A former Minister of Education, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, on Monday said Nigeria had spent over N1tn on the National Assembly members in the last eight years.
Ezekwesili, in a keynote address she delivered during one-day dialogue session on the ‘Cost of governance in Nigeria, “ added that banks earned N699bn as interests last year on loans secured by the government.
“Since 2005, the National Assembly members alone have been allocated N1tr,’’she said while also lamenting that “82 per cent of Nigeria’s budgetary cost goes for recurrent expenditure.”
To buttress her claim that much was being spent servicing those in government, she said that “ a research conducted in the United Kingdom identified Nigerian legislators as being the highest paid in the world.”
Although she was applauded by participants at the session organised in Abuja by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre with support from Federal Public Administration Reform Programme in the UK, she drew flak from the National Assembly members, who said her claim amounted to blackmail.
But Ezekwesili, who was also a former minister of Solid Mineral and World Bank Vice-President for Africa Region, challenged civil society groups to demand a mini-national dialogue that centres on good governance and the the release of the Steve Oronsaye report on Rationalisation and Restructuring of Federal Parastatals, Commissions and Agencies.
“There should be effective demand by civil society groups of the report of the Oronsaye report. You should also demand a mini-national transparent dialogue because it touches on the heart of good governance”, she stated.
She also pointed out that one of the greatest mistakes of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration under which she served twice as a minister was that Nigeria delved into democracy without necessarily doing away with a military mindset.
“There is a drawback to the military era. One major mistake of the government under which I served was that we simply got into democracy and did not spend reasonable time getting every citizen; every leader and every institution to do away with militaristic ethos and principles from their minds,” Ezekwesili added.
According to her, the social dilemma which the country currently finds itself would be overcome if stakeholders, especially lawmakers, consider part-time legislation as a means of bringing down the cost of governance.
She said part-time lawmaking would ensure that the right people got into governance.
“Things will improve through part-time legislation. It will also reduce the number of people who will go into the National Assembly. You must have means of livelihood so that you won’t have to depend on public funds, ”she said.
The former minister argued that Nigeria’s problem was not the system of governance but more of the kind of people managing it.
Ezekwesili said while other countries were moving forward technologically, Nigeria was trapped by oil, a natural resource which it loses a revenue of about $1.6bn annually.
She said, “When I was in government, I was totally debating public policies. We must debate public policies as a nation because if we don’t do so, we will make silly mistakes because we don’t involve the stakeholders. So policy debates must be encouraged.
“The culture of personalising policy dialogues must stop. When you have a problem, you don’t leave the problem and begin to chase other matters.
“I feel sorry for any person who is fairly okay in this nation and doesn’t care about the poor because there will be an implosion. Whatever treatment that is given to the poor and vulnerable in the society must matter to everybody because except we have social inclusion in the society, we stand the danger of implosion. This has happened in other countries which ignored the vulnerable people.”
In his speech, the Executive Director of CISLAC, Ibrahim Rafsanjani, condemned the cost of governance in Nigeria.
He said, “There is recent media report of our National Assembly members being the highest paid in the world. The size of the cabinet at the executive level, including the retinue of superfluous aides and special assistants, is alarming. The fact that the 10 planes in the Presidential fleet gulp N9.08bn annually is something that must be looked into.”
But the Senate, through its Majority Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba(SAN), described the statement by the former minister as another blackmail against the National Assembly.
Ndoma-Egba told one of our correspondents that the National Assembly received far less than what the other arms of government were allocated in the national budget.
He said, “I don’t know how she arrived at the figure. But what is allocated to the National Assembly is known to the public. In the last four years, the National Assembly has been allocated N150bn, which has been the highest since 1999. It is another attempt to blackmail the National Assembly.
“They are saying cost of governance is high, what was the overheads when she was minister. Let her say it.
“Pick the budget and look at it without sentiments and compare the overheads of the Executive with that of the National Assembly. Nobody is saying anything about that.
“When President Goodluck Jonathan said there should be a reduction in the cost of governance, the National Assembly reduced its overheads, none of the other arms of government did that.
“If we say that cost of governance is high, we should sit down and look at all the aspects, instead of castigating the National Assembly.”
The House of Representatives also dismissed the former minister’s comments as “blackmail, which sole aim is to seek headlines.”
The House argued that her figure appeared to have been “conjured up for fancy as it simply does not add up.”
The Deputy Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Victor Afam-Ogene, who spoke for the legislators, said that in the last three years, the budget of the “entire National Assembly, including the bureaucracy and the National Assembly Commission, had remained at N150bn.”
He added that this meant that prior to 2010, the budget could have been less than N150bn.
“Now, a simple check will tell you that even at N150bn per year from 1999 till date will not give you anything near over N8tn. It, therefore, means that her figure is fallacious”, Afam-Ogene stated.
He expressed surprise that each time people talked about reducing the cost of governance, they only complained about the National Assembly and not the Executive arm.
Afam-Ogene asked, “What is the percentage of N150bn in a budget of N4.9trillion (2013 budget)?
“People think that this N150bn is just for salaries and allowances of legislators. This is not correct.
“It is for the entire institution of the National Assembly, including the capital projects for all the organs therein. We have always called for cutting cost of governance and the problem really is with the Executive. That is where the waste we often complain about is. But, nobody looks that way.
“Today(Monday), some papers reported that ministers were spending N2bn on air tickets alone. That is the waste we talk about.
“People always want to blackmail the National Assembly, the core of democracy, and leave out the real issues.”