WHY LAWMAKERS MUST TAKE PAY-CUT, SAYS FASEHUN
By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
Founder of the Oodua Peoples Congress, OPC, Dr Frederick Faseun is disturbed by the manner politicians are going about preparations for the 2011 polls - stockpiling arms and engaging in mud-splashing.
In an interview with Vanguard, he warns that mishandling of the elections might lead to waves of violence that could spill over to other parts of Africa, especially West Africa, with dire economic, political and geographical consequences. He also, among others, decried the huge cost of running Nigeria's democracy and asked lawmakers and other public officers to consider pay cuts. Excerpts:
How do you view the situation of things in the country politically?
Nigeria is in a state of flux. It is rather unfortunate that after 50 years of independence, Nigeria is in this state. It is very unfortunate that many Nigerians struggled for true democracy and true democracy remains a pipe dream. One would not want to imagine how those who took part in the struggle and had passed on will feel if they came back to Nigeria now.
The Tai Solarins, the Beko Ransome-Kutis, the Alao Aka-Bashoruns, the Chima Ubanis, etc. Those of us who participated in the struggle and are still on the surface of the earth, feel sorry that our efforts and exertion have not yielded any positive result.
What do you think is responsible for this?
Bad leadership, selfishness, the desire to accumulate sinful wealth, corruption, illiteracy, hunger and superstition. When an individual is hungry, he can do anything because compliance means some measure of comfort. One begins to wonder, is this the reason politicians allow hunger to be pervasive so that they will be able to manipulate the people? Is this why they have allowed illiteracy to be pervasive?
I was gathering information, Nigeria spends N290 million on each legislator every year. These characters deepen our poverty and that is why they don't care. They sit for only 180 days in a year, why are they being paid for full-time? They sit part time and should collect sitting allowance.
For about two years since global economy became recessional, American legislators have not increased their take home pay by one cent in sympathy with their nation. We feel sorry that we wasted our life time staying in the trenches hoping democracy will come. It has failed to come.
See what is happening now, a few months to the general election, we still don't know whether or not the election will hold. Look at the state of the political parties, they are all in disarray. There is so much disarray in our political parties that nine people are getting together to select a presidential candidate in a country which population is 150 million people. So you can see that we are bad because our leadership is bad.
At Independence in 1960, things were not like this. At what point did we start derailing?
We started derailing when the military took over. The nation ought to have allowed the politicians to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. A child doesn't walk in one day. It stands up; it falls but eventually, the child will walk.
The military did not allow Nigeria's political children to walk, they took over and bastardised our culture, introduced corruption and destroyed everything we hoped for. When we succeeded in sending them back to the barracks, we had imbibed the culture of corruption. Now, we are fighting corruption and corruption is fighting back more ferociously.
One of the reasons the military said they struck was to fight corruption, to kick out the 10 per centers…
(Cuts in) They wanted to stop 10 per centers but they introduced 90 per centers and Nigeria is yet to swim out of the mire.
How can we swim out of the quagmire?
By deciding to become a nation. We can only do that by going for a Sovereign National Conference, SNC. We have been agitating for SNC since 1992. People think we are crazy. In the meantime, Tai Solarin has passed on. He was one of the agitators.
Beko Ransome -Kuti, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Chima Ubani and Gani Fawehinmi, Kudirat Abiola, Chief M.K.O Abiola himself and so many of those, who stayed in the trenches, to make sure that democracy was introduced into our country, have died. The best thing any government can do for this nation now is to allow the SNC to hold. We know our problems. If a mad man knows he is mad, he is half cured. We know our problems, let us go to a round table to proffer solutions to these problems. We will write ourselves a decent constitution, from a good constitution, only good laws can emanate.
When Gen. Abdulsalami Abubakar was leaving, he got 26 military people to write a constitution. They wrote the constitution and dishonestly said, 'we the people …' And we have been stuck with that constitution since then. A constitution that is bad will only give rise to bad laws. That is why our laws are bad. There is hardly any law we make now that we did not have in our statute books. Didn't we have laws fighting against corruption?
But we are introducing laws that sustain constitution. Why do we need the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in present day Nigeria when the Ministry of Finance and Department of Statistics are there? The RMAFC now comes and say a legislator must be given N290 million a year. Is that not introducing corruption?
These are some of the things we must sit down and address. A good leader now will consider the Nigerian situation and say, 'regardless of what any political party says let's go for the SNC, let's re-order this nation.'
If we don't re-order this nation, I can assure you in the next 50 years, we will be stumbling from crisis to crisis, dancing round and round, we will not find our way and at 100 years of age, Nigeria will be undeveloped. The comity of nations then will see us as a failure - a nation that is 100 years old but cannot feed her people, educate her people, that is not in the technological team, cannot illuminate her cities, cannot provide good roads, the railway does not work, no national airline, etc.
