TO SANUSI, MY CANDID ADVICE
Let's put the facts straight: I am not the best fan of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the petit governor of Central Bank of Nigeria. I don't like the frequency and the devil-may-roast manner the man talks. He talks too much, too often. Just like Professor Attahiru Jega, the activist chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. Undoubtedly both men are patriots of indisputable intergrity, they are too loquacious for the sensitive offices they occupy. The danger in talking too much is that, over time, the speaker begins to sound like a broken record, his message consumed by the whirl and jerks of the undulating surface. Once the speaker fails to apply the brakes as appropriate, the message, no matter how well packaged, often gets lost in the maze. Buried in a confusing tangle. That is why each time Sanusi speaks, especially since he became the CBN boss, he stirs the hornet's nest.
He did exactly that recently when, in his characteristic manner, he sensationally announced that about a quarter of the nation's recurrent expenditure is spent on the salaries and allowances of the nation's lawmakers. To me he wasn't saying anything new per see. He was echoing saying what most Nigerians already knew and what important stakeholders had been saying. The only difference was the way and the force of conviction with which he made the revelation at the Igbinedion University, Okada, Edo State. He put figures to the extent of the haemorrage the lawmakers' emoluments are inflicting on the nation's economy and submitted that 'unless we frontally attacked the issues, …we may never compete with the emerging economies in Asia.'
Put in another way, he was saying that unless we crash the jumbo pay, unless we curb the prodigal excesses of our over-pampered legislators, the much touted VISION 20:20:20 would not only be in serious jeopardy, it may also perpetually remain in the realm of dreams. Predictably, the national lawmakers received the jaw-dropping revelation with righteous indignation. Spitting fire like Sango, the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning, they rubbished the claim by Sanusi, describing it as a deliberate attempt to misinform the public and embarrass the legislature. The senate wasted no time in issuing summons to the diminutive CBN governor to come and justify his assertion. The public hearing was to be Sanusi's Golgotha. And was he almost crucified.
If he was shaken by the barrage of questions at the public hearing, it never showed. He gave as many punches as he took. He stood his ground but explained the fact behind the declaration. He said he made the declaration based on the statistics released to him by the Budget Office of the Federation. And the statistics showed that while the 2010 recurrent expenditure stood at N500 billion, the National Assembly's was N136.2 billion or about 25 percent.
The House of Representatives also disputed that vigorously, claiming that the lawmakers' personal emoluments accounted for only 13.8 percent of the recurrent expenditure. In my estimation, it would have been a perfect outing for Sanusi but for the fact that his supervising minister, Olusegun Aganga, almost disowned him.
Although Aganda agreed with Sanusi on the federal government's overhead cost, he differed by declaring that the CBN governor should have put the matter in proper perspective by including service wide votes. Had he done that, it would have put the overhead cost in the 2010 budget at N1.3 trillion. The CBN governor agreed with his boss but refused to apologise as demanded by the lawmakers.
I fault Sanusi on three grounds. First, and like his boss observed, he should have included service organisations like the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE,CBN, Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation, NDIC, among others, to give a holistic picture of the situation. Even if he meant well, and I have every reason to believe he did, by singling out the National Assembly, he made himself a sitting duck for politicians who would be quick to give political interpretation to his good intention. Remember, we are deeply in an era of dirty politicking by politicians angling to win or capture their parties' tickets.
Secondly, Sanusi ought to have been a bit more circumspect. He ought to have dotted all the 'i's and crossed his 't's before mounting the podium at a university convocation, a congregation of egg heads, students, policy makers and the cream of society to make such disclosure. He would have had a great outing if he had taken time to tie all the loose ends in the matter before dropping the bombshell at Okada. Had he done so, he would have effectively put sand into the mouths of his antagonists who still insist he is a rabble rouser. They said the same thing when after deposing the five bank chiefs, he still continued to bash them everywhere he went, like a politician.
That boils down to what I said earlier about the man talking too much. Granting the sensitive nature of his high office, his role in our national life, it would have been excellent if Sanusi was accused of being fast to hear and slow to speak. It is good to be positively controversial but it is virtuous to time your deliveries. But everything added together, I admire his guts. The man's got guts, like the Americans would say. Like El-Rufai, he is sad and mad about the situation of things in the country, and very impatient to get things sorted out.
I like him for that.
That's that about Sanusi. How about the lawmakers' jumbo pay? Whether twenty-five percent or 13.8 percent, how do you fathom a congregation of some 469 people taking such a huge slice of the nation's recurrent expenditure when an average citizen lives on less that N500 per day, and where the quality of life nosedives everyday? Indeed, how do we justify a situation where an infinitesimal percentage of 150 million people feed so fat at the expense of the toiling masses and in the middle of crushing poverty?
According to figures released by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, a senator earns N15.18 million in salaries and allowances per month or N198.54 million per year, while a member of the House of Representatives grosses N10.59 million or 127.18 million per annum. Compare it to what obtains in the United States of America, the richest and most powerful democracy in the world, where the president earns $400,000 or N60million per annum; or Britain, where the Prime Minister earns 190,000 pound sterling per annum or N43.7 million.
Put it mildly, the lawmakers' jumbo pay is unjustifiable, indecent and grossly insensitive. It is indefensible. It is difficult to imagine that in a nation where many pupils still take instructions in roofless classrooms, some under trees in some parts, a federal lawmaker goes home with a handsome sum of N15 million monthly, besides other perks. It is ungodly for a few people to be feeding so fat on the masses who have very few functional hospitals to go when they fall sick; who can hardly transport their farm produce to markets due to impassable roads; who are plunged, daily, into the unemployment market because of failed infrastructure; just to mention a few.
It is even more painful to imagine that for all these millions they gross every month from our collective sweat, these over-pampered lawmakers work only three days in a week-Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They sparingly sit on Fridays, unless it concerns matters of urgent national importance. Even at that, some of them play truants at plenary sessions, and still enjoy all their benefits to boot. This is not to talk about the quantum and quality of legislations they generate, or process or pass in a legislative session, which many observers consider embarrassingly low and mostly incapable of delivering the much sought after dividends of democracy to the suffering masses.
Mercifully, the federal government seems to have heard the people's outrage at the legislators' obscene pay cheques, and has rightly slashed the total budgetary allocation to the National Assembly for 2011 by N45billion. It is good music to my ears. However, the music would sweeter if it would be progressively reduced in subsequent budgets. This would make politics less attractive to those who only seek power for personal aggrandizement and not beneficial service. Who knows, it may also end our politicians' do-or-die approach to elections.