‘Why Buhari needs to ensure constitution amendment before leaving office’
The national coordinator of the Muslim Media Watch Group of Nigeria (MMWG), Alhaji Ibrahim Abdullahi, is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPM) and a retired director of administration in the Kwara State civil service. The public affairs analyst speaks with SAHEED SALAWU on some issues affecting the polity.
Nigeria is 59 years old as an independent nation. How well would you say the country has fared?
We should have fared better socially, economically and, indeed, in all aspects of our national life. If you look at other nations that were yet to be independent as of the time Nigeria became independent in 1960, you will see that they have gone very far. The backwardness started from the time we took independence. Our past leaders had good intentions and they demonstrated this, in spite of their differences in terms of ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds. They were focused.
The corruption that came with the military incursion into the affairs of the nation is still with us up till today and this is really disturbing, disgusting and embarrassing. So, I will say that we have not moved forward in Nigeria, due to corruption. And without addressing the issue of corruption, Nigeria is going nowhere.
But how would you assess the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, whose main thrust has been fight against corruption in the last five years or thereabout?
President Buhari has tried on the issue of fight against corruption, using the anti-graft, the police and other security agencies, but we need to support him more and we need to let the agencies that should deal with this issue act more holistically than what obtains currently.
However, I must, at this point, commend the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for what it has done so far, recoveries in terms of properties and cash are in billions of naira. This has shown that the agency is working. The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) that looked dormant later readjusted and started playing the role expected of it. I believe we are on course. If I we are to assess the two anti-graft agencies, I would say they have scored up to 50 per cent so far.
How best would you say the president should direct the affairs of the nation going forward?
[One thing] before he leaves is amendment to the Nigerian constitution – areas that have been impeding activities against corruption, areas that people in public offices have been using to amass wealth illegally, citing constitution and being backed up by that constitution. By the time he leaves, he should have been able to moderate this presidential system of government, which we started in 1979, to suit our needs, because of the state of our economy.
I will give you examples. There is a particular aspect of our constitution that provides that members of the House of Assembly could determine what the retirement package of a governor that is leaving office after an eight-year tenure, that is, two terms of office, should be. Whatever is determined and passed into law comes into effect. By this provision of the constitution, several governors have taken more than what is due to them and rendered their states prostrate. Why should a governor leave and say that the domestic staffs that have been serving him remain with him for life and the state continues to bear the responsibility? Why should a governor say because the Chief Justice is retiring on a salary for life, he, too, that had served for eight years should retire on his present salary and be taking it as his monthly pay? Why should a governor leave and say a fleet of about four or five cars should be left for him and be replenished every four years for the rest of his life? Have you forgotten that the CJ of a state or Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) that is retiring on his salary has served the nation for 40 or 45 years? How can governors, who have offered eight years of service, compare themselves to people who are offering public service of 35 years, judicial service of 45 years? And while there in the executive, they controlled public funds recklessly. That package is provided for in the constitution. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding package of that nature for the president and the vice president. In the package, also, a governor and his deputy could say that they need two houses, one in the state capital and the other in Kaduna or Enugu. What type of irresponsible provision is that? The president and the vice-president that are ruling the nation for eight years, a similar package is not stated in the constitution that the National Assembly could determine for them. That is just an aspect to be amended in the constitution.
Let’s now come to the National Assembly members. People have been talking of jumbo pay, jumbo allowances and so on and so forth. If the president will help Nigeria, whatever it will take him, he should ensure that the pay package of members of the National Assembly is restricted to what is given in the constitution and approved by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC). The allowances and the number of aides for the legislators should be reduced to the minimum. Too much money goes into these and that is what makes the earnings of senators and members of the House of Representatives too fat for Nigeria to bear. The president is experienced; so, he must have seen other lacunas. As a leader who promised us political transformation, he should make a list all of all these areas, including ones that may affect the president, and forward it to the National Assembly. It is not just members of the Senate and the House of Representatives that would take the final decision on the matter; it would go to all the state Houses of Assembly and the rest of Nigerians would speak on what they want.
I want a unicameral legislature for proper fund management at the federal level. What we have presently is more or less a duplication; we could retain the Senate and let the House of Representatives go, or because Nigeria is big, we retain the House of Representatives and let go of the Senate. We could go back to the parliamentary system. Parliamentary merged with the presidential system; that is the way we want it. Three hundred and sixty legislators are not too many for Nigeria with more than 200 million people. The legislators cover everywhere – 360 people, who have track record of good behaviour, good performance in their businesses or professions, coming from the various zones of the country. And they should be paid sitting allowance. Political offices should be made less lucrative, in order to attract only those who are interested in serving the country in the real sense of it.
So, what I expect from this administration is constitution amendment that would lead us to political transformation and reduction in the cost of governance.
Unemployment is a serious problem in the country today. As a veteran manager of human resource, where does the country go from here?
Lack of adequate supply of power, that is electricity, is contributing to unemployment. If power is available, the government, the private sector and individuals would succeed on their mandate and jobs would be created for a large number of people. Many companies are moribund because of lack of power and this aggravates unemployment. The only way we can stem the tide of unemployment for now is for the government to be holistic in dealing with the shortage of power. The government used to be in control of power. The control was given to private mangers and these private managers have not done it well. The government should think of a better way of making power sufficient, stable and sustainable to be able to power our industries to create jobs.
How do you feel about the resolution of the impasse between the labour and the government over the issue of minimum wage?
Until when the minimum wage is properly implemented, one could not believe that the matter is entirely closed. Now that an agreement has been signed, we look forward to implementation, possibly effective from November. What should follow this is a release of the revised salary table in line with the agreement reached. Once the Federal Government pays in line with the agreement, it is hoped that states would be able to pay too.
I am of the view that it is not that states do not have the ability to pay, but they waste our resources on issues that are not important. Most political officeholders, especially the chief executives, do not prioritise the welfare of workers they way they should. If they prioritise it and pay well, I would advise the workers to justify the pay by being committed, productive and efficient. By and large, I will regard what has been done so far as a victory and the victory should be for not just the workers but also for retirees. At this point, I want to say that having concluded with workers on the new minimum wage saga, I believe that the Federal Government has another bridge to cross, and that is the fact that as salary is reviewed, it is mandatory that pension is reviewed as well. This is because the pay package of workers that has been improved is going to be used in the same economy with the retirees. As they have approved this new minimum wage, within the next two months, they should agree on what should be the minimum pension to be given to retirees most of whom worked for the federal and state governments and even local governments for not less than 35 years.
How is life treating you after retirement?
I thank God. I retired as a director of administration in the Kwara State civil service in 2008. That was the same year I became a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management (CIPM). I was a member of the institute for 20 years while in service. I joined the institute in 1989 and rose through the ranks to become a fellow in 2008. My membership of the CIPM gave me the sound knowledge to be able to manage my affairs even if I was not in civil service anymore. That is why having retired 11 years ago, I have been a consultant on human capacity development. Life is treating me well because I use the gains of this programme to augment my monthly pension to maintain my family and train my children. I didn’t just jump into this vocation after retirement; I took it on because of some lacunas I have seen in our civil service system.