the foods and gifts and announcing that “All of you” should take possession of these items.

In this case, Mr. Tortoise automatically grabs all the items thereby making the rest of the birds and animals attending this party to go hungry and when it was time to go, the birds that gave a lift to Mr. Tortoise angrily abandoned him to his cruel fate making it almost impossible for the Tortoise to return to the animal kingdom on Earth since he defenestrated the solemn promises he made without recourse to his conscience.

Not used to be beaten, the Tortoise was clever enough to give a message to one of the birds just before they all flew away to tell his wife to gather matrasses and pillows outside their house so he could land on them from the sky. 

But the bird rather than relayed the exact message told the wife of the Tortoise that she should gather stones in front of their house and when this was done, Mr. Tortoise who thought that his message reached his wife then landed on top of the stones which immediately cracked his back. 

So we were told that it was greed and avarice that made the back of every Tortoise to look fragmented and rough right from the rough and tumble encounter of their common ancestor.

The import of this short story is that all animals are not equal but again, it is a demonstration that selfishness does not go unpunished.

The above story flashed through my subconscious when in the recent days, the Senator representing Kaduna central and my personal friend, Comrade Shehu Sani disclosed the jumbo packages that Senators earned which goes to show that Nigerian Senators earn better than legislators of USA which is the World’s largest economy.

The revelation of this extremely heartless pay package also demonstrated that even in Britain, which is where Nigeria gained political independence, the legislators are paid peanuts when compared with the princely sum that each of our 106 Senators pockets monthly, not to talk of the 306 or so members of the Federal House of Representatives whose pay packages aren’t fundamentally different from what the Senators collect.

Shehu  Sani’s revelation occurred only few hours after the federal government deferred the announcement of the new minimum wages that should be paid to civil servants to make up for the extremely high costs of living. 

For now, N18,000  is the minimum wage paid to the civil servants in Nigeria but some states of the federation have kicked against a uniformed minimum wage arguing that Nigerian states are not equally buoyant.

Some of these governors who are kicking against the low minimum wage and arguing that they can’t pay such since it is high, are the same persons whose earnings are to be categorized as killing wages because each governor enjoy the kind of out -of- this -World privileges that have been described by a one-time governor Mr. Peter Obi as shocking.

Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State has stated that what governors earn in Nigeria will cause more outrage in the country than revelation of Senators’ salaries.

He spoke as a panelist at the dialogue organized by Ripples Centre for Data and Investigative Journalism in Lagos on Thursday and said governors’ earning in Nigeria was immoderate compared to earnings of public office holders in the United States of America.

Obi told the audience that if he revealed how much a Nigerian governor earned, the outrage would be hotter than what trailed the N13.5 million monthly pay of senators.

“None of you knows what a governor earns; quote me anywhere if you know you won’t be here.

“It is something you can’t imagine. You just know the one of senators, and you are shouting, but what if you know that of the governors?

“America’s GDP is way above Nigeria’s but an American senator earns $174,000 (about N50 million) a year and you can imagine what his Nigerian counterpart earns in a month,” he said.

“In America, governors earn according to their state. The governor of California is the highest paid in America, and he earns $192, 000. The smallest state earns $70, 000.

“But in Nigeria, I can tell you because I’ve been there, the cost of just keeping convoys alone is in millions. And when people ask me why am I saying these things, I tell them that even if we made mistakes yesterday, can’t we correct it today?”

“I asked them, why are all these vehicles following me, and nobody was able to explain to me. I didn’t stop it because of them following me, but the cost of maintaining them was high. I asked them why do we need to spend about N30 million fueling these vehicles that 60 percent are empty when following me?” he said.

“What is the essence of a bulletproof car? Anyone who wants to kill you would come when you are out of the car. For eight years I didn’t use, and they didn’t kill me.

“In 2017, Nasir el-Rufai, governor of Kaduna state, made public details of his state’s expenditure, including security vote,” he reportedly added.

