Every system of government requires leaders and officials who will occupy public office and direct the affairs of state. Whether it is a dictatorship or a democracy, there is a cost involved in running public affairs. Nigeria has a critical challenge of the high cost of governance. This discourse reviews the trajectory so far in the new dispensation that started on May 29, 2023, and ends with recommendations on the way forward.
A proper understanding of the challenge of the cost of governance will reveal a number of dimensions. The first is the cost of running the administration as a proportion of the overall public expenditure. What is the percentage vis-à-vis the overall public expenditure? It is also about the relativity of the salaries, emoluments and allowances of key government officials compared to other workers and employees of the public sector. The second is the contribution in terms of the productivity of officials in an administration or what the cost of governance contributes to the economy, the gross domestic product and the overall welfare of the people. This productivity definitely includes the ability of governance institutions to raise funds to finance government effectiveness in terms of realising the goals of high-level laws, plans and policies. For occupying a public position and being paid so much, this dimension questions the deliverables of public officers as against their remuneration. What are the public officials bringing to the table as their contribution? Furthermore, benchmarked against private sector employees, can the remuneration of top public officers be justified? The third is about the sheer number of public officers especially at very high levels. A very fundamental question is raised; are the numbers the optimum for realising the extant or projected level of productivity?
It is against this background that Nigerians question the need for 48 ministers as submitted for the approval of the National Assembly by President Bola Tinubu. The 1999 Constitution demands that one minister is appointed per state and when we add the Federal Capital Territory, it implies we should have a maximum of 37 ministers. In addition to this ministerial list, the President has appointed special advisers and assistants who are of ministerial grade. All these appointees will earn hefty salaries, allowances, estacodes, etc., that are beyond the earnings of ordinary skilled and educated Nigerian workers. The frightening part of the earnings of political office holders is that they draw allowances beyond what is constitutionally approved by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission. Their actual earnings are shrouded in secrecy. Furthermore, this is the group extremely critical and facilitative of massive corruption in Nigeria. They are very exposed to circumstances and situations where the abuse of office, misappropriation and outright stealing of public resources is common. In the circumstances, the more we have of these high-level political office-holders, the more likely massive corruption will occur.
At the level of the legislature, for 2023, NASS has a total vote in excess of N227bn while the National Judicial Council has a vote of N165bn. These exclude the recent awards of N70bn and N35bn given to these two institutions by Tinubu in the 2022 supplementary appropriation. Can anyone in good conscience state that NASS in previous years delivered value for money for their votes? Is the Godswill Akpabio-led NASS delivering value for this massive sum in the 2023 budget? Pray, with all the prayer points delivered through email and the joke called ministerial screening, what exactly are we paying for? Is NASS making qualitative laws, exercising oversight and representing Nigerians to the tune of N227bn? NASS was enjoying incredible perks while approving without scrutiny all requests for borrowing by former President Muhammadu Buhari. They slept off while Buhari and Godwin Emefiele mortgaged the future of Nigerians and literally robbed our treasury.
For the men and women who the National Judicial Council pays, who speak high-sounding multi-syllabic Latin jargon and dress in an esoteric manner; are Nigerians happy with their endless delay of cases, adjournments upon adjournments, refusal to deliver substantial justice and the focus on technical inanities? Is the quality of justice delivery commensurate with N165bn? The answer is obviously in the negative.
It is imperative to understand that salaries and perks of office of public officials are not discretionary expenditures. It is mandatory as salaries have to be paid and administrative capital costs are usually prioritised. This will include new vehicles in their convoy, furnishing of offices, etc. Developmental capital expenses are only undertaken after other expenses. In fact, the votes of NASS and NJC are charged on the consolidated revenue fund and must be fully released even if the resources are not sufficient to cover other expenditures.
When this high level of expenditure on key officials of state is juxtaposed with the unimaginable hardship that Tinubu’s economic policies have unleashed on ordinary Nigerians, it becomes clear that this cost of governance is unbearable and cannot be justified under any circumstance. Persons, officials and institutions that preach tightening of belts and sacrifice must meticulously and scrupulously be seen to be at the forefront of practising what they serve ordinary citizens. The foregoing is the reason elections have become war, they are no longer celebrations of democracy but “do or die” affairs that go to the highest bidder, the most dangerously armed politician ready and willing to unleash violence.
In the light of Nigeria’s fiscal reality where we spent all our revenue in 2022 servicing debts, the implication is that we are borrowing to fund the oppressive lifestyle of these top-level public officers. We are borrowing but instead of investing the proceeds of borrowing, we are financing an unreasonable lifestyle and setting a dangerous precedent. How would the incoming workers (current young Nigerians) rate and assess this current generation? A father who incurs debts, fritters away the proceeds and leaves repayment obligations to his children in his will?
For the executive, these high-level officials must be able to justify their inclusion in the federal cabinet through their innovation and productivity, raising more revenue for the treasury not through punitive taxes and measures. NASS must block leakages, and make laws that will change the trajectory of our underdevelopment to one of rapid progress and development. The judiciary must come down from its high horse and start delivering judgments that make sense. Otherwise, the Federal Government and the states are laying a solid foundation for a revolution that will sweep away all the current masqueraders of “democracy.” Democracy is not about poverty, hardships, denial of justice, and opportunities for a few to engage in authority stealing. Time is running out.