The Editorial of May 3 on the jumbo pay for councillors made an interesting reading but at the same time, created bewilderment especially when juxtaposed with the back page opinion of your regular columnist, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, titled “Our Honorables, The Councilors.” While your editorial saw the new package as a commendable effort in stemming corruption and enthroning good governance, Mr. Adeniyi pessimistically expressed his worry that the pay, come election 2003, would cause a war, even for those vying for council elections.
Even though Mr. Adeniyi foreclosed the possibility that many may go back to their respective villages to vie for elective positions, I wish to inform him that, in fact, one of the basic reasons for the jumbo pay, as identified by the editorial, is its potential to attract the best brains to the local councils with the major aim of elevating governance and reducing corruption at that level of government. Mr. Adeniyi should not be surprised to find his friend, the business mogul, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, vies for elective post as he claims in the write-up. Afterall, a clear example should be seen recently, when a multi-billionaire, Mr. Sylvio Berlusconi, contested and won an election in Italy. The columnist and his friend would be great assets to our democratic experience if they contest.
It is unfortunate that the LG chairmen, who called for the downward review of councillors’ remunerations, kept mum on their own packages, which are higher than that of those they belittled in their press conference. It is also unfortunate that they described elected representatives as a bunch of illiterates and never-do-wells in the society. If that is what prevails in Ibadan, it is illogical to generalize as there are former lecturers and higher degree holders in some other councils in some other states.
I am surprised at the present political hullabaloo over the pay, which were presented to all tiers and arms and even to the media since September last year. While submitting the report sometimes last year, the Chairman of the Commission, Alhaji Hamman A. Tukur, noted that there was a wide range of consultations with various classes of officers to be affected, as well as some former political office holders in the country. He added that reasonable measures of public participation through interviews, memoranda as well as consultations with experts, intellectuals and scholars, were adopted. The Commission also considered the experiences of a few other countries for the purpose of comparative analysis. In fact, advertisements were placed in newspapers, including Adeniyi’s THISDAY, requesting for memoranda from the public on appropriate salaries and allowances to be paid to political office holders.
Unfortunately, many have failed to appreciate the differences between the public office and civil service. Public office holders are either elected or appointed on distinct criteria to exercise governmental functions on tenured or non-tenured basis. Their administrative position in the public service is more of executive or direct authority, with enormous power and influence, which at the same time can be used for selfish aggrandizement.
The chairmen also made a cheap mistake by citing the Salary and Wages Commission, which only determines the pay of civil servants, as the one responsible for political officers’ remunerations. There is always this confusion as to whose responsibility it is to determine the salary and allowances of public office holders. The 1999 constitution is explicit when it says, in section 70 that “A member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall receive such salaries and other Allowances as RMAFC may determine” while section 84 listed other officers whose salaries and allowances are to be determined by the commission to include the President, Vice President, Chief Justice of Nigeria, President of the Courts of Appeal, Chief Judge and Judge of the Federation, States and Sharia Court of Appeal, Auditor General of the Federation and the Chairman and members of the executive, bodies mentioned in the constitution. At the state level, Third Schedule, Part 1 Section 32, include governors, their deputies, ministers, commissioners, special advisers, and legislators. This goes down to grassroots level.
The officers, in the view of their position in the society, deserve remunerations commensurate with this expected performances and atmosphere conducive for job contentment. Some of the fringe benefits and allowances monetised include accommodation, transport, utility, domestic staff, entertainment, constituency allowance, furniture, motor vehicle maintenance and fuelling, and a severance gratuity which is a revolutionized concept, to be paid once an officer disengages honourably after a successful completion of his tenure.
It is an undeniable fact that the government at all tiers and all arms lose substantial amounts of money annually in the provision of services and maintenance of such facilities provided to the officers. Additionally, the take home packages, which end up as mere peanuts, encourage corruption. Public officers defraud the nation in one way or the other to make up. Gratification becomes a norm in the polity.
Another pertinent problem of non-monetised benefits is the glaring disparities in the facilities provided. Recently, some state governments bought new saloon cars for their legislators while others could only afford cheap Tokunbo cars for their lawmakers. Someone is bound to feel inferior.
Acrimony also results when only few models or brands of particular items are available in the market as was the case in cars supplied to legislators in Lagos before the issue was lately resolved. By the introduced monetisation, the concerned officers could have made their choice and always be comfortable making alternative arrangements. It is administratively wise and cost effective for the government to pay more attention in providing good amenities, infrastructure, healthcare services and other such economic responsibilities to its general populace than wasting money and time on purchasing and maintaining facilities for the exclusive use of a few who are nevertheless representatives of the larger society. This facilitates more effective assessment of the cost of governance.
It is widely believed that the merits of monetisation far outweigh any possible adverse consequences that may result from it due to an acceptance of the package. From all indications, it promises to have a positive impact on the political, social and economic direction of our nation.
Time has gone when public officers and their families spent 24 hours using government phones, conveyed party loyalists to campaign grounds with official vehicles, consumed exotic wine in their hotel rooms for the government to settle, travelled weekly for political and social honeymoons and engaged the services of a motley of domestic staff for every bit of their in-house chores in the expectation that the government would bear unwholesome liabilities.
It should be known that with commensurate benefits to the political officers, there is every justification to prosecute any corrupt officer once caught. Local government chairmen can no longer engage in alleged fraudulent sharing of the monthly proceeds from the federation account in the name of contracts or engage in shameful white elephant undertakings. It is hoped that the recommended package submitted to all arms of government would be beneficial and profitable to our polity, enable the beneficiaries to live honestly with their dignity during and after their services to the nation.
This rejoinder by Yushau A. Shuaib was originally published in Thisday June 16, 2001. Similar Articles were published in The Punch June 4, 2001, Daily Trust June 19, 2001 and Post Express June 29, 2001