When the chairman of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), Mr. Elias Mbam, announced recently that the commission had commenced the procedure for reviewing the salaries and emoluments of public and political office-holders, he unwittingly stirred the hornet’s nest. Members of the public began to create and embrace various speculations about the direction of the review. Although Mbam said that the review of the salaries and emoluments were to reflect “current realities”, the public was unequivocally against any upward review, with many harping on the untold inequality between public office-holders and the generality of Nigerians. Pray, if Nigeria is the world’s poverty capital, how come its public office holders earn so much? Nigerians are indeed justified in their outrage because all too often, these earnings burden public expenditure to the point of making democracy an expensive experiment in this country. There is no doubt that the remunerations of political office-holders since the country’s return to democracy in 1999 have never reflected it’seconomic realities.
On the contrary, political office-holders have fed off the fat of the land, causing a lot of contradictions in the economy and disaffection in the polity. It is almost as if no consultations were made before fixing the salaries and emoluments that placed them criminally beyond the reach of the people they are supposed to represent. Not only are they alienated from the people, they have in fact been earning beyond the country’s means. This has made politics an extremely lucrative endeavour without the corresponding responsibilities by political actors. Many of those seeking election into public offices pawn their life possessions in order to contest elections and it invariably becomes imperative to “recoup the investment” in order to stay afloat in the political waters. This is not ideal for any democracy and it is partly responsible for the high cost of governance.
If it is true that the RMAFC wants to review the salaries of political office-holders to reflect the current economic realities, then it will be pertinent to consider a downward review. On its part, the legislature could be made a part-time engagement in order to cut costs. It certainly cannot be a moot point that the country is not rich enough to finance the outrageous and profligate lifestyles of its political office-holders who have made politics the only lucrative endeavour next to drug trafficking, which is patently illegal. For as long as the earnings of these political office-holders remain criminally high, for so long will the politics of representation be dysfunctional, with negative impacts on the polity. Just last year, the country’s budget deficit was up to N4 trillion and if this continues, it is certain that the country will share the same political fate with Venezuela very soon. Such a fate is not a welcome experience and the only way to avoid it is to cut the cost of governance and steer the economy back to the path of sanity and frugality.
To be sure, it is not our suggestion that office-holders be poorly paid. That would certainly engender massive corruption and in any case, it is an open secret that Nigeria’s pubic officers make far much more than their official pay packages due to unabated corruption, a most notable instance of which is the ugly phenomenon of heads of agencies and ministries colluding with members of the legislature to rip the country off through bogus projects. Rather, it is our considered view that the earnings of public functionaries should be based on measurable economic indices and not whimsical considerations.