One headlines that caught my attention in the past few days was the one from the Guardian Newspaper with the caption “Obasanjo, Shagari, Ekwueme, Atiku To Earn Pay For Life”. According to the report, “If the National Assembly passes a proposal from the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), former presidents Shehu Shagari, Olusegun Obasanjo, and their deputies while in office - Alex Ekwueme and Atiku Abubakar - will earn the annual basic pay of a president and his deputy for the rest of their lives”.
According to the paper; In an explanatory letter to the leadership of the National Assembly, the Revenue, Mobilization and Fiscal Commission Chairman, Hamman Tukur, wrote in part: "I write to respectfully forward the Commission's advice in form of a draft bill attached herewith, which you may wish to consider passing into law to give details of all the benefits envisaged in section 84(5) of the 1999 Constitution so as to provide Rights and Privileges to elected Presidents and Vice Presidents of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on the successful completion of their tenure of office”.
However, "Section 84(5) of the 1999 Constitution provides: 'Any person who held office as president or vice president shall be entitled to pension for life at a rate equivalent to the annual salary of the incumbent president or vice president.'
The paper further explained that the Bill shows that the Federal Government will also provide the former political office holders, who were duly elected, accommodation and means of transportation. The accommodation will be residential for the statesmen at any location of their choice in Nigeria; while for transportation, the former presidents will get three cars (one for self, the second for pilot, and the third as a back-up) to be replaced every five years. The former Vice Presidents will get two cars (one for self and the other as a back-up car).
For furniture, the men will get 300 per cent of the basic pay of the sitting president payable every four years. Other freebies for the former numbers one and two citizens include domestic staff, medical services, and security. The free medical services will be for them and the immediate members of their families. State Assemblies has also been advised according to Hamman Tukur had been advised in respect of their Governors and have already passed the necessary laws.
In view of this development, it will be germane to point out that in 2006, a similar proposal was made by the Hamman Tukur led RMAFC. Then, Hamman Tukur had lamented on the poor pay package of President Olusegun Obasanjo. He was quoted to have said that President Olusegun Obasanjo was among the poorest paid heads of state across the globe. He argued that a take home pay of USD10, 000 per month is too small for the president vis avis the galloping inflation which has made nonsense of the current wages fixed about four years ago.
He then gave indications of an imminent raise in emoluments for a coterie of political office holders such as the President, Vice President, The Senate President, The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Governors, Chief Judge of the Federation and other political appointees down to the rank of permanent secretaries.
This of course did not exclude local government chairmen and members of the legislature at all levels. That Proposal which has long come into effect, included a 100 percent increase in basic salary, an increase in accommodation allowance from 100 to 300%, a rise in utility allowance from 20 to 40 percent because of increased NITEL and electricity tariffs, motor vehicle maintenance and fuelling allowance to be doubled from 30 to 60 percent of their basic salaries etc.
These was also against the background that Aso Rock budgets and squanders about N2.3million daily for refreshment as was reported in the 2007 budget. We don’t know how much the president expends on the security vote or budget etc. This correspondingly applies to all the so called executive governors and many others who wield executive powers. No wonder, we live in country that is in absolute gridlocks.
Nigerians are quick to compare their country with the United States of America, and in this wise, I wish to state that President Obama currently earns $400,000 (Naira 48million) per year, along with a $50,000 expense account, a $100,000 nontaxable travel account and $19,000 for entertainment. I don’t know if pension exists for the American president, but then, I know that President Obama is not entitled to eating free state food in the White House, as he pays for it.
But in Nigeria, the president and all those who work in Aso Rock and their friends, plus all the 36 state governors including the FCT Abuja and all those around them eat free food, drink free drinks as well as other many, many free this and free that in a country where poverty is already a synonym to whatever we pride ourselves to be.
Yet, and most ironically, we live in Nigeria, where tens of thousands of men, women and children live in extreme poverty. Besides being poor, they have limited access to education, suffer from poor health, have little political weight, and are vulnerable to all manner of external shocks such as deprivation of basic amenities and services such as treated water supplies, as well as being exposed to other crises like ethnic and religious crisis, droughts, floods and erosion etc, and as a result die early.
But America is not Nigeria, and Nigeria is not America. The difference is very clear. America is well and better governed and ensures hope and patriotism on its citizens. Everything works in America, from electricity in private homes to security in the streets, as well as social security, health care and functional education. In such a milieu, why should the president not be entitled to his modest take home pay?
But the reverse is the case in Nigeria. One very clear example of a country poorly governed and mismanaged is the Federal Republic of Nigeria. You need not think about this, as it cascades everywhere you look. According the UN Millennium Development Report (2008), Nigeria, with its huge population, has a huge population percentage that lives below US$1 per day. This percentage rose from 49.2 per cent in 1993 to 68.5 percent in 1996, and has remained at 64.4 per cent since 2004.
The report also listed the proportion of the population using improved drinking water source in both urban and rural Nigeria as 47 per cent since 2004. A break down showed 65 per cent urban coverage and 30 percent for rural coverage within the same period despite our so called democracy.
Genuinely successful and well governed countries have innovative scientists, world class universities and major companies turning out popular products. Nigeria has none of these assets, yet we have leaders who are being fed and rewarded for absolutely doing no work, other than delaying the destiny of our well blessed and naturally endowed country.
Despite this poor development index, Nigerians remains one of the most tolerant and docile people in the world. Nigerians endures all things; from the rigging of elections, to the imposition of political leaders, the abysmal performance of these leaders, the looting of public treasury, sexual harassment in offices and schools, brutality on the street by police and soldiers, ill treatment by landlords, assault by robbers, exploitation by traders and humiliation by a coteries of other elements and factors.
For what reasons should Shagari and Obasanjo be rewarded? How many Nigerians can remember their philosophy or what they actually stood for? I know that both won controversial mandates, I also know that both unleashed unprecedented bizarre leadership on the country, and this have led the country to nowhere.
I am of the candid view that pensions for politicians who held one office or the other if at all to be implemented in law be attached with some conditions or benchmarks that has to do with performance while in office. Let us set minimum standards, such as the percentage of unemployment reduced during the political term or the extent of sustainable investments made in long term infrastructure that are the sinews of development. Anything short of this amounts to short changing the average citizen.
Rewarding bad examples has never been known to encourage exemplary conducts anywhere. We need not reward failure by whatever sphere as such amounts to encouraging more failure. Rewarding politicians in the terms prescribed by the Hamman Tukur led RMAFC or the “stale” constitution further makes politics a “do or die affair”, and beyond that, further impoverishes our country and exposes these leaders to public odium.