Nigeria’s leadership parasitic tendency and nation-building, by Prof. MK Othman
Deep Thought with Othman
The cost of governance in Nigeria is skyrocketing to high heaven; the tree is still growing with multiple branches. Let us ask pertinent questions; how much does it cost to govern Nigeria as a nation in a day, month, or year? Does Nigeria generate adequate income to meet its cost of governance annually? Nigeria’s leadership habitually outcries on the need to reduce the cost of governance but consistently fail to do so woefully, why? These are difficult questions to answer. The first question is the most difficult because the cost of governance includes expenditure on “security”, known and unknown salaries, and allowances of political office holders whose accountabilities are shrouded with mystery and lack of transparency. Nevertheless, let us x-ray the known expenditure as a cost component of governance at different levels of government.
To explicitly comprehend the gravity of the situation, it is pertinent to examine the fiscal terrains of the government’s annual budget. From 2010 to 2020, the government financial budget had always been tilted grossly in favour of recurrent expenditure at the expense of capital expenditure. Nigeria spent an average of 21% of the total budget on capital expenditure. The highest percentage was 29.8% in 2017. It was 20.9% in 2020.
In contrast, the recurrent expenditure as a percentage of total expenditure was as high as 115% on average in the last 10 years. It was 86% in 2020. Although the capital expenditure rose from N958 billion in 2017 to N1.7 trillion in 2020, it was far lower in dollar terms at $4.6 billion compared to $5.8 billion in 2017 and 2020, respectively. Let us still focus on a particular year, in 2012; the federal government budgeted to spend N3.433 trillion out of which N2.472 trillion was allocated to recurrent expenditure.
This figure accounted for 72 per cent of the expenditure profile with only 28 per cent allocated to capital projects. A cursory review of the budget data shows that a total sum of N29.3 trillion was expended on recurrent non-debt expenditure resulting in about three times more than the N10 trillion expended on capital expenditure in the last 10 years under review (https://nairametrics.com/2021/01/19/nigeria-spends-n29-trillion-on-recurrent-non-debt-expenditure-in-last-10-years/).
Recurrent expenditure accounts for all payments covering goods and services, (wages and salaries, employer contributions), interest payments, subsidies, and transfers. On the other hand, capital expenditure accounts for all payments for the acquisition of fixed capital assets, stock, land or intangible assets. The recurrent expenditure can further be broken into personnel costs and overheads in the ratio of 90:10. The personnel costs cover salaries, wages, and allowances, which take a large chunk of the budget. Does it mean that government pays heavily for labour without commensurate payment for the working materials? Does it mean that workers are being paid for doing little? On one part, the government invests little in a capital project, thus, paying for the labour with little pay for the working materials. On the other part, the payments of wages are weightily loopsided in favour of political office holders at the expense of the labour force. What is the monthly salary of a Nigerian president, governor, senator, member house of representative, etc?
Salaries and allowances of political office holders are shrouded with secrecy making it difficult to quote a figure. Nevertheless, from the salary table, the senate majority leader receives an annual salary of N12,968,960. The minority leader receives a total annual salary of N12,908,168. The whip receives N12,867,000. The same applies to senate committee chairmen.
Incidentally, almost all senators are chairmen of various committees and thus, enjoy the salary of Chief Whip. However, this monthly salary of one million-plus Naira being paid to senators is a smokescreen as their monthly allowances are 12 times more than their paltry salary. Some of the allowances are newspaper, hardship, wardrobe, recess, constituency, accommodation, etc. Some of the allowances sound absurd – hardship allowance. At the end of each month, a senator receives a minimum of N13.5 million that covers salary and allowances. The undeserved fund being allocated to senators pricked the conscience of one of them, Senator Shehu Sani. He told the BBC “I decided to bust it open. It was a moral issue; the National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government. It pricked my conscience and I decided to burst the bubble and open the National Assembly to public scrutiny.”
He added, “If the expenses payment system was ended, then parliament would only be attractive to people who contribute ideas”.
The N13.5 million take-home of a senator is equivalent to the monthly salaries and allowances of 33 professors in Nigerian universities, salaries of 135 graduates, and monthly stipends of 450 NYSC volunteers. There are 109 senators with a total of 829 aides on payroll and a retinue of support staff who are also paid by the National Assembly. In fact, the allocation to the National Assembly constituting less than 5,000 workers and legislators is much more than the allocation to Health and Education sectors, which are being expected to serve over 200 million people. As glaring and worrisome as the expenditure on the legislative arm of government is, it is a small fraction of the recurrent expenditure of the executive arm. More worrisome is the living condition of Nigerians who continue to sink in the abyss of poverty and squalor.
In 2018, more than 82 million Nigerians equivalent to 40.1% of the population were living on less than $1 a day, which is globally considered to be an extreme poverty level. In 2020, a wolfing 92% of Nigerians were living before the poverty line on less than $5.50 a day, which is the new poverty level made in 2011 that considered the international prices of essential commodities. Today, how many people earn $5.50 a day equivalent to N2,750 a day or N82,500 a month? Why are the political office holders earning stupendous salaries in addition to unquantifiable and unknown allowances? One may be tempted to ask; why are Nigerian leaders behaving like parasites?
This parasitic tendency attracts all sorts of people to the political scene with high vigour and determination to be elected or appointed into political office.
This is why the tussle for political positions in Nigeria became a “do or die affair”, the eagerness to acquire political office for enormous salaries in return and hefty amounts of the unlimited fund. In this way, the best among us can never make it in politics and we will continue to have third-rated people occupying the political leadership. As a nation, we channel so many funds to the wrong places, which must be stopped, if we truly want to build Nigeria to be a vibrant nation. How?
It is high time; the good, first-rated Nigerians with sound characters should unite to democratically force a leadership change in Nigeria. All hopes are on this class of people; they must accept their socio-cultural and religious differences to form a formidable vanguard of true change for a better Nigeria, comes 2023. Where are the Profs Jegas, Osiris, the Femi Falanas, and other like minds that will champion this crusade? We, the followers are ready to mobilize and join.
Prof Othman writes from NAERLS, ABU Zaria and can be reached via email: email@example.com.