The Reign of Squander-maniacs

While hapless, helpless Nigerian students remain at home, for several weeks now, idling away precious time and wasting their lives due to the indefinite strike embarked upon by university teachers because of the Federal Government’s refusal to implement an agreement it had freely entered with the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU), and patients are being snatched away every other hour, if not minute, by clearly avoidable deaths because of the ongoing strike by Nigerian health workers, President Umar Musa Yar’Adua thinks that the best use he could put Nigeria’s nearly N4 billion (N3.9 billion) to is to squander it on the furnishing of the corporate headquarters of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to impress African leaders converging in Nigeria next year for the African Union (AU) meeting.

Now, that is not all. If by today, the Federal Government fails to meet their demand for better pay and improved conditions of service by adopting and implementing a Medical Service Scale (MSS) for doctors employed by the government, Nigerian doctors under the aegis of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) will commence their own indefinite strike. This can only compound an already very bad and horrible situation. Last Friday, patients, even those in very critical conditions, at the National Hospital, Abuja, were discharged en masse and asked to go and seek medical attention elsewhere. The same benumbing situation was replicated in almost all Federal Government health institutions across the country. And where else are they expected to seek medical help from after being sacked from the nation’s tertiary health institutions? Abroad? How many of them can afford overseas medical treatment?

As we are all aware, only in vain can anyone hope that this sad state of affairs would move Yar’Adua and other members of the callous ruling elite. No doubt, their children cannot be found anywhere near a federal or state university. Nor would they allow any member of their families to be treated at any public hospital in Nigeria. Indeed, they have enough public funds at their disposals to treat even catarrh (common cold) in any part of the world. That is why they don’t care if the already rundown universities and health institutions remain closed till the conversion of the Jews.

Government would want us to see employees who go on strike to press home their demand for better pay and improved conditions of service as unpatriotic and constituting themselves into a huge nuisance. While they keep appealing to workers to make more sacrifices “in the interest of the nation”, the ruling elite never fails to cart away for themselves huge sums of money every other month for contributing an insignificant little or nothing at all to the development and progress of the nation.

What can anyone say our federal lawmakers have been able to achieve to make Nigerians appreciate them? Many Nigerians see them as grossly underweight, light-minded and purposeless; individuals who lack the capacity to appreciate the gravity of the assignment they are supposed to be performing in Abuja. Yet, a Senator’s basic salary is: N2, 484,242.50 per annum, while that of House of Reps Member is: N1, 985,212.50. Note that it was much higher than these before the recent reduction.

But what they “lose” in the so-called salary cut, they triple with countless juicy allowances. Monthly, they cart away millions of naira as Furniture Allowance, Car Loan Allowance, Wardrobe Allowance, Accommodation Cost, Entertainment Allowance and all manner of perks that incredibly swell their bank accounts – just for grossly underperforming, or, as many would put it, achieving nearly nothing. Every quarter, each Senator gets N45 million (N15 million a month) while a House of Reps Member gets N39 million. This is to enable them operate their constituency offices. Yet, most of these constituency offices and staff exist only in the imagination of the lawmaker. And why should a lawmaker be executing constituency projects while there is a governor and council chairman where he comes from? This is one of the countless avenues created for the ruling elite to loot the nation pale.

A report in The Guardian of last Sunday (July 12, 2009) entitled, “The Bleeding Of Nigeria – Huge Bills, Little Result” contains this stirring lamentation: “At a time when developed economies were looking for ways to cut down on recruitment bills, a new emolument was retroactively passed by the National Assembly earlier in the year, thus increasing the President’s take home pay to N10.899 million; that of the Secretary to the Federation and Ministers was jerked up to N5.907 million. The President/Governor lives in a Government House where they do not pay rent or utility bills. They live lavishly and stupendously. Yet they still collect allowances for services already paid for by the people.”

Councilors earn better money than distinguished university professors. The salaries and allowances of these officers at the 774 local councils in the country for fours years add up to about N2.4 trillion. Many of these councilors may just be lay-abouts or thugs everyone knew in the village the other day who were doing dirty jobs for unscrupulous politicians. And now, having been rewarded with councillorship positions, they earn more money than professors. What of the lawmakers? What qualifies them for all the wealth being poured into their pockets for idling away at our expense in Abuja, while hardworking professionals are left to suffer deprivation because of poor salaries? Are these not the same light-minded lawmakers who confirmed a Central Bank Governor within three hours or suspended plenary to have lunch with a presidential aide?

The issue is that Nigerians are yet to rise with one voice to demand why a bunch of unprofitable citizens, less than five per cent of the population, who only know how to run the country down, should brazenly cart away huge sums of money monthly while hardworking professionals are paid peanuts and asked to tighten their belts. According to The Guardian on Sunday report, before the recent slash announced by RMAFC, salaries and allowances of those at the federal executive arm gulped over N170 billion annually.

Some readers may have been embarrassed by my insistence here last week that using N456 million to merely bring the president to Bayelsa State to “commission some projects” and lay the foundation for an airport project amounted to an unqualified waste. Many may have wondered why I was “making noise” because of such a “small change” spent on “a whole” presidential visit. And here am I again complaining that at this time of crippling crises in two critical sectors, health and education, someone outside a lunatic asylum thinks it not obscene to furnish an ordinary office complex with nearly four billion naira! Please, pardon my obsession with “small matters.”

But wait: if this office would be furnished with N3.9 billion (about $33 million), what did it cost to build it? Nigerian leaders can spend anything to attract mere smiles from their foreign colleagues, who call them fools at the back. Indeed, if wasting all the money in the treasury would have made President Obama to visit Nigeria instead of Ghana, Yar’Adua, I am sure, would have been compelled to do it.

That is the tragedy of the nation – a nation where N6billion was recently removed from the budget for education and health, two very vital sectors, to build a ten lane road from the Abuja airport, so our rulers can impress foreign visitors with the beautiful, expensive road that leads into their country of benumbing insecurity, boundless corruption, countless starving people and millions of generators.

Written by
Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye
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