All Progressive Congress (APC) chieftain and former bank chief, Dr. Alex Otti, has noted that the reason profligacy in government has continued unabated, is that Nigerians have not developed the habit of holding leaders at every level to account.
Dr Otti who made the remark while presenting a paper at the 10th anniversary lecture of Adeleke University, Ede in Osun State on Tuesday, pointed
out that one of the challenges Nigeria faces today is that governance gulps the bulk of revenue that ought have channeled towards more productive ventures.
He said the one way to change the story, is for the populace to begin to hold leaders to account, as well as pay attention to issues and how leaders emerge in every corner.
“We maintain that the only reason the masses are suffering in the midst of plenty, the only reason profligacy seems to have triumphed over prudence in Nigeria is that the citizens condone and accept it. The saying that every society gets the kind of leadership it deserves, cannot be truer,” he said.
“We can at least demand accountability from our leaders. But to do this, we must first begin to show interest in the issues. We must also pay attention to how leadership emerges in our little corners. When you do not show interest, you are then asking for the wrong leaders. Elsewhere, before one aspires to an office a few issues must be resolved, and an agenda set, for the electorate and the aspirants to engage in a public discourse.
“A situation where a few individuals sit down and decide who they want to impose hardly brings the right kind of leadership. After all, everything succeeds and fails on the altar of leadership. Like it is said, the fish gets rotten from the head. It therefore behoves on all of us to critically evaluate and ask important questions before we allow anyone to lead us.”
Highlighting the level of profligacy in the country’s governance structure, Otti particularly that while Nigerian senators earn about $450,000 per annum, their counterparts in the United States, a much richer country, earn $174,000.00 per annum.
In the paper titled, “Massive Government, Miserable Populace: Cost of Governance as Economic Growth Decelerator,” Otti noted that, “From information available to the public, our federal legislators are amongst the highest paid in the world. Specifically, a study shows that they are the second to the highest earning worldwide. The only country that beats us is Singapore, a city-state that has one of the highest levels of income per capita, in the world.
“The reason for the high pay in Singapore is said to be to encourage professionals to participate in legislative functions. Everyone familiar with the matter agrees that the Singaporean civil service is arguably the most professionally run in the world.
“Again, America the model of our own democratic experiment, does not occupy a pride of place in countries with jumbo pay for their legislators. Before now, the compensation package of our National Assembly members was not in the public domain. There was not much to really depend upon except some veiled references to jumbo packages being enjoyed by members.
“The first authoritative source of information on this matter came from an outspoken Senator, who represented his Kaduna district in the 8th Senate. The Senator had revealed that Senators went home with a monthly salary of N750,000.00 in addition to allowances of N13.5m per month. This represents a total package of N14.25m per month. He had also said that they were entitled to constituency projects of N200m per year which was domiciled in different ministries.
“Theoretically, the way constituency projects work is that Senators are expected to liaise with the ministries to get projects worth N200m done in their different constituencies in a year. In practice, we know that this works differently as the funding for such constituency projects sometimes find their way into the pockets of the politicians.
“Also not captured by Senator Sani are a few other allowances, which include furniture, car and severance packages for non-returning senators. Translating the numbers into dollars for purposes of comparison, our senators earn about $450,000 per annum. This is over two and half times the $174,000.00 per annum that their counterparts earn in the United States of America. Meanwhile, there are 3 senators per state and one for Abuja, totalling 109. The 109 senators have a combined staff of 829 aides on payroll and a retinue of support staff who are also paid by the National Assembly.”
Coming to the House of Representatives, Otti pointed out that a member of the House of Reps in Nigeria earns a clear $224,000.00 more than his counterpart in the United States.
According to him, “The House of Representatives, in its own case, has 360 members. Together, they are entitled to 1,880 legislative aides amongst other support and personal staff.
“The compensation package for House members is a minimum of N600,000.00 per month or N7.2m per annum. In addition, they receive N12m monthly for ‘running costs’, bringing the total to about N151.2m per annum. The dollar equivalent of this package would be about $398, 000.00 per annum. Interestingly, the package for House of Representative members in the US is the same with that of the Senate at $174,000.00 per annum. The average House of Representative member in Nigeria earns a clear $224,000.00 more than his counterpart in the United States. The US has 435 house of representative members and 100 senators for a country of 50 states and population of more than 330million people. When one puts the GDP of the USA alongside that of Nigeria and what their respective legislators earn, one begins to appreciate the lopsided state of things.
“Nevertheless, the issue of the size of the economy and general wellbeing of the populace viz a viz the size of the legislature and welfare of legislators, is not within the scope of this discourse. The relative productivity of the National Assembly of both countries is also not within the contemplation of my presentation today. We are also not going to pay much attention to the fact that our National Assembly is expected to sit for 180 days in a year and be on holidays and recess for the remaining 185 days in the year. We will also ignore the allegation made recently by Prof. Attahiru Jega, the former INEC Chairman, that legislative committee work and oversight functions have been turned into bribe taking and bribe giving pursuits.”
The two-time governorship candidate in Abia State, also argued that the cost of running the executive arm of government, from the presidency itself, is very unrealistic. He said the cost of running the executive, should be cut down by at least 40 percent.
“While one may not claim to be an expert in this area, there is no doubt that the Presidency gulps a large chunk of our annual revenue. All sorts of agencies and positions hide under this big monster, ‘The Presidency’,” he said.
