Against the background of myriad national crises, diverse interest groups are pushing a raft of solutions on the way forward. While some want a return to the parliamentary system, some are opting for an amended presidential system while some are mulling dissolution of the polity. BAYO OLADEJI examines the key issues.
Once again the cost of running government was brought to the fore during the recent fuel subsidy debate and its attendant problems. Not a few called for the reduction of running the government at all levels which is generally condemned for the huge percentage of the total budget it consumes annually at the expense of development.
According to reports, the recurrent expenditure in Nigeria is as high as 87 per cent of the total budget and this makes a mockery of the capital expenditure and provides the reason for the harvest of abandoned project and poor maintenance of the existing ones. The leading opposition party in the country, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) has tasked the presidency to confront the Goliath of the recurrent cost by asking President Goodluck Jonathan to reduce it by 50 per cent. The call was made at a press conference where the party‘s scribe, Senator Lawal Shuaibu called for the suspension of the Minister of Petroleum for the rot in the ministry.
Hear him, “Mr. President should withdraw the bloated budget and slash the recurrent expenditure by 50%. Mr. President must trim the size of his government; our economic priorities cannot afford this senseless gluttony”. But some political/economic watchers strongly believe the fault lies not in Nigerians but in the country’s system cited the choice of presidential system and wonders why Nigerians could not let the parliamentary system of government be which was practiced during the First Republic. It was the military government of General Olusegun Obasanjo that imposed the presidential system in 1979 while handing over to the political class.
But its critics wanted a return to the parliamentary system which is relatively cheaper compared to the US model. This was the position of the governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi while expressing his view in the heat of the fuel subsidy withdrawal controversy. He tasked the political class to do away with the presidential system as a way of reducing the recurrent expenditure profile. Speaking on a television programme, Sanusi cited the huge amount of fund that goes with the wind in the name of wages and remunerations of political office holders.
According to Sanusi out of N1.8 trillion voted for the recurrent expenditure in the budget, about N1.6 trillion goes for salaries and most of this is used to pay the political office holders such as the president, his deputy, 360 members of the House of Representatives, 109 senators, 42 Ministers, 36 governors and the political office holders in all the 776 Local Government Councils.
He called for a unicameral legislature, a reduction of the 36 states structure among others. Sanusi who said if he had his way, he would do away with 50 per cent of the civil service.
Since the return to democracy in 1999, the burden of providing basic amenities for political office holders have contributed significantly to the continued increase in government recurrent expenditure, hence monetization policy was borrowed from the United States primarily to curb excesses for development purposes.
Economic and political watchers disclosed that the macroeconomic effects of monetization include efficiency in resources allocation, employment and inflation among others. It has been recommended that the problematic areas associated with monetization should be revisited by the government for effective implementation. The need for strong accountability is also recommended so that the benefits of monetization should not be abuse.
The committee on monetization of fringe benefits in the public service of the federation was set up by former President Obasanjo on November 11, 2002, under the chairmanship of the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Ufott Ekaette. The establishment of the committee became necessary because over the years, the cost of governance has continued to escalate, arising mostly from the burden of providing basic amenities to public servants by the government. These amenities include residential accommodation, transport facilities, medical services, and utilities such as electricity, water and telephone.
Some benefits enjoyed by public servants had already been fully or partially monetized. These include leave grant and entertainment allowance; other benefits that were monetized under the programme are residential accommodation, provision of vehicles, fuelling/maintenance of vehicles, provision of drivers and medical treatment.
“Provision of residential accommodation should be monetized at 100% of Annual Basic Salary as residential accommodation allowance which should be paid en-bloc to enable an officer to pay for accommodation of his choice.
The payment of 200% of Annual Basic Salary (ABS) is for the furniture allowance, but to reduce the likely problem to be faced in paying huge furniture allowance of 200% of ABS in bulk, this allowance would be paid annually at the rate of 40% which amounts to 200% in five years, However this rate is only applicable for workers on Grade level 07 and above.
The allowance had already been monetized in the extant circulars for public servants as follows: GL. 01- 16 :15% of ABS, GL. 17 and above: 20% of ABS and Political office holders 20% of ABS
Domestic Servant Allowance
The provisions for domestic servant allowances would be as follows: GL. 15-1 domestic servant on GL 03 step 8; GL. 16-17 2 domestic servants on GL 03 step 8 each. Permanent Secretary and above 3 domestic servants on GL 03 step 8 each. Political office holder 75% of ABS.
Motor Vehicle Loan and Transport Allowance
The provision of motor vehicles to public officer was monetized by provision of motor vehicle loan of 350% of the annual basic salary in line with the provision of “Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances, etc), Act 2002”. The loan, however, would be recovered in 6 years for both public servants and political office holders. In granting the loan, government would retain the existing interest rate of 4% on motor vehicle loan. For the successful monetization of this service, Government would ensure that:
No new vehicles would be purchased by all ministries, extra–ministerial department and federal government agencies.