Now, when compared to what Senator Shehu Sani said that Senators are earning, an observer is therefore left to conclude that these sets of killing wages paid to political office holders including presidency officials are the direct fundamental cause of our backwardness and gross under development as a nation because only very little is then spent for capital expenditures. Daily Trust reported recently that Nigerian ministers earn higher that their counterparts in the developed Western economies. If you then put this revelation side-by-side with Senator Sani’s disclosure you will then know that all politicians are our collective oppressors. 

Don’t forget that the senator representing Kaduna Central, Shehu Sani, revealed that he and his colleagues receive N13.5 million monthly as “running cost.”

In an interview with TheNews, Mr. Sani said that the running cost does not include a N700,000 monthly consolidated salary and allowances which they also receive.

 “I think what we can say is that the running cost of a senator is N13.5 million every month,” the senator said.

He explained that though there is no specification on what the funds was meant for, each lawmaker is mandated to provide receipts to back up their expenses.

The outspoken Senator Shehu Sani adumbrated as follows, “But what I am saying is that that money (N13.5 million per month) must be receipted for what you do with it. But what you are given to go and spend without any accountability is N750,000.”

He also spoke on the controversial constituency projects for federal lawmakers saying that billions are released yearly without proper records keeping. 

Hear him: “The constituency project itself is given on a zonal basis and almost every senator will go with a constituency fund of about N200 million, but it is not the cash that is given to you.

“You will be told that you have N200 million with an agency of government for which you will now submit projects equivalent to that amount. And it is that agency of government that will go and do those projects for you.”

Mr. Sani said the process of executing the projects was fraught with fraud.

“Now, the corruption comes when the projects are not done and the money is taken. But right now, it is difficult to do that because NGOs and transparency groups have come into it. They track every allocation made to you and where they are being used.

“So, it’s becoming difficult for what used to happen in the past to happen now.

“But I can tell you that I would love a situation where we do away with running costs, constituency projects and leaves senators and members of House of Reps with salaries.

The senator stated that members of the National Assembly ideally shouldn’t be involved in constituency projects. 

“There are issues that we need to understand. First, I don’t believe that members of the National or even state assemblies should be involved in carrying out what is called constituency projects,” he said in the interview.

“When people are elected into the National Assembly, they should just be involved in law making, raising motions, bills and also performing oversight functions. But we live in a society where people cannot differentiate between the legislators and the executive.

“When the people come to you, they want you to build roads, dig boreholes, build hospitals, schools, give money, pay school fees for them. Now, if we have a society in which people will stop asking legislators to do those things, then there is no need (for the allowances) But funny enough, if you are very active in the National Assembly in making laws and you don’t embark on projects in your constituency, you cannot in any way be appreciated by the people you are there to serve because the electorates in United States are different from the electorates in the United States and Africa.”

Shehu Sani’s revelation also puts a doubt to the National Assembly budget for 2017 released last year after public pressure. That budget had no subhead for office running cost, indicating the funds are hidden under a separate subhead, so recalled Premium Times.

Salutary as what Shehu Sani has done, what is still unclear is how anyone expects non-governmental groups to trace these cash because most credible Non-governmental groups find it difficult to access information from the Federal Ministry of Finance which is a serial violator of the Freedom of Information Act.

Virtually the three arms of government run opaque financial system which makes it practically impossible for anyone to be able to decode the quantum of funding that each of these agencies of government takes monthly. The Federal Revenue, Allocation and Fiscal commission is so weak operationally to be able to track these illegal allowances that the political class pays to themselves.

For instance, the Aso Rock Presidential Villa is said to have budgeted over N70 million as fees to cut the hairs of the top officials of the presidency. The presidency also picks up billions of Naira to change furnitures.

These burdens of high wages is the reason over 100 million Nigerians are absolutely poor.

The best bet is for the civil populace to wage persistent mass action to compel the government officials to prune down significantly on what each of them earn since government appointment should be seen as service to the fatherland and not an avenue for self-aggrandizement.

*Emmanuel Onwubiko, heads Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA) and blogs @www.huriwanigeria.comwww.emmanuelonwubiko.comwww.huriwa@blogspot.com.

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