How Buhari can tackle graft, governance by Oyebola, others
BARELY five weeks to his swearing-in, President-elect, Major-Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), may be studying a document, the implementation of which may spell harsh times for corrupt politicians, slash salaries of political office holders and drastically reduce the cost of governance, The Guardian has learnt.
Indications are that the president-elect will radically re-configure the country’s fiscal and economic policy.
The document, a copy of which was made available to The Guardian, contains several measures to decisively clamp down on corruption with long prison sentences and forfeiture of dubiously acquired assets. It also reels out formula for re-invigorating the economy and restructuring of government, and provides detailed plan on how to jettison Nigeria’s expensive presidential system of government.
The document was prepared by the Movement for Nigeria’s Total Transformation (MNTT), led by veteran journalist, Chief Areoye Oyebola and leaders of the group in the six geo-political zones of Nigeria and the Diaspora.
The former Editor of Daily Times, Oyebola, who has authored about 26 books, including his magnum opus Black Man’s Dilemma, has been critical of Nigeria’s descent to despicable depths of corruption, orchestrated by the political class.
And from Rev. Fr. George Ehusani, the executive director of the Lux Terra Leadership Foundation came an admonition to the president-elect to secure the Northeastern states and bring impunity to an end. A separate letter dated April 9, 2015, and addressed to “General Muhammadu Buhari, the president-elect of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” was electronically sent to The Guardian by the cleric yesterday.
Ehusani also urged the president to reduce cost of governance drastically, “simplify the conduct of government officials,” fight corruption and end gross indiscipline in the civil service.”
According to him, “the key responsibility of government is the security of lives and property of the citizens.” The cleric, in his letter to Buhari, stressed that the Boko Haram insurgency has ravaged the North Eastern flank of the country for over six years, taking and re-taking towns, setting churches and whole villages ablaze, killing thousands of boys and abducting hundreds of girls.
Oyebola’s proposed policy document, dated April 14, 2015, observes that the salaries of political office holders have been shrouded in secrecy and controversy over the years, with many, who might have had a glimpse of the salaries, describing it as “jumbo pay,” a term that captures the suspicion that elected politicians earn outrageous sums far above their contemporaries in other climes.
Worried that the trend might be retained by the incoming government, the MNTT, lamented the tragic situation and decried how, for decades, the recurrent expenditure of annual budgets has robbed Nigeria of opportunity to truly develop critical resources.
It called for a 60 to 70 per cent reduction in the salaries and allowances of political office holders and that severance gratuities and post-tenure pensions—whether approved or contemplated—should be reduced or out-rightly cancelled.
According to the group, “One of the grave issues and unbelievable absurdities for which Nigeria is well-known is the outrageous and sickening salaries and allowances, which all categories of political office holders in Nigeria earn. These emoluments which have made us a laughing stock in the world have led to Nigeria spending about 75 to 80 per cent on recurrent expenditure, while 25 per cent is left for capital expenditure, which is even grudgingly and half heartedly executed, resulting in abandoned projects.
“For you to succeed in your herculean task, salaries and allowances of the President, National Assembly members, governors, ministers and other political office holder should be reduced by about 60 to 70 per cent. It is why politics has become the most lucrative business in our hapless country, Nigeria; for it is far more profitable than drug peddling. This is the reason for the desperation of Nigerian politicians.
“Severance gratuities and post tenure pensions, whether approved or contemplated, should be reduced or cancelled out-rightly, after thorough check of what the situation is in advanced and far richer countries of the world, for political offices.”
To pave way for the measure to sit well with Nigerians, the group suggested that Buhari personally create a “strong moral authority” that will be obvious to the citizens and issue “a presidential directive to the Salaries and Wages Review Commission on assumption of office that all basic salaries and allowances paid to you as President of Nigeria must be lower than that of President Barack Obama, which is $400,000 a year.”
It noted that, if the president-elect should succeed in the gargantuan task, he would release huge funds for far-reaching and spectacular economic development that will totally enrich the lives of the dehumanised, enslaved, starving millions of Nigerians.
The fleet of presidential jets, arguably larger than that of some commercial airlines, has also drawn wide criticism, as many pick hole in the ‘rationale’ for keeping a large fleet when the country cannot confidently boast of a national carrier. The concern for the cost of maintaining the fleet has also been variously debated.
For MNTT, the issue is “one very sad aspect of our ruler’s unbelievable extravagance in governance in which your prompt and decisive action is needed.” The situation is even more worrisome, according to them, “considering the fact that the richest country on earth, the United States, has very few presidential planes, compared to Nigeria’s presidential fleet. While the outgoing president travelled to the Commonwealth conference in Australia with fleets of jets and the largest delegation, the Queen of England, one of the richest persons on earth and head of the Commonwealth together with the prime minister of Britain travelled in commercial flights. It has also been revealed that our delegates earn the highest estacodes in the world.
“Please do not hesitate to sell nine of the 11 jets, with two retained. You should please direct the proceeds to be immediately invested in the provision of additional Mega Watts of electricity that would be sufficient, on a 24-hour basis, for our industrial and domestic needs. This would bring back the multinationals that have relocated to Ghana and South Africa,” MNTT advised.
The group acknowledged Nigeria’s unenviable standing in corruption ratings worldwide and noted that “the all pervading corruption in all areas of our national lives, most especially among the different arms of government” has depleted critical economic resources and made the country “one of the most under-developed countries in the world,” arguing that the efforts to arrest and prosecute politicians have only be passive and pretentious.