Government is therefore proposing the payment of 10% of an officer’s annual basic salary as medical allowance. However, special cases requiring government intervention would be considered on merit. Monetization policy is designed in order to cut unnecessary cost of governance so that the revenue saved could be used to finance development projects. But from all indications, the departure of Obasanjo from the scene has literally put an end to the policy! That was the official position of the administration of the late President, Umaru Yar Adua when the then SGF, Amb. Babagana Kingibe publicly declared that the policy would not work. He cited a situation where top government functionaries were restricted from having more than two cars. This to him was a humiliation of the public officers.
This gave the National Assembly a free hand to purchase cars through the ministries and the National Assembly Commission under the pretext of utility vehicles used to perform the oversight function. But what they have failed to answer is what has become the money given to them to purchase personal cars to be used while their membership of the National Assembly last? Today members of the National Assembly have a fleet of cars to each members under the pretext of using them to perform oversight functions and to compound the problem, the purchase of those cars are not corruption- free.
The country is polarized over what could be done. While the likes of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi are calling for a return to the parliamentary system as stated earlier, former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice during the Second Republic, Chief Richard Akinjide, supports those who want the presidential system to remain but with some adjustments that could suit our challenges. The former military President General Ibrahim Babangida once suggested a part-time legislature at all levels to reduce the cost. The lawmakers sit thrice in a week aside from their many vacations and this means part time would be better but the legislators argue that they also meet at committee levels on Mondays and Fridays when they are not having plenary session.
Some National Assembly watchers believe the system encourages corruption which is why many are calling for the publication of the total package of each member because of some money that are not disclosed which they receive through the National Assembly Service Commission. It is widely believed a senator receives about N80 million annually and this is what is largely responsible for the cut throat competition in the race to the assembly poll.
But the critics of the presidential system would argue that no matter the reduction, the system remains too expensive. All they want is a return to the Westminster model where the ministers are also members of the parliament. The ruling party dominates the parliament and there is little or nothing hidden in the running of the government but today the two arms of the government are playing a cat-and-mice game on the treasury of the country. The executive prepares the budget while the legislature approves but rarely has any appropriation bill passed without a jumbo increase to the size of the budget profile.
The excuse has always been the need to serve the public better but in the real sense of it, the National Assembly watchers fault that because they allege some sharp practices between the ministries and the legislature.
Some political watchers wanted a return to the regional government since the second tier of the government, states, have failed to perform the expected roles. What the state executives do is to come to await the monthly allocation of revenues which they misuse at the expense of the populace, They live a prodigal life style and the state legislature is populated by their cronies hence no one to call them to order. Any House that raises question will have its leadership replaced. The irony of the case is the regional government did better than the states we have today that are smaller in sizes.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo ordered the Federal Ministry of Finance to be publishing the monthly sharing of revenues among the three tiers of government and a governor from the oil producing region began his endless war with him on the pretext that such a publication would incite the people against them. But the policy remains but the public has failed to make use of the information to make the governors accountable including the civil societies instead all eyes are on the Federal government while lootings at the state and local government levels are going on endlessly.
Another school of thought is calling for a true federalism whereby the power would be decentralized at the expense of the centre. To this school, the federal government has no business in some sectors such as primary and secondary education and health. They wonder at the interest of the federal government in water resources and agriculture. But if these things would be redressed the National Assembly has a yeoman’s job here since it involves amendment of the constitution.
Perhaps, a recent relevant editorial of this Newspaper delivers the message most succinctly: “Should we then blame our faulty federal system of government, which places too much power at the centre, for nurturing a Nigeria without Nigerians? After independence, didn’t the same federalism engender healthy competition among the regions? Each of them depended on internally-generated revenue from the natural and human resources peculiar to their regions.
“The landmark achievements of the regions under that system remain unsurpassed by today’s state governors who solely depend on allocations from the federation account. However, cutting off the head has never been the solution to a headache. As shown by some countries, secession only exposes all the internal dissensions that had hidden under the bigger struggle for self-rule. We are convinced that the average Nigerian has nothing against his compatriot of other ethnic or religious backgrounds. It is the elite, who, ironically, have exclusively benefitted from Project Nigeria, that are fanning the embers of discord among the poor.
“While we distance ourselves from the rather disgusting whispers emanating from some quarters in support of disintegration, it is our belief that for Behemoth Nigeria to continue as one viable and indivisible entity there is the need for restructuring. For one, true devolution of power is inevitable. Our present system of government, being anything but federal, should give way for a genuine fiscal federalism, where semi-autonomous components can control the resources they generate, provide security and tailor their priorities in pursuit of the needs of their citizens.”
This position tallies with the advocacy of General Babangida while speaking at The Daily Trust Annual Dialogue, Abuja, 26th January 2012 when he cautioned the advocates of disintegration as the panacea to the country’s problems. Hear him, “There is a doctrine known as the ‘Doctrine of Nigeria’s Settled Issues’ and nobody should attempt to tamper with them. Number one, I don’t want any one of us to tamper with anything to do with Nigerian unity. Number two, the republican constitution is also a settled issue, more or less. Number three, the states are the federating units of this country and number four we are a capitalist country. Anybody that wants to talk about this country must make sure that he doesn’t do anything that will disrupt these basic settled issues in our political life.
