Jan 27, 2015

Oil Price and Salaries in the National Assemblies

Entrance to the Nigerian National Assembly
When, in June, 2014, the news came out that the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was to be crowned the Emir of Kano, I was quick to say that the transition was a minus to the nation. My reason was that, given his extensive understanding and experience, becoming an Emir would sum up to a waste of that resourcefulness in his head.

Sanusi has more than just knowledge and experience: he has guts to step on “big toes” as long as there was a justification in his action. This character is something that is rare in Nigeria, and is the reason why cold-hearted “big men” get away with their sins against the nation. It was Lamido who came out to tell Nigerians that the Nigerian National Assembly, alone, gulps up to 25% of Nigeria’s recurrent expenditure. He was, also, the guy who exposed the dirty dealings between the Federal Government of Nigeria and the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), at a time when he was the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. He paid this with a heavy price: his job as the Governor of the Central Bank.

No one knows, exactly, how much the take-home of a Nigerian MP is. One common way of putting it is to say that it is bigger than Barack Obama’s take-home, as President of the United States of America. In Nigeria, a lot ordinary people fail to understand that MPs don’t have any business with capital projects. They, thus, expect the legislators to, directly, carry out capital projects, such as building hospitals, bridges, and healthcare centers. This, in addition to a culture that expects political office holders to shoulder the financial burdens of constituents who come begging, are the excuses MPs often cite in their justification of the profits they make at the National Assembly. To the MPs, shouldering the financial burdens of poor neighbors is seen as duty to the nation. One is, however, confused that the financial allowances that build the towering incomes of MPs in Nigeria, enjoy buffers from judicial scrutiny.

We were told that democracy is a tool that builds a nation faster than any other alternative. Among the processes of nation building, democracy should cater for, is education of the ordinary people. MPs are supposed to meet with their constituents, on a regular basis, to keep them abreast with events and matters relating to their constituencies. Thus, the constituency meetings should, also, be forums where legislators educate constituents on their actual functions at the assemblies.

If the ignorance of the people is a clock in the wheel of democracy, it is expected that the same democracy should find a way of removing it. If schools have failed in their responsibility to educate Nigerians to understand the duties of the different appendages of government, then, democracy should find a way of getting the schools to carry out their functions properly. Democracy should, also, compel parents to enroll their kids into schools, where the people have the groveling habit of not doing so.

 It is true that only a few per cent of Nigerian legislators actually have constituency offices, despite allowances they take to maintain such. So, the issue of educating constituents does not, even, arise. Most constituents often complain that the moment MPs are elected, they move to Abuja to stay permanently, only to be seen in four years time, when a renewal of tenure is been sought.  In a nut-shell, the allowances that build the incomes of MPs do not really go toward addressing the excuses that justify their collections.

In the last twelve years, Nigeria has seen oil money more that it has ever seen in any other period in its history. All we have seen within the same period, however, have been a distinct level of financial irresponsibility. Now, oil price has crash-landed with a preposterous intensity. For any well meaning government, this should be a time for austerity measures. If the take-homes of MPs, at the National Assembly, are higher than the take home of President of the United States of America, then it is time to start the strict measures by cutting down those allowances of MPs that should cater for bogus constituency projects and give out largesse to poor neighbors. Poor neighbors of MPs must be pushed out of laziness as part of the austerity measures. It is time to resort to educating the masses on the functions of every arm of government. This should be imbued into an austerity measure the government must embark upon. The legislators must give up the financial bounties that have drained the nation like a vampire drains its victim.

Jan 17, 2015

First Ladies and Power Drunkenness

A constitution is a system of fundamental laws and principles that prescribe the nature, function and limits of government, or any institution (the freedictionary.com). In Nigeria, the constitution prescribes the office of the President, but does not prescribe the office of the First Lady.

