N67.32 billion. That’s how much the Federal Government spends on the salaries and allowances of just 469 federal legislators every year. The proportion of our national wealth that goes to government officials has long been a source of outrage, with several calls for a downward review of these salaries. Indeed, one of the allowances the legislators are entitled to is a ‘newspaper allowance’, but it is doubtful if those newspapers are bought or read. If they do read newspapers, they would realize how unpopular the huge salaries they collect are. To put it more into perspective, 25% of all the money Nigeria has ever earned since 1999 (N40 trillion and counting) has gone to paying the salaries of just under 18,000 government employees. In Nigeria, the biggest business is government. Little wonder many go to any length to get to the centre, certain that they can pay off any debts in cash or kind racked up along the way. It is also the root cause of the issue of zoning, which is only a big deal because the centre is so lucrative.
This issue is bigger than just the proportion of wealth that goes to so few people. It is also that those few contribute so little. There is little evidence that the ‘constituency allowance’ provided for does any good for the constituencies. If that money went to provision of basic amenities like water, proper sanitation, refuse disposal, health care provision and so on, the nooks and crannies of this country would not look like they do now. The amount of money given to the legislators is out of all proportion to what they actually deliver because critical bills that can move us forward take years to pass, while many others just gather dust. In addition to the official monies, they also get kick backs from contractors as a result of gratitude or subtle coercion.
The cost of government is way too high for a country of our challenges. We spend so much on recurrent expenditure when we can encourage start-ups with game changing ideas to grow rapidly, employ Nigerians, and be competitive.
In the middle of the global financial crisis in 2009, the RMAFC submitted a bill to legislators in order to reduce their salaries, which was turned down, not suprisingly. These salaries are not only unsustainable, but also immoral. A day of reckoning must come between the legislators and those they are elected to serve. A pay cut is imperative to restore some balance and sanity in our political space. My suggestion: an immediate 50% off all legislators salaries, OR a 12.5% reduction every year for 4 years, followed by a moratorium on any further increases. Another solution is for lawmakers to be part-time.
Legislators and other elected officials are employees of the Nigerian people. Nigeria Inc. is not faring well, so pay cuts are necessary. Of course, they will not voluntarily take pay cuts so we the people must be prepared to pressure them into doing so. It is our collective future that is being spent. We can’t pray or hope that politicians do the right thing, because they often don’t. The voting was the easy part.