Anyone that is talking about dismembering this country you should not listen to him. If we see such things as ‘Christian south’ and ‘Muslim north’ we should disregard it. Even if such people say it the media should ignore it because you know it is not the truth, so you should not even write it’’.
But holding brief for the advocates of the Sovereign National Conference, former Aviation Minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode sharply disagreed with General Babangida. In his reaction few hours after the former military president spoke, Fani-Kayode faulted the “Doctrine of Nigeria’s Settled Issues” and claimed ignorance of its existence. Instead of standing on the doctrine, he called for a national conference to debate the recurring national questions.
His words, “…I do not believe that there is any such thing as a ‘’Doctrine of Settled Issues.’’ In our body politic and neither, in my view, is Nigeria as we know it today a sacrosanct, unbreakable or unchangeable union. It is trite that the only thing that is certain in the life of men and nations is change. Whether we like it or not, change is like an irresistible tide and, when it’s time comes, it is like a moving train and a raging wind which crushes or blows away anyone or anything that stands in it’s way.
“You either bend with it or you break. I am a student of history and it may interest those that subscribe to this rather arcane and anachronistic theory known as the ‘’Doctrine Of Settled Issues’’ to know that Nigeria remains the only mega-nation and forced union of incompatibles and numerous nationalities that the British colonial masters cobbled together at the beginning of the 20th century that still remains together today. There were actually three in all and the other two, namely the Sudan and India, have broken into two and three pieces respectively over the years. Why should Nigeria be any different?
“More importantly why should we be told that Nigeria must be different? Would this have been so if there was oil in the north? Again when one considers the delightful and miraculous ‘’crumbling’’ of the almighty Soviet Union (another forced artificial union) or the breaking up of the old Yugoslavia and the emancipation and creation of numerous new countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe which came as a consequence of that magnificent change, I ask again, why should Nigeria be any different?
“The words of the Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher are instructive here. In the September 2, 1991 edition of Newsweek she said, ‘’the lesson of this century is that countries put together artificially will fall apart. National identities will not be suppressed’’. Twenty years after these famous words were spoken we are beginning to witness their relevance and veracity in Nigeria. The right to self-determination and to forcefully resist what many feel is an internal colonial system is a legitimate and inalienable right of all free men and women.
“You cannot hold me down and keep me in your house on your own terms and deny me the right to be free or to say or do as I please. If you do not treat me fairly and if you continue to make me feel worthless and full of fear of your terror and ability to inflict violence on me and mine, then eventually, whether you like it or not, I will leave. No one signed their life or their future away to bondage and none of us subscribed to the view that decisions about our country and our future can and have been made by our past leaders and heroes and that they can no longer be changed or altered. I say that they can if the circumstances determine that this must be so. And if you do not give us our rights eventually we will exercise them by force and regardless of how you feel.”
Speaking on Nation Building and National Orientation: Imperative for National Security, Prof. Okwudiba Nnoli at a seminar on the National Security held at the National Defence College, Abuja, pitched his tent with those who are calling for the answers to the national questions. He recalled that the unity of the country was imposed on the people and not a collective decision of the over 300 ethnic groups by the colonial masters. He even traced the endless violence in the country to this historical blunder.
He regretted that every effort of successive government to redress it has failed because we have been “addressing just the mere symptoms of the malady than the roots and their causes.” According to him, “The shortcomings are known but what has always been lacking is the political will and honesty of the elite class to commit itself to pursuing the realization of core Nigerian national objectives.”
To him, the problem buffeting the country was “grounded on a foundation of inherent disharmony among the core components of the federating entities which later on developed as regions. This inherent disharmony was also automatically constituted the measure source of threat to national security. More than 300 ethnic nationalities were being coerced to amalgamate into a lose union without; a common aspiration, a common group value orientation/direction and a common code of ethics.”
He went further to fault this by declaring that, “What was given to them upon amalgamation was a fait-accompli code of values/ethics which had to be adopted to live the emerging Nigerian life. Definitely an imposition on the indigenous societies and development has (as can be observed) come to negatively affect the shape of our national policies and the management of our public affairs.”
According to him, “The disorientation in values and ethics can only be got rid of when this ‘inherent’ disharmony is resolved, and the indigenous systems and their values and social morality take a prominent position in shaping public policy and determine the management of public affairs in Nigeria.” After disclosing the implication of Sharia legal system on the polity, he argued that the integrity of Nigeria’s original concept of unity in diversity today remains questionable because of so many reasons he enumerated.
The chairman of the occasion, General Chris Garuba (rtd.) himself endorsed the need to have a National Conference but he wants the word ‘sovereign’ out of it. According to him, a country with over 300 ethnic groups with multi-religious beliefs cannot but have a forum where they meet to address some issues of relationship, unity, and development of the country.