It is no more news that the recent disclosure by former Education Minister, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili that the Federal Government spent N1 trillion on the National Assembly in the past eight years has raised endless concerns about the high cost of running the present democratic practice; while several replicative attacks from the members of National Assembly have viewed such as an attempt to blackmail the Legislature.
The attacks came following the issues raised in a paper presented by Mrs. Ezekwesili at one day dialogue session on cost of governance in Nigeria organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC). This has generated several debates both within and outside the country.
In her lead presentation, Mrs. Ezekwesili spoke on several issues that cut across governance, public finance management and development with statistics from credible sources of government and international institutions.
She gave details on the budgetary allocations to the National Assembly in the last eight years; and called attention to the fundamentally unsustainable economic structure that had caused Nigeria’s development over the last 53 years to lag behind those of countries with similar political history. Mrs. Ezekwesili lamented the attendant high poverty level of 69 per cent of Nigerian citizens, as recorded by the National Bureau of Statistics.
She cited information from the Ministry of Finance, which reveals that the allocations to the National Assembly, known as Statutory Transfers, between 2005 and 2013 were approximately one trillion naira; giving the figures as: 2005, N 54.79bn; 2006, N54.79bn; 2007, N 66.4bn; 2008, N114.39bn; 2009, N158.92bn; 2010, N 150bn; 2011, N 150bn; 2012, N150bn; and 2013, N150bn.
Apart from the National Assembly, the issues also cut across all levels and arms of government – including the Executive and the Legislature – without narrowing on any specific arm of government for condemnation.
Recalled, prior to the revelation by Mrs. Ezekwesili, there has been general consensus that the cost of governance in Nigeria is one of the highest in the world, constituting a major challenge to socio-economic development and well-being of the citizens. The development triggered the earlier moves by other notable Nigerians like CBN Governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, who showed concerns over the 70% of the nation’s revenue being expended on recurrent expenditure in country, and the 25% deduction by Nigerian lawmakers from Nigerian National Budget in 2012; former EFCC boss, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who had suggested drastic reduction in expenses associated with all tiers of government and the to make legislation a part time vocation in order to allow for sustainable development.
Also, an analysis by The Economist has rated Nigerian legislators the highest paid in the world, dwarfing countries like Japan, USA, Britain, Kenya and Ghana.
In reply, the House of Representatives said in reply that it was ready for a public debate with the former Minister of Education, on the controversial jumbo pay of its members and Senators, including the cost of governance. This was contained in a statement issued by the Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Afam-Ogene, who confirmed the need to do so to promote transparency in governance. It is worrisome that Mr. Afam-Ogene forgot to take into account previous critics pointing accuse finger to the National Assembly on the rising cost of governance, when he accused Mrs. Ezekwesili for restricting her argument only to the National Assembly, leaving out the Executive.
A press statement issued by a coalition of civil society has expressed concerns that rather than focusing and engaging the issues flagged in Mrs. Ezekwesili’s presentation with a view to moving forward the policy debate and finding a workable solution, some respondents have chosen to play to the gallery and resort to the use of unedifying and abusive language to address the lead paper presenter; as demonstrated in the recent responses by the National Assembly.
The statement confirmed that in recent times, cost of governance and jumbo payment to legislators have dominated national political discourses citing various media reports, which bemoaned wasteful spending and improper utilisation of resources by government, and publicised how the legislature spent N5.2bn per Bill in two years. The Group urged the legislators to collaborate with civil society and initiate a national dialogue to present before Nigerians, the facts and figures stating the total sums expended by the National Assembly since 1999 rather than embarking on unconstructive rejoinders. It also encouraged National Assembly to avoid making its deductions from national appropriation a matter of secrecy in order to promote transparency and accountability.
More importantly, effort should be made to avert wasteful spending and economic mismanagement and continuous dialogues and discussions on cost of governance. Also, there is need for judicious utilisation of national resources to deliver and enhance welfare of the citizens which is the primary purpose of governance, rather than wasteful spending and financial mismanagement. The ongoing unconstructive debates against Mrs. Ezekwesili are detrimental to the national democratic development and should not be allowed to permeate the nation’s political landscape. Abubakar Jimoh writes from Abuja.