“There is a retinue of aides, ranging from Special Advisers to Senior Special Assistants to Special Assistants to both the President, Vice President, and other senior government officials. In the spirit of cutting down on cost of governance, can we not also ask that we cut the Presidency down by about 40%, using the same logic introduced by the Oronsaye report? This could be implemented across board and should include the Presidential fleet, more so, since traveling may not be a very frequent phenomenon any time soon.”
Otti noted that the current 43 ministries in Nigeria, is way too much, and only serve to drain government coffers. According to him, compared to other advanced democracies, Nigeria has one of the highest number of ministries globally.
“Closely following the Presidency is the Cabinet. Presently, we have 43 ministers each with its retinue of aides and special assistants. Even in stable times, this is not only unwieldy and inefficient, but very expensive,” he said.
“Do we really need that number or are we simply pandering to what the Americans call ‘pork barrel politics’? Is this not just a very shameless way of finding work and relevance ‘for the boys’? The constitution recommends that there should be a minister per state. Some of us believe that that part of our constitution should be amended quickly. Is it not possible to cut this number by the same 40 per cent wind up with no more than 17 ministers and still run these ministries efficiently?
“When one compares our numbers with those of the US and other leading democracies across the world, one would notice that we didn’t copy well at all. The US has 15 Secretaries (Ministers) as members of Cabinet, and it has 50 States. The United Kingdom has just 21 ministers. Interestingly, in the UK, Cabinet Ministers are also members of Parliament, House of Lords and House of Commons. 5 more members of Parliament are ‘in attendance’ at cabinet meetings. India, with a population approaching 1.4 billion people, has only 19 ministers in her cabinet and presided over by the Prime Minister.
“Even though there are several other assistants or deputies, they are not members of Cabinet. Germany also has 15 cabinet ministers and just literally at our backyard, Ghana’s constitution allows for a minimum of 10 cabinet ministers and a maximum of 19. What all these numbers show us is that we can afford to run our federal executive arm of government efficiently with the recommended 17 or even 15 ministers. Bear in mind that some of the countries we highlighted here are unitary governments while in our case we still have these roles duplicated in the 36 states by commissioners.”
Coming down to states and local governments, he noted that constitute the bulk of the waste of scarce resources in the public sector.
He said, “Every month, the Federal Allocation Committee meets in Abuja to share money to the component parts of government. According to the approved formula for sharing, 56% of funds goes to the Federal Government, while the remaining 44% is shared by the states. Of this amount, 20% should theoretically go to the local governments through the Joint Local Government Account (JAAC), a body that in all practical terms, is also controlled by the states. This is because the local governments are accountable to the state governments. In most cases, in order to control the funds in the JAAC account, states refuse to conduct local government elections, preferring the subterfuge of appointing ‘Transitional’ Council Chairmen and officers, who are completely accountable to the governors. For some state Governors, they simply continue to renew the appointment of the transitional councils ad infinitum to ensure that democratically elected officers do not emerge. Even when the pressure becomes too much, they would simply organise a selection exercise that would guarantee that only their loyalists emerge at the end of such processes. It was all these that led the National Assembly to pass a law recently, aimed at guaranteeing the autonomy of local governments.
“Nigeria’s political structure currently comprises 36 states, along with 774 local governments. The jury is still out as to whether these are very large numbers or not, when considered alongside the economic situation of our country. Could we have done with fewer states and local governments? We shall attempt to provide answers to these posers during this discourse. The thirty-six-state structure in the country implies that we have 36 governors and 36 Deputy Governors. For each of these states, there is a state House of Assembly charged with promulgating laws for the state. All the Houses of Assembly for the 36 states of the federation put together, have a total of 1,022 members. Now, one must bear in mind that each of the members of the State House is entitled to a number of aides and personal staff who get paid ‘somehow’ by the states. The remaining members of the executive in the states equally have their own retinue of advisers, special assistants and senior special assistants. These also come along with a retinue of other personal aides. Each of the 36 states has commissioners (which we have estimated at twenty per state, notwithstanding that there are states with more than that). These invariably also function along with their own army of staff and aides. The local governments on their own, have Chairmen, Deputy Chairmen and Councilors, who also have their own aides and personal staff.”
Concluding, he noted reminded that the “World Poverty Clock reports that we have close to 90m Nigerians living below poverty line of less than $1.90 or N760 per day. This means that of the total world’s 720m poorest people, over 12% are from Nigeria.
“Furthermore, 63% of the number or 56m people reside in the rural areas while 37% or 34m of such people dwell in the urban areas. In fact, about 40m of the people that fall under this category are unemployed. The rest are involved in menial jobs and therefore, live by the day. They are the artisans, the petty traders and labourers, the poor taxi drivers, the peasant farmers, the scavengers and all such people who survive mainly on what they earn daily.
“Against the backdrop of the above revelations, one is left to wonder why such is our story, our fate; a people whom God has chosen to bless – a people who, since the advent of the oil boom have their governments share millions of petrodollars every month. So, why are many Nigerians still this poor?
“The answer, Ladies and Gentlemen, lies in amongst other things, a structural defect, that ensures that we spend over 70 per cent of our budget on recurrent expenditure and less than 30 per cent on capital expenditure. The recurrent vote goes mostly into running government while the rest of the people are meant to benefit from the capital expenditure. Our final submission is that we must restructure this country to streamline and tame cost of governance and focus on pulling our people out of poverty. We can choose to do it voluntarily or wait for economic forces to force us to do it. The choice is ours.”