By - Makinde Ebenezer
Just recently, the Nigerian public were introduced to the information that their senators, elected by them to represent them would be spending about 5 billion Naira on cars. A popular civic organization in Nigeria, BudgIT did a Twitter thread to increase public`s awareness on the imminent profligacy of the National Assembly in general and the Nigerian Senate in particular. As a matter of fact, the proposed cars are meant for all chairmen and vice chairmen of the Senate Committees. But nonetheless, since the Senate has about 69 committees, it is very likely that every member of the Senate will be confirmed as either chairman or vice chairman of a committee. In other words, every senator will likely get a car. Indeed, the Nigerian Senate under the leadership of Dr Bukola Saraki spent about 4 billion Naira on the same brand of cars four years ago so it is not a new trend. Just that it presents the latest indication of high cost of governance in Nigeria.
Just before this proposed spending became public knowledge, the President Muhammadu Buhari`s led federal government appointed 43 ministers with 43 portfolios to work with him in the Federal Executive Council for the next four years (2019 – 2023). Ironically, as a contestant before finally emerging as the president of Nigeria in 2015, Mr Muhammadu Buhari expressed his dissatisfaction with high cost of governance in the country and the need for its reduction in bid to make more funds available for developmental projects.
Over the years, the Nigerian state has struggled with responsibility of maintaining elected office holders, appointed officials, and elected government officials in the three tiers of government which include the federal, state and local governments. Rather paradoxically, high cost of governance in Nigeria has not genuinely translated into quality governance since the country`s transition back to civilian rule in 1999. Elected government officials in Nigeria have imbibed the habit of profligacy and wastefulness which has evidently hindered economic development. However, in the midst of this wastefulness is massive poverty and underdevelopment wherein Nigeria has been reported as the poverty capital of the world.
Structure and Cost of Governance in Nigeria
Besides, the president also enjoys the services of assistants and aides while each of this assistants and aides maintained the services of aides and personal assistants. The National Assembly (the Senate and the House of Representatives) also enjoys similar benefits as they go about their businesses. This structure of governance is similarly replicated at the state and local government levels with governors, commissioners, single chamber legislative council (State House of Assembly) and local government chairmen, the secretary, supervisors and the legislative arm.
Underpinning this structural arrangement of governments is the enormous money and resources being expended on a yearly basis as running cost. Nigeria`s governments over the years have institutionalized a system where a large proportion of the country`s resources is allocated to servicing few fractions of the population who are public office holders. For example, in 2018, former senator Shehu Sanni shocked Nigerians when he revealed the amount of money received by the lawmakers as salary and running cost. According to him, a Nigerian senator earns 750, 000 naira while also receiving 13.5 million naira as a running cost. A senator`s income including expense is therefore about N156,009,000 a year. This kind of salary conveniently positioned the Nigerian lawmakers as one of the highest paid in the world even more than lawmakers in the UK and the US.
While much attention has been paid to budget of the Nigerian lawmakers as an evidence of high cost of governance, little is being said about other tiers and levels of government and their profligacy. Indeed, high cost of governance has taken a systemic dimension in the country such that there has been a steady increase in the cost of running government in Nigeria since our transition to democratic rule. Democracy in Nigeria has become a system of extravagance and luxury with little results to show while keeping the masses in perpetual poverty.
In recent times, especially from 1999 till date, Nigeria`s yearly budget has continued to be dominated by recurrent expenditure-payment of salaries and overheads with little resources to be expended on capital projects that could engender actual development. During this period, the Nigeria`s budgetary allocation to social sectors; like education, health and infrastructure have been far below internationally recommended percentage while subsequent governments at the same time have committed more resources to recurrent expenditure without any genuine efforts at reduction. For example, only 2.87 trillion naira of the 9.2 trillion naira was budgeted for capital expenditure in 2018 with the remaining 6.3 trillion budgeted for recurrent expenditure in what has become constant occurrence in the country.
The reality of our current system is that it works for few Nigerians who have continued to position themselves as our leaders. The levels of government compensation in Nigeria is so high in relations to the available resources that there is an understanding that service in any levels of government as elected or appointed officials represents patronage relationships, as well as the opportunity to amass national wealth which is usually at the expense of the people. But be that as it may, what political analysts and commentators of Nigerian politics have glossed over is the nexus between cost of governance in Nigeria and cost of running for political offices.
The Cost of Becoming a Senator in Nigeria
Cost of running for office in a poor country like Nigeria begs the question of, if Nigerian government officials are really being paid too much for the jobs they are doing. Such that it can be argued that they are not being paid this humongous amount for the jobs they are doing (because they are not doing any job in the real sense to warrant such luxury), but for the resources they expended before they emerged for those political offices. There is a sense in which the complex democratic governance arrangements system in Nigeria gives our political leaders the effrontery to spend our collective wealth in the way they are currently doing.
On many occasions, it has been said politics in Nigeria is devoid of national interest and service such that the participants are only interested in wealth accumulation, personal aggrandizement and political power for the prestige it brings alone. Indeed, how can you explain the level of resources being expended by individual politicians just to become a party standard bearer and win election. In a build up to the 2019 general election, it was reported that contesting politicians for the PDP presidential candidates spent about 5000 dollars each to bribe close to 4000 delegates. Meaning that each of these candidates must have spent about 7 billion naira to bribe delegates just to win a presidential ticket. Indeed, the eventual winner, Atiku Abubakar was said to have spent about 42 billion naira in an attempt to emerge as the presidential candidate of the PDP.
In the same vein, during the 2019 Presidential Election two bullion vans were seen entering into Tinubu`s home in February, 2019. Since bullion vans are used largely to convey money, there were increasing allegations that Mr. Tinubu had engaged in alleged money laundering. The money was also seen as an instrument of voters` inducement during the election. We also going to lose count if we begin to analyse the amount of money that was spent by Nigerian politicians on the day of election. Indeed, it is going to be very difficult for an individual who spent that kind of money just to win election not to spend 50 million naira to buy luxury car or 5 billion naira as a collectivity regardless of the level of poverty in the country and what other things the money could have been used for to better the lives of Nigerians.
What I am doing is to explain the relationship between cost of running for political offices in Nigeria and the cost of maintaining those political offices such that the two reinforces each other. This also explains the problem of corruption among political office holders in Nigeria. If political offices are for serving the people, then it becomes largely irrational and unimaginable for politicians to spend such outrageous amount of money to win election in a poor country like Nigeria where more than 30 percent of our annual budget is financed with borrowed money except, they are sure of recouping more than double of this money when in office.
It is therefore not surprising that they are spending 5 billion naira to buy luxury cars for themselves. This is simply a return on their investments. It is important to note that this kind of extravagance is not limited to our lawmakers alone. Virtually all occupants of all levels and branches of government in Nigeria enjoy this kind of extravagance. Indeed, it is difficult to understand why former presidents/governors will continue to benefit from governance luxury in a country where civil servants are not paid regularly and 90 million people are living in extreme poverty.
Politics have become a cult in Nigeria where only the very rich and influential are allowed the opportunity to participate simply for the purpose of extending the scope of their wealth and influence and not for national interest. It is with this understanding that we can comprehend why an individual will spend at least a minimum of 500 million naira to become a lawmaker and decide to buy a car worth 50 million naira for himself in a country where about 90 million people of the estimated 180 million do not make a living wage.
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