Education is very important in the life of any nation. That is why many nations make education free. But there is nothing expensive than education in Nigeria today. Something that should be free has come to be the most expensive. In the South-West of Nigeria alone, we have about 2.2 million children out of school because their parents cannot afford to send them to school.
It is something we should cry about because these children will grow up to be area brothers, area fathers, area mothers, area uncles, etc and you and I will be in trouble for being literate. Can you imagine two million area boys? It is serious but Nigeria is not looking far ahead into the situation.
You were talking about how Nigeria might look in 50 years time. How do you see the U.S projection that Nigeria could be a failed state in 2015?
I don't believe that projection. Nigeria is so intertwined that it will be more difficult to disengage than to stay together. I don't see Nigeria disintegrating. But I see Nigeria trotting along in ignorance, illiteracy, poverty, hunger, superstition, lack of development and growth, if things don't change.
Therefore, we should make up our mind: Are we actually prepared to formulate a nation out of this ethnic conglomerate? You will not have growth and development until you unite the people. Togetherness is strength. If you don't bring the nationalities of this country together, there will not be any headway. We can only do that at the SNC.
How can we convoke the SNC without undermining Nigeria's sovereignty as those in power fear?
Whose sovereignty? Who owns the sovereignty? It is the people that own the sovereignty. We have only loaned our sovereignty to those at the National Assembly. We are not saying the lawmakers cannot be at the National Assembly while the SNC holds. We are not saying President Goodluck Jonathan should pack out of Aso Rock while the conference holds. We are saying: 'we want to write a constitution we can swear to defend; a constitution we will be prepared to shed blood to defend! Nobody is prepared to defend the current constitution. We are all abusing it because it is fraudulent. The people will do anything to defend and sustain a constitution written by the people, subjected to a referendum of the people and passed by the people.
But the National Assembly has power to amend the constitution and has done so.
We did not send them there to make a constitution for us. We sent them there to make laws based on the constitution and if the constitution is bad, their laws will be bad. That is why they have not been able to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill despite the immeasurable corruption in the country. In a decent and civilised nation, the FOI Bill will not stay two weeks on the shelf before passage.
Are you saying the constitution amendment is null and void?
A panel-beaten car never looks like a new one. We need a new constitution.
If you were to advise President Jonathan on convening the SNC, what would be your advice?
I would ask him to look into the archives and read the recommendations of the NADECO, PRONACO and the various suggestions made by organisations like the Campaign for Democracy (CD), Afenifere, Ohanaeze, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), ASUU, etc. Nobody has monopoly of wisdom. It only requires a good leader to say, 'do what I do not only what I say.'
The National Assembly is the symbol of democracy. Don't you think that the incessant attacks against the legislature could incite the military to return?
No! We are saying, no matter what our mistakes are, the military shall not intervene. We want to correct our mistakes and grow from there. We know what the military had done to our culture, psyche and commonwealth. Despite our struggles with the National Assembly, they should keep away.
Let the National Assembly make mistakes for the people to correct. Not all those who were in the National Assembly in 1999 are there now. Some of them have been sanctioned by their constituents and they have failed to return. Gradually, the National Assembly will attract good representatives and jettison the bad ones.
The absence of youths in our National Assembly is an anathema. Look at the countries being led by young people - America, Malaysia, Indonesia, Russia, Britain, etc - they constitute the First World. Here, octogenarians have refused to yield ground for the youths to come into the system. You find people who have gone out of the system coming back at will, shutting out the youths. These are characters, who through interaction have created godfathers, made enough money and became money bags.
And these are the two situations that ruined our country - godfatherism and excess money. People no longer get what they deserve; they get what they can pay for and what they can influence. Therefore, if I had my way, 50 per cent of public offices will be allocated to the youths and we will define youths as those between the ages of 18 and 55 to embrace a high percentage of the population. That will exclude the octogenarians. They can become back benchers but not front benchers.
The youths are dynamic, many of them are educated, many have traveled, many are computer-literate and many of them know what to do. They know how to tackle some of these problems. See what Babatunde Fashola is doing in Lagos State. See what Olusegun Mimiko is doing in Ondo State. See what Gbenga Daniel did in Ogun State. See what Adams Oshiomhole is doing in Edo State. The youth characteristic is a challenge. Why is Nigeria shying away from it?
Nigeria's democracy is one of the most expensive democracies of the world. How can the cost be reduced?
Nigeria's democracy is the most expensive in the world. We can come out of it. Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN Governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, said it all, 25.4 % of the (recurrent ) budget is being spent on the National Assembly. He was going to be intimidated and I felt happy he went into that House and confronted them with the figures and facts at his disposal and left unintimidated. That is a characteristic of the youth. If you had an 80-year old governor of the Central Bank, he would be too senile to defend his point. But Sanusi went into that place, he was not intimidated by the aura of the place and he came out a proud Nigerian.
Do you think his figures are right?
I don't know whether he is right or wrong but not many people have challenged him. So, he is probably right. And if he is not right, the National Assembly should provide their own figures.