It said: “Despite all the pretences and occasional arrest and inconclusive prosecution of those involved in massive corrupt enrichment, no highly placed Nigerian has been made to serve as a scapegoat through life imprisonment and publicised forfeiture of stolen houses, lands and funds as a deterrent to other future treasury looters. It is noteworthy that of all our past rulers, only the late General Sani Abacha had, to date, had part of the huge fortune stacked in foreign countries repatriated to Nigeria.
“The result of Nigeria’s free-for-all corruption and outrageous jumbo pay has led to about 90 per cent of the country’s enormous wealth being illegally appropriated by about two per cent of the citizenry.
This has left about 80 per cent of Nigerians living below the poverty level.”
On the oil subsidy scam, the group noted that government’s efforts have been ill-spirited and that if corruption must be decisively tackled there must be well spelt-out, harsh and fair punishments, such as imprisonment and forfeiture of assets, adding that plea bargaining should be abolished.
“It is, indeed, very tragic that in Nigeria, the theft of billions of naira through the presentation of fake receipts under the subsidy scam; the deliberate misappropriation of billions of naira of pensions funds meant for retired policemen, army and public servants; the open declaration of theft of billions of naira by governors, ministers, top legislators as well as high ranking political office holders are all swept under the carpet.
“The all important point is that you must ruthlessly and desperately fight corruption to a standstill, with our laws changed to give harsh punishment, including long years of imprisonment and forfeiture of stolen assets to the state for all offenders, irrespective of status. Plea bargaining must never again be tolerated in this country. This will release huge contract funds being stolen through kickbacks which will be used for spectacular economic development and unbelievable economic transformation of Nigeria.
Citing the example of an operationalised model of the measure, the group pointed to China, stressing: “Please know that the difference between Nigeria and the great nation called China, which has virtually dominated the world economy is that the country has been merciless to treasury looters. For instance, a few years ago, a public official in China who was alleged to have misappropriated $500,000 was publicly executed while his deputy who pleaded that he did not know that his boss was diverting public funds to his personal use was sentenced to life imprisonment.
“Until we take such drastic steps, Nigeria will continue to move around in a circle thinking that it is making progress whereas it is heading nowhere. This explains why the percentage of China’s abject poverty shrank from 56 per cent of its population to 12 per cent in the last 30 years, and that of Nigeria rose from 20 to 80 per cent within the same period.”
On economic policy, the group insisted that Buhari should ignore the handouts from Breton Woods’s organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and rather adopt “a coherent, original, deep-rooted and forward-looking economic philosophy that can turn Nigeria, with its awesome endowment by providence into one of the most prosperous nations in the world in record time.
“Our import-oriented economy which has made our country a dumping ground for all sorts of manufactured products from different parts of the world should be a thing of the past. We could achieve more than double our oil earnings from meaningful and massive agricultural innovation.
“You may be surprised to know that there is one identified agricultural product that can fetch us as much as we have been earning from petroleum, if we take innovative and positive steps about this and other farm products. We can achieve unprecedented progress with far-sighted innovative leadership. Take the case of Brazil, which has planted thousands of a unique economic tree which thrives very well in the tropics, a tree that can also do well in our country. Brazil has used these trees for printing paper production to the amazement of European countries which traditionally have been the major producers of printing papers in the world, from their own type of trees, which grow in their temperate climate. Today, Brazil is the biggest producer of printing paper in the world. And, as you know, because of the need for papers in Education and general office needs, printing paper will always be in great demand worldwide.”
MNTT argued that Nigeria would be more prosperous if emphasis is laid on export-oriented farm production, where farmers would have their products exported upon production, hinting that Buhari would be much loved as he would be enriching millions of Nigerians.
Making a case for the development of solid minerals, the group stressed that monies accrued from the venture would be ploughed into the economy to provide infrastructure such as roads, railways, water, electricity and hospitals as well as meet UNESCO’s stipulated budgetary allocation on education, adding, “ the role of bureaucracy will be minimal, but you will rely more on Nigerians with proven and outstanding ability and uncompromising integrity from public and private sectors with or without party affiliations, through task forces that you will monitor personally from the presidency.”
On the oil industry, MNTT advised Buhari to set a target that fuel shortage and importation, moribund refineries, and unbridled theft of crude oil will be a thing of the past, while calling him out to put an end to the anomaly of Nigeria being a member country of the Organisation of Oil Producing Countries (OPEC) with the highest price per litre for petroleum and the lowest minimum wage.
Ehusani, in his own letter, said many Nigerians voted Buhari and his team because they believe that his government would do much better. He suggested that the regular Police Force be “re-oriented, sufficiently capacitated, and their infrastructure adequately enhanced to fight street crime, armed robbery, political assassination, kidnapping, and other evils across the country.”
On reducing high cost of governance and simplifying the conduct of government officials, Ehusani noted that “governments exist to provide for the welfare of the citizens. But when over 70 percent of the resources of the nation is channelled towards servicing government functionaries and the bureaucracy, something is seriously wrong. A country struggling with widespread poverty and decayed infrastructure cannot afford to have public officers that are among the wealthiest in the world – not from any business investment or entrepreneurship on their part, but all from legitimate and illegitimate earnings from government.”
Ehusani also wants the incoming government to fix the nation’s troubled refineries and ensure steady power supply, even as he urged Buhari to become “the father of a new Nigeria.”