The need for a president in any country arises because there needs to be a single individual, who should drive the bus of nationhood.  Anything contrary, would amount to confusion, a situation that comes when there are too many drivers on one steering wheel. Thus, the position of a president is that of an individual who is chosen based on merit, in terms of the public’s perception of his abilities to play the sublime role of leadership, adeptly. Since the president is chosen based on the people’s conviction that he has got what it takes to direct a nation, his spouse cannot grab some of these powers, even in his absence, because, she may not have the qualities upon which the election of her husband rested. Instead, there is the Office of the Vice President. Thus, no matter how trivial, taking up part of the powers of the President, by his other half, amounts to a constitutional abuse that can smear the office of the President and the nation, at large.

Hence, Nigerians, and many outside of it, were left wondering when the Nigerian First Lady, Dame Patience Goodluck Jonathan, summoned public officials over the issue of abduction of more than 200 girls in a boarding secondary school, in the town of Chibok in northeastern Nigeria, April, 14th.  The Nigerian First Lady summoned the Borno State Commissioner of Education, the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) of Chibok town and the Principal of Government Secondary School Chibok, where the girls were abducted. Mrs. Jonathan, also, went ahead to direct the Police in Abuja to arrest a woman, Naomi Mutah, who was leading the #bringbackourgirls campaign. Mrs. Mutah was said to have been detained at the Asokoro Police Station in Abuja. Hours later, she was freed.

The history of power drunkenness, among first ladies in Nigeria, dates back to the era of guns and decrees. It is important to note, however, that even the decrees never gave any powers to any first lady to dip her hands into government coffers for the sake of a pet project, or to act as a sidekick to her husband on state matters. Precisely, it was during the IBB (Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida) military regime that Nigeria witnessed the early stages of first ladies’ intrusions into state matters. Late Mariam Babandiga used public funds to set up the Better Life Program for Rural Women.

Rather than end with the IBB regime however, the revelation of the password into public finances became a trend for late Mrs. Babangida’s successors. We were to see a replay by Maryam Abacha, late Stella Obasanjo, Turai Yar’adua, and, now, Dame Patience Jonathan. However, it was in the case of the last two that Nigerians saw the display of either pure ignorance or brazen audacity. Mrs. Yar’adua virtually assumed the role of the President, while her late husband lay in his sick bed. It was said that she dished out orders to cabinet ministers. Now, Mrs. Jonathan towed the same line, by summoning public officers and giving them orders, which were carried out, apprehensively, by public servants, desperate to secure their jobs.

The idea of first ladies in power corridors has become so established that it is replicated in the lower tiers of government –state governments and local governments.

First ladies have the right to run charity organizations. It is, however, the official font of the finances used to run such organizations that is the sticking point. In military regimes, it was easier for first ladies to get away with it. The hallmark of military regimes is, after all, the disregard to the wishes of the people.

The blemishes of the nation, as seen in the conduct of the First Lady, is, actually, a reflection of a broad gamut of troubles that no one cares to fix, not even persons with a constitutional duty to raise  alarms in such situations. One sees an unraveling trend here, there and everywhere, within the Nigerian space. We see it in the area of health, where traveling outside of the country to treat, merely, flu is more of a fashion show, with the Nigerian cabinet members and the elite in the lead;  in education where the same social strata of the nation considers it groveling to educate their kids within the nation; in the growing incidence of examination crimes within educational institutions across the country; in the bullying of ordinary citizens by Nigeria soldiers and general dormancy of the law;  in the disregard for merit in recruitment into the civil service, a practice which compounds the already dire situation …

As it stands now, there seem to be an unwritten piece of legislation that empowers a Nigerian first lady to intrude into official matters, either in terms of using the nation’s resources to fund a personal project, or by giving orders to public officials. Eventually, a day will come when a first lady will present a budget before parliament, sign it, reject legislative amendments of portions of it, etc.

 Now, every man with a political ambition, whether at the national, state or grassroots level, is careful when choosing a spouse -she has to be presentable to the public, in terms of her appearance, fluency and general conduct, since she would, definitely, get involved in official matters.

Finangwai Dreams Big for Plateau State

Dr Hosea Finangwai. Source Dr Finangwai There is that saying that “the things that people desperately seek are always with them.” If ...