LEWIS OBI 08173446632 sms only [email protected]
THE bad news of last week was that members of the National Assembly were unwilling to reconsider their “out-of-this-world” emoluments, and had each collected slightly less than N30 million before proceeding on their third vacation in three months.
Those out-sized emoluments they awarded to themselves and closed the books and sealed their lips. No one knows how they arrived at those figures. They collect a salary and 14 different allowances which chalk up a monthly paycheck of N29,470,749. In addition, every quarter they also collect roughly N51 million. In contrast, the average salary of a Nigerian worker in generous circumstances is N80,000 a month. The minimum wage is N18,000 a month. This minimum wage is not even available to everyone on that entry level grade. Many state governments are still unable to pay their workers the minimum wage. It is even worse in the private sector where non-union workers are paid as little as N15,000 a month and sometimes less. Some cleaners, messengers, assistants get paid N8,000 a month. And everyone buys from the same market.
On the day the members of the National Assembly went home with nearly N30 million apiece, oil price (Brent) went slightly lower than $48 a barrel. It was $142 not long ago. The crash of the oil price apparently means nothing to members of the National Assembly, who are, of course, honorable and wise and patriotic citizens. But at least 18 state governments are owing their civil servants salaries and pensions ranging from 6 (six) months to one month. They are owing because the revenue from oil from which such wage bills are paid has plummeted, quite apart from the prodigality of many state governments. In Osun State, the governor is said to ride a private jet and spends N520 million security vote per month. Osun State workers are owed for 6 months.
All this is bearable if there is no noise verging on a kind of national crusade for a fight against corruption. And leading this charge is our new President, Muhammadu Buhari. To be fair to him, he began with his own earnings of which he surrendered half. The Vice President Femi Osinbajo did the same. But that is just about the easiest part. The President is conventionally the leader of the governing party. He is constitutionally the leader of the government and the people. He is also the Commander-In-Chief, the protector and defender of the Constitution. But above all these, he has the obligation to provide moral leadership.
Now, the universal litmus test is: if you are leading or if you think or claim you are leading, look at your back. At a time the President is scrounging everywhere for money, trying to plug loop-holes, daily threatening the corrupt with prosecution, and being pressured to find the bail-out money to help states pay civil servants and pensioners, his colleagues in the National Assembly just pocketed N30 million which no one in good conscience can justify.
The President cannot fight the war against corruption alone. The entire leadership of Nigeria must be enlisted in the fight. If he cannot do that, if he fails to do that, nothing else that he does will matter in this area. He will have the same result as he recorded 30 years ago. The first camp he must lead the charge into is the National Assembly, the real fountainhead of corruption in Nigeria. The National Assembly has become Buhari’s burden.
The National Assembly is not tangential to the issue, it is the key. If the average Nigerian views the assembly men as unjustly enriching themselves, what is the moral lesson? What is corruption if not unjust enrichment? The output of the National Assembly in terms of productivity is probably the worst in the world. If you doubt this, spend just one evening on the C-SPAN network. And to add insult to the injury is the bizarre reality of National Assembly members awarding to themselves eight (8) times the earnings of United States Congress.
First, the United States economy is a $17 trillion economy. The Nigerian economy is therefore less than three (3) per cent of the US economy. Even if the world oil price did not crash, how does a Nigerian support paying Nigerian legislators eight times more than American legislators and three times more than the President of the United States?
The degree of inequality in Nigeria is approaching a revolution-provoking dimension. Their calculation is that Nigerians don’t fight against tyranny, don’t protest greed and corruption and don’t fire a shot in anger. But if the National Assembly is not replaced by mass recall, the possibility of a Nigerian spring is not far from the horizon. The average worker in the United States earns about $42,000 a year. The total earning of a US Congress man or woman is clearly and publicly reported at about $187,000 a year, which is 4.5 (four and a half times) the pay of the average worker.
It is about the same proportion in Europe, even less so in other Third World countries, except Kenya. Thus, the average European or American worker would work for four and half years to earn the pay of a Congress man or woman. At N960,000 a year, the average Nigerian worker would need to work for 190 years to earn the pay of a member of the National Assembly.
The assembly has become the drain pipe in the democracy chain. It has failed as a national institution. It does not represent Nigeria but a small clique of plutocrats who grew fat looting public treasury. President Obasanjo has said that no one in good conscience would expect the National Assembly to do any oversight function. Every attempt in the past ended in a scandal with members collecting bribes as in the petrol import scandal where they demanded and were paid $600,000 bribe.