Cutting the cost of Governance

By Julius Oweh
Since the dawn of independence and the genesis of self rule whether by military dictators or democratically elected leaders, governance, unfortunately in the nation has been reduced to macabre dance of acquisition of wealth by those in the corridor of power. That is the most plausible reason that a nation so blessed with wealth has the largest concentration of poor people. Social amenities like hospitals, good roads, constant electricity supply and educational institutions are simply in rot because our leaders` love for the people is not as deep as my shirt breast pocket. If this trend continues, the main objective of governance which is the security and welfare of the people will remain elusive. This is the major challenge before the Buhari administration and the APC mantra of `change` shall be subjected to great scrutiny by the mass of the people.
The Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el Rufai has initiated what may be a revolution as to reducing the cost of governance and making the people feel the impact of governance. Speaking after taking the oath of office, el Rufai said that he would forfeit 50 per cent of his salary and that his deputy Mr Barnabas Bala shall also do the same. He hinged his decision on the dwindling state of the economy and that the money would be donated to the state. He also disclosed that this gesture would remain in place until the economy improves. What he meant in effect is that the patriotic decision is likely to be revised should the financial status of the state change. This piece commends the gesture of the governor but the man should go further by telling the people of Kaduna state what his salary and allowances would amount with the cut of 50 per cent. There is too much secrecy about the salaries and allowances of elected politicians and their appointees. The people of the country, the tax payers and the owners of electoral sovereignty have the right to know how much those elected to serve their interest and welfare are getting. If the `change` chant of the Buhari administration is to get meanings and relevance, the public should know the salary of a councillor to the president. To keep sealed lips over the salaries of political office holders is another variant of corruption and opaque transactions of government business.
For too long, the salaries and allowances of elected public servants have been a subject of conjectures and speculations. Time was when a former governor of Central Bank of Nigeria alleged that the national assembly was taking a large chunk of the national budget in comparison to their population. The national legislators called for the head of the man. Recently in a retreat for legislators in Port Harcourt, Senator David Mark engaged in war of words with Nuru Ribabu over the salaries and allowances of national legislators. David Mark maintained that the budget of the national assembly was already in the public domain but was very stingy in releasing the actual figures earned by a senator or a member of the House of Representatives. The same oath of secrecy is clouding the salaries of the president, vice president, ministers, governors, commissioners, council chairmen and councillors. It was from the Economist magazine that Nigerians learnt that our senators are the highest paid in the world receiving 189,500 dollars as basic annual salary a year beating American senator to 174,000 dollars, German senator 119,500 dollars and French senator 85, 900 dollars. The Salaries and Wages Commission which is statutorily empowered to fix salaries for all public servants is rather equivocating. It is only in Nigeria that an employee can fix his own salary and the employer would just be mopping. This attitude must stop and the change must begin at the presidency.
What is the security vote of the president? How much is the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria receiving? The people of the country as a matter of right and in the new spirit of openness and transparency are entitled to know. If this culture of secrecy continues and governance is treated as a coven affair, then the masses of the country shall continue to suffer. Democracy is about the people and not a few people who are opportune to be in office. Those elected into political offices must bear in mind that they are holding the mandate in trust for the people and that they are not the masters of the people. In the very essence of democracy, the political office holders are the servants of the people and they should minister to the security and welfare of the people. But in our case, the political leaders see themselves as superior to the electorate and that we are at their mercy of misrule and political adventurism.
It is not too late for this culture of secrecy and the high cost of governance to change. El Rufai, the governor of Kaduna state has thrown the challenge to the other political office holders and they should emulate his example. In Britain and the United States, the salaries and allowances of political office holders are known to the people. The case of Britain is even more illuminating where political office holders salaries and allowances are little higher than civil servants. It would not be a bad idea to imitate these older democracies. The starting point is that no political office holder should show any flash of anger should the electorate demand to know how much he is receiving. If the rumour making the rounds about the budget of national assembly higher than some state government budget is correct, then there is something seriously wrong with our stripe of democracy. You cannot talk of fighting corruption where the elected political office holders are receiving outlandish salaries and allowances that are not in tune with economic realities. It is even more absurd that despite the huge salaries received by state governors and legislators, some states owe workers salaries. This is a dysfunctional democracy and something must be done to correct it. Those who are pontificating about the beauty of democracy, the power of the electorate and participatory democracy without addressing the unexplainable and secret salaries of our leaders are blowing the wind. If the nation must get its bearings right, the political office holders should borrow from the template of el Rufai by cutting their salaries. They should also go a step further by telling us the amount they are drawing from the public purse. Or in the alternative, the Salary and Wages commission should publicly tell us what such people are receiving. It is gross injustice for some states to owe salaries of workers while the elected leaders are getting pregnant with the wealth of the nation.