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Squandering Nigeria’s riches has got to stop!

The recent revelation that some 47 former state governors and their erstwhile deputies set our national treasury back by a whopping N37.367 billion every month gives cause for serious concern.

As at August 2016, it was made known that part of the reasons many states could not pay civil servants’ salaries was because of the humongous sums paid to ex-governors and deputy governors.

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Ironically, most of them still go on to become senators or hold onto some juicy political appointments. As at then, 21 senators received pensions from government as ex-governors and deputy governors!

How do we justify this scandalous economic situation when several pensioners at the state and federal levels have become victims of debilitating diseases, while some of them died because their pensions were not paid as and when due? How do we explain this iniquity when according to the 2019 Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC), the number of Nigerians unable to meet their daily food needs without humanitarian assistance has been rising for several years?

Specifically, a new joint United Nations (UN) and European Union (EU) report published on April 2, 2019 showed that Nigeria, (with specific reference to northern Nigeria), was one of the eight countries that housed two-thirds of the 113 million people who faced acute hunger across the globe in 2018. In 2004, a non-governmental organisation Food Aid International (FAI) said that about 3,000 people died daily of hunger and poverty in Nigeria. Currently, the country ranks as home to the hungriest people in the world!

So, how do we explain the fact that in Akwa Ibom State, the law provides that ex-governors and deputy governors receive pension equivalent to the salaries of the incumbent? Or that in Rivers, the law provides 100 percent of annual basic salaries for the ex-governor and deputy, one residential house for the former governor “anywhere of his choice in Nigeria”?

Yet, incumbent Nigerian governors earn N2.2 million monthly as Basic Salary and by the time other allowances are added the figure could jump to as high as N5million per month. The gross social inequality in Nigeria is not only an insult on the collective psyche of Nigerians but it is not sustainable. What manner of an expensive democracy are we practising that pauperises the poor citizens to satiate the epicurean tastes of the already rich politicians?

With trillions of naira revenue, mostly from crude oil sales from the ‘60s till date, it is a crying shame that Nigeria parades some of the most disturbing dismal figures in the Human Development Index (HDI).The statistics of our social inequality are simply scary. Looked at from the Human Development Index (HDI), which is a summary measure for assessing long-term progress in the three basic dimensions of human development, there is nothing to write home about. The three key areas of long-term healthy life, access to knowledge and decent standard of living paint a parlous picture of pure deprivation of the long-suffering masses.

For instance, Nigeria’s HDI for 2014 stood at 0.514 putting the country amongst the lowest global ranking of those in the low developing category. In fact, Nigeria placed 152 out of the 188 countries and territories so assessed. And it was the only oil-producing country languishing in that shameful socio-economic stratum. Also, according to the 2015 HD Report Work for Human Development for 188 countries assessed by the United Nations, life expectancy index was 0.44, education index was 0.59 while the GDP index and HDI value were placed at 0.36 and0.466 respectively.

Furthermore, between 2005 and 2014, Nigeria’s HDI value rose from 0.467 to 0.514(10.1percent) an average of 1.07percent.When the value is discounted for inequality the HDI falls to 0.320, a loss of 37.8 percent due to inequality in the distribution of HDI dimension indices. Sadly, Nigeria sordid social inequality was comparable to that of Ethiopia and Congo (DR) at 29.4percent and 36.2 percent respectively.

According to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, about 110 million Nigerians were still living below poverty line despite the policies of past governments to improve their welfare. His reason was that the policies were wrongly formulated and as a result did not have direct impact on the people. He aired his view during a courtesy visit by members of the Alumni Association of the National Institute for Policy and Strategic Studies (NIPPS), at the State House, Abuja during the First Term. But Nigerians want their leaders to do more than they say on bridging the inexcusable gap between the few very rich and the millions of poor citizens.

We have to learn from some other countries once described as less-developed that have made the real change. For instance, in July 2004, UNIDO Report listed countries such as China, India, Singapore and Thailand amongst those with robust economies that reduced poverty rate from an average of 40percent in 1981 to 21percent in 2001, while ours was escalating. In fact, the Report singled out Nigeria as the country with the worst case of capital flight and advised us to borrow a new leaf from Uganda, which had a similar challenge but was able to reverse the drift.

Back then in 2004, our politicians were accused of stashing $107 billion abroad. Similarly, in April 2011 CNN MarketPlace Report stated that Nigerian politicians own 40 percent of luxury properties in Central London, with the cost ranging from 17 million to 33 million pounds sterling. Dubai is not left out. We can no longer sustain the huge capital flight of unpatriotic politicians, who steal the nation blind only to empower foreign nationals. Such barefaced robbery of our common patrimony must also come to a halt. But how? That is the million-naira question.

The World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, stated in April 2014 at the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings that Nigeria, with 7percent of the world’s poor ranked third in the world while India was placed at number one with 33 percent of the world poor. But we have since overtaken India as the World Poverty capital.

While not a few Nigerians thought the ‘change’ mantra, as promoted by the APC-led government back in 2015 would bring succor to the poor (sentiments aside), there has been more heat than light in the art of governance of this democracy. What with the exasperating economic recession, rising inflation, exponential increase in poverty rate, lack of access to quality jobs and of course, the resultant increase in rate of suicide? Nigeria has continued to be prodigal and profligate in its style of expenditure. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has also continued to warn Nigeria against rising debt. The present government keeps on piling debts which do not positively impact the lives of citizens. When you look at the country, it is difficult to see where all the money is going into, as infrastructure remains abysmal; quality of life, education, power (electricity) is non-existent. It only shows that these monies are borrowed and shared away among the few privileged fellows in government. The other day, the IMF said that Nigeria’s debt to gross domestic product ratio at 28 percent has increased but is still below the average sub-Saharan Africa and Africa as a whole.

But what is the way forward? To tread the path to prosperity, political re-engineering is sin qua non. The pay structure of political appointees must be drastically scaled down, to the civil salary scale in their states or federal level, in tandem with the harsh economic reality.

The undue fixation of political power at the bloated federal centre must be done away with. We should revisit and implement the well thought out recommendations of the 2014 National Conference. With true fiscal federalism firmly in place, more economic resources would be devolved to the states and local governments in this regard. We must retool our concept of governance, from the primary school level to the highest office in the land; to be for the state instead of satisfying the self.

 

Ayo OyozeBaje

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