Lawmakers in Nigeria it has emerged are the highest paid in the world. Former World Bank Vice-President, Africa Region, Mrs. Obiageli Ezekwesili, yesterday described the National Assembly as a drain pipe on the nation’s economy, disclosing that Nigeria had spent over N1trn between 2005 and last year mainly on salaries and allowances for legislators.
She said that global research statistics, which was recently published by The Economist of London, showed that Nigerian lawmakers’ were the highest paid in the world. This was even as civil society groups described as outrageous, the annual cost of maintaining the 10 planes in the presidential air fleet.
Ezekwesili, who is a former Minister of Education, said that the statistics was frightening and that remaining on that path by a nation which per capita income is just $1, 500, is suicidal. She spoke during discussions with members of the civil society coalition in Abuja. Urging President Goodluck Jonathan to cut down on wasteful expenditure, the former minister noted that Nigeria continued to spend 82 per cent of its budgetary appropriations on recurrent items, leaving a mere 18 per cent for capital projects.
This development, she said, “is far below the standard of a nation smaller than Nigeria pursuing development,” stressing that at this rate, “we are going to have more poor people”. She also called for debt accountability on the part of the Federal Government, saying Nigeria could not continue to borrow without accounting for such funds.
According to her, “15.2 per cent of our national budget is used to service such debts on an annual basis. Now, who profits? It is the banks and that is why they do not want to develop the real sector because if you give money to the government, it must definitely pay you or continue to service it to your advantage,” she said. Ezekwesili said since education remains Nigeria’s weakest link, it is foolish to continue to fund the sector without any structural overhaul.
The ex-minister noted that there were, at present, 368 reforms needed to be urgently carried out in the education sector just as there were 107 reforms to be done in the solid minerals sector. She said: “When I became Minister of Education, what I saw was dysfunctionality. If you just pump more money into the sector, what you will have is a well-funded dysfunctionality”.
Ezekwesili listed other national issues needing urgent attention to include the unresolved fuel subsidy controversy, ghost worker syndrome, unremitted revenues withheld from government by agencies and the high number of establishments currently engaged in overlapping functions in the system. In her lead presentation entitled: “Cost efficiency, funding governance and delivering development,” Ezekwesili advocated a conversion of the job of local, state and National Assembly members to a part-time activity.
She lamented that global evidence pointed to a massive mismanagement of the nation’s resources, saying while Singapore has a per capita income of $50,000, Nigeria currently has a PCI of $1,500. The former World Bank VP noted that poverty had continued to rise in geometric progression in the last 12 years, from 17.1 million people below poverty line in 1980, the figure rose to 112.47 million people in 2010.
Ezekwesili added that while Nigeria has had five cycles of oil boom, the development has only entrenched corruption in the system and ensured structural disruption in public finance, leaving no room for critical planning and development through creative and productive engagement.
She therefore called on Nigerian Civil Society Organisations to insist that government should convene a proper national dialogue on the Stephen Oronsaye’s committee report and the publication and implementation of the recommendations to prevent the report from rotting in government’s dusty achieves like other reports, which did not see the light of day. She said: “We must debate public policies as a nation to avoid the silly mistakes of the past and we must do away with the culture of personalising public policy issues to encourage wider debates in the system.
There will be an implosion, as it has happened in other countries, if we continue to ignore the poor and the vulnerable in our society who have been impoverished by the economic system in place. It must be noted that we need a stable society before we can grow the economy.”
“The people have a right to ask their governments for proper accountability because only persistent demands like that can help democracy grow. Unfortunately in this country, the majority of the people do not follow policies or show interest on how they are governed.