For 2010, N4.427 trillion was budgeted. If National Assembly got 25% of it, it would have received N1.16 trillion and not N156 billion that was allocated to it, which is about three per cent of the budget.
They should speak up. Sanusi is a credible public servant. I am not convinced of your figure of three percent. Let me provide you indices. In India, the biggest democracy in the world, a legislator goes home with $12,000 a year and all they get on top of that is free telephone calls and flight tickets to their constituencies 35 times a year. In South Africa, a legislator is paid $53,000 a year. In Kenya, it is $52,000 per year.
In the United States where we have copied the presidential system, a legislator earns an average of $194,000 per year and for the past two years, there has not been any increase because they sympathise with the country's economic downturn during the global recession. In the United Kingdom, a legislator gets 65,000 pounds a year. In Nigeria, a lawamker earns N290 million or $7.8 million per year. Can Nigeria afford this?
What they should do is to voluntarily reduce their salary in sympathy with the country's economic problem. They should agree to take sitting allowances because they sit for only 180 days in a year, which makes their commitment part time. So, they should be paid part time wages.
Again, the RMAFC should be scrapped. Let the job be done by the Ministry of Finance and the Federal Department of Statistics.
Why don't we tie legislators' pay to economic statistics? If the GDP rises by three per cent, let legislators' take-home pay rise by three per cent. That is why we have the Department of Statistics. They are not there for cosmetic reasons, they should guide the nation with the figures at their disposal.
So much for the legislators what about the executive and other arms of government?
As a matter of fact, it is the presidency that will face its priorities and commitment to downsizing the legislators' salary. I am advising the opposition parties that their members in the National Assembly should voluntarily give up about 20 - 25 per cent of their salaries.
Nigeria will be better for it. Why must the common man struggle and go on strike to earn N18,000 a month in a country where each legislator gets about N290 million a year?
How do you see the recent law by the National Assembly jerking up pensions for past civilian and military heads of state, which will run until the last wife of each past ruler dies?
It is the height of legislative madness. Even those who took over the government of this nation with force are being compensated. That is paradoxical. These are people who went in there poor and came out stinkingly wealthy and you are saying, 'for looting our treasury, thank you very much, take more.' And workers, those who slave to make sure that Nigeria stays have to go on strike before they can have a minimum wage that doesn't sustain anything. Is the market where legislators' wives go different from the market common people go to shop?
The nation is unfair. The nation does not practice social justice. Like I said, these things will continue unless we go to a round table in a national conference to address the issues.
How do you see the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC's) preparation for the elections. Does it inspire confidence?
The only thing that gives one a measure of confidence is the chairmanship of INEC. Prof. Attahiru Jega is one of the most credible Africans on earth. We know him to be very honest and hardworking, highly principled, not given to influence and not also to be influenced. That gives us some measure of hope that the election, if and when conducted, will be honestly prepared for.
How politicians go into it and about it, we don't know. Now, we are reading about arms coming into the country from various areas. The nation is preparing for an election. We struggled for peace and we seem to be utilising the period of relative peace to prepare for war and it is unfortunate.
So, only politicians can make up their mind and say 'let us not destroy this nation.' There are too many people that would be destroyed - 150 million. If they are not careful, they will ruin the political map of Africa. Can you imagine 150 million people spilling over into West African countries? Many of them will go under. Benin, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, The Gambia, etc, will go under and that will change the political map of the ECOWAS. So, we are using this opportunity to warn the AU, ECOWAS and the UN to ensure that Nigeria's election is free and fair to put in a place a relatively good leadership, otherwise, the fallout will touch everywhere.
What do you make of President Jonathan's aspiration and the push by a section of the North to ensure that power returns to the North in 2011?
That is politicising ethnicity. Nigeria has got to the stage where it should not politicise its ethnicity. Jonathan has the constitutional right to aspire to any office in the land like all the other aspirants. Let a thousand flowers blossom. Let them go there, and give them a level-playing ground.
People were surprised when I said Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida (IBB) should run. IBB is a Nigerian, he has constitutional rights to enjoy and democratic rights to aspire. We Nigerians also have our rights to vote who we want to vote for. If I want to vote for IBB and you say IBB should not contest, you are denying me my democratic right to vote for him. If I want to vote against him and you say he shouldn't contest, you deny me my democratic right of voting against him. That is why the thousand flowers must blossom even though we have space for only one president.
This internecine warfare should be discouraged. Allow the young man (Jonathan). He says he wants things done with due process, the rule of law and democracy. That he has not been using words to destroy persons is a plus for him. Let Nigerians kick out those, who instead of discussing issues, are discussing persons and personalities.
What is the way forward for the country?
Go for the SNC, reshape our political system, determine to have a free and fair election and institutionalise democracy. When democracy is institutionalised, the common man will no longer be hungry; illiteracy and poverty will be things of the past; and growth and contentment will be the hope of the country.