By Fredrick Nwabufo
Nigeria is an impoverished country. In fact, the country has never been rich – in the economic sense of the word. The assumptions of wealth have always been hyphenated to the abundance of crude oil and other natural resources. But these alone do not make the country rich. As a matter of fact, the exploitation and expropriation of these resources by the thieving elite have only made the country poorer – and of course, the poverty capital of the world.
The price of crude oil has come under immense shock. The US WTI (West Texas Intermediate) crude price entered negative territory ($-2) on Tuesday. Though Brent crude, Nigeria’s brand still trades at $26.36. There is no doubt; it is a long way from recovery for the oil market as forecasts by some industry experts say.
According to Bloomberg, ‘’a near-term recovery in prices is unlikely’’.
‘’A near-term recovery in prices seems unlikely, with around 70% of 130 respondents to a Bloomberg Intelligence survey saying they see Brent still below $30 a barrel by June,’’ the business news organisation said.
‘’About 70% of Bloomberg Intelligence’s 130 survey respondents see Brent below $30 by June, prior to OPEC’s next meeting.’’
What does this mean for Nigeria where crude oil still accounts for 90 percent of government’s export revenue? It means the government cannot meet up with some of its obligations to citizens. It implies, the government may not be able to fund some capital projects and may experience challenges in paying salaries. There is a leaner purse; hence there is an exigent need to cut down the cost of governance at this time.
Already, the federal government has revised the 2020 budget, slashing it by over N320 billion; from N10.59 trillion to N10.27 trillion. But this is not enough. At a time Nigerians are losing jobs owing to the adverse impact of COVID-19; when some doctors confronting this lethal disease are receiving N5,000 as hazard allowance and even without an insurance cover; when small businesses are closing down, I believe our political leaders must show exemplary leadership and not leave the cross only to everyday Nigerians to bear.
In October, I wrote: ‘’The flatulent size of the national assembly accents the orthodoxies and paradoxes of Nigeria. Nigeria’s lawmakers are some of the highest paid in the world, in a country where about 100 million people live on less than a dollar per day, and where citizens are expected to be stoic and exist in deficit while their representatives in parliament ensconce themselves in surplus.
‘’Is it not pharisaic that while the government insists on burdening citizens with more taxes and increasing the yoke, there is no reciprocity on their part? What is the government doing to shrink the cost of governance?’’
Alas, I am revisiting this topic owing to the never-ending deprecating realities of Nigeria.
According to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), the agency empowered to fix the salaries and allowances of political office holders, a senator receives, on average, an annual salary and allowance of N12.7 million, including hardship allowance of N1.2 million. Again, this is while doctors and health workers combating COVID-19 earn N5,000 as hazard allowance.
Interestingly, Professor Itse Sagay, had put the annual earnings of a senator to N3 billion. He made the claim while delivering the Nigerian Society of International Law (NSIL) Public Lecture entitled: “The Many Afflictions of Anti-Corruption Crusade in Nigeria” in Lagos in September, 2017.
He gave the breakdown as: ‘’Basic Salary, N2, 484, 245.50; hardship allowance, N1,242, 122.70; constituency allowance N4, 968, 509.00; furniture allowance N7, 452, 736.50; newspaper allowance N1, 242, 122.70; wardrobe allowance, N621,061.37; recess allowance N248, 424.55; accommodation N4,968,509.00; utilities N828,081.83; domestic staff N1,863,184.12; entertainment N828,081.83; personal assistant N621,061.37; vehicle maintenance allowance N1,863,184.12; leave allowance N248,424.55; severance gratuity N7, 425,736.50, and motor vehicle allowance, N9, 936,982.00.’’
Nevertheless, the biggest cost burden of the government comes from the executive where there seems to be a carte blanche to waste, profligacy and gluttony. While the national assembly is subject to probes and checks by concerned citizens, the executive carries on in squander with tempered scrutiny.
Also, governors appropriate for themselves whatever of their state’s resources they fancy in the name of ‘’security vote’’. I understand there is a new one now in the states — ‘’COVID-19 vote’’.
In fact, some governors are beginning to renege in paying the N30,000 minimum wage instancing COVID-19 as a reason for their financial impotence. In Gombe, the governor suspended the payment of the approved N30,000 wage, and blamed his action on the economic impact of the pandemic.
Everyday Nigerians should not remain the beast of burden. We cannot keep breaking our backs to sustain the prodigality of the government. President Buhari must show leadership and direct the RMAFC, in consonance with relevant ministries and bodies, to do the needful and slash the salaries and allowances of all political officers now.
Slashing the prodigious salaries and allowances of political officers will be the most effective palliative to Nigerians.
Fredrick Nwabufo is a writer and journalist