By Emma Okah
The miniature frame of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, does not deter him from shooting his arrows in any direction the same way former FCT Minister, Mallam Nasir el Rufai, is regarded in Nigeria. To Sanusi, location or time has no business in speaking his mind on any issue, an attribute many public officers in our country lack. This time, it was on Tuesday, November 27, 2012, in Warri, the oil city of Delta State, South-South Nigeria. Capital market stakeholders had gathered for the Annual Capital Market Retreat when the SANUSI bomb exploded and rattled his audience in no mean measure.
He had recommended that the Federal Government of Nigeria should sack 50% of its current workforce in order to bring down the alarming recurrent expenditure of government through salaries and allowances. According to Sanusi, “you have to fire half of the civil service because the revenue government has is supposed to be for 167 million Nigerians. Any society where government spends 70% of its revenue on its civil service has a problem. It is unsustainable… The country does not need over 100 senators, about 400 members of the House of Representatives to make laws.
He went further to argue that with a huge reduction on overheads or less money spent on recurrent expenditures, more funds would be freed and channeled to capital projects so that significant spending on infrastructure can be guaranteed to lift the economy.
In a swift reaction, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and its affiliates castigated Sanusi and called for his removal. As usual, some called him names and called for his head. NLC President Abdulwahed Omar described Sanusi as anti-people and wondered if saving money for the government was more important than saving lives. “The burden that will come with a mass sack of as high as 50% of civil servants, in addition to the already saturated unemployment market, can better be imagined,” Omar said.
Both Sanusi and Omar have joined issues on other submissions of Sanusi at that retreat, but this column today will be limited to the question of weighted recurrent expenditures of government. The issue of bloated wage bills of the public sector has been a recurring decimal in our equations as a nation, especially since the second republic.
Matters had come to a head in the fourth republic under President Umaru Yar’Adua and President Jonathan is merely endorsing what politicians enjoy most, crass accumulation of wealth to the detriment of the poor. Therefore, Sanusi did not say anything new. In fact, he should be commended for lending his voice to advocate a balanced expenditure profile for the nation even though his 50% workforce reduction theory is wicked and disastrous.
Notwithstanding this, we will not join the NLC to crucify the CBN governor on all fronts, because we agree with Sanusi to the extent that Nigeria has to significantly reduce its recurrent exposures through any means that would not endanger any segment of the society. Such exercise, which will secure this goal, has to wear a human face and not a mere figurative percentage as suggested by Sanusi.
However, Sanusi must note that many Nigerians see him as part of the cabal that frustrated national growth at this time. It is a matter of perception and reality is irrelevant in such cases.
We do not think Nigerians are unreasonable people. As a fact, it is easier to lead Nigerians to the part of prosperity if leadership at all levels sincerely desire change. The problem with Nigeria is that those in high public offices, starting from the president to the last man, are unwilling to make sacrifices for the good of all. What helpless Nigerians on the street see is a deceptive and cunning ruling class that preaches “do as I say and not as I do”. This is the bottom line, and Sanusi alone is totally inconsequential in effecting a radical change of attitude even among his colleagues in the CBN before talking about the wider greedy politicians. Is the Finance Minister, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, not tired about talking to those who should know better?
Ordinary Nigerians on the street are not asking for too much. They want electricity, quality education, hospitals and other social services, good roads, right to free and fair elections, opportunity to own or live in decent accommodation, enthronement of rule of law and order, and enabling environment to exist as humans beings in their fatherland. These are the same helpless people who have made sacrifices as required of them by law and morality. They have yearned for a progressive society where their safety is not only assured but guaranteed so that they can develop their talents and realise their God-given potentials as they aim for the top.
The political class with their collaborators, even in religious and private places, have messed up the country and dashed the hope of the people. We know those who are cheating the nation and wasting Nigeria’s wealth on themselves. They are holding public offices through elections, appointments or career growth. The irrational and stupendously luxurious lifestyle of those in authority is the answer. The Finance Minister has said it all to Nigerians and those who are holding the country down know themselves as irredeemable.
Sanusi should therefore, channel his energy and advocacy to those who are doing less and living large on the coffers of the nation. He is therefore, right to ask that the National Assembly is too large and very costly as it stands. The Executive, Legislature and to a smaller extent, the Judiciary must shed weight today.
The way to go is very simple. Let us copy truly from America, Ghana and other civilized countries and practice what they stand for and save the nation from ruin. The American President buys his food from his salary, but Jonathan pockets his salary and eats from the same portion left for others. Same goes for the ministers, Heads of legislature, judiciary, governors and council chairmen. So, if the President is wrong, where lies the salt of the society? Who will check who then?
A simple example of the cost of running the presidential fleet alone will tell how much the nation can save from one subhead alone. In 2011, Nigeria budgeted N18 billion to service the president’s fleet. The presidential fleet boasts of unnecessary acquisition of nine aircraft. Is this cost not avoidable or reducible? Can additional N10 billion invested in agriculture not move mountains? The British Prime Minister flies BA and that has not diminished his strength as leader of a great people. When an American President uses Air Force One for campaigns, he pays the cost of the use to the American treasury. Here, the president or governors use government aircraft and vehicles to do their private runs and campaigns to the detriment of the people and yet they earn fat salaries and allowances.
Libya with oil reserves of comparable quantity with Nigeria, has just two air planes for its president, while Gabon with oil reserve believed to be much more than Nigeria’s, has just one Gulfstream IV for the nation’s presidential movement. South Africa with a much larger economic base has two presidential air planes. The United States of America has fewer than six airplanes for executive movements. Why is Nigeria’s case different? A larger fleet is intimidating in cost and management and the tax-payers are the ones bleeding.
The cost of educating our children overseas, foreign medical bills and foreign travels alone can bring down a nation. Last week, the House of Representatives threw out a motion by Eddy Mbadiwe seeking to reduce the alarming cost of air travels by government officials. These are the same people pretending to be representatives of the masses.
Furthermore, for not being able to give clear account and information on the amount that accrued from the sale of kerosene at 15 kobo per litre, the Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Product Price Regulatory Authority (PPPRA), Mr. Reginald Stanley, was ordered to leave the venue of the National Assembly Joint Session scrutinizing the 2013 budget of the agency. The lawmakers were said to have frowned at the agency’s use of its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR), which amounted to N5,725,920,535, as running cost to pay the salaries of 249 members of staff of PPPRA. The misuse and abuse of office is endless and killing the nation.
In President Obasanjo’s second tenure the monetization policy was introduced in Nigeria, but the same lawmakers went behind and bought vehicles for themselves to handle “committee jobs”. Is this fair to other Nigerians despite the huge salaries and allowances they earn?
Like Omar said in reply to Sanusi, corruption is killing Nigeria and since leadership is comfortable with not fighting the monster, why should the poor civil servants bear the brunt of bad government?