Buhari, beware of the Tambuwal effect – Jibrin Ibrahim

Jibrin Ibrahim

As the Buhari APC Administration concludes its preparation to take over the reins of power, one of the traps it needs to avoid is the Tambuwal Effect. We recall that in 2011, the victorious PDP Administration of Goodluck Jonathan decided to zone the Speakership of the House of Representatives to the South West and chose Honourable Mulikat Akande of Oyo State as the person to emerge Speaker of the 7th House of Representatives. It was a good choice because she had the qualities to be an excellent Speaker. It was however an illegal choice because in its wisdom, the Constitution gave the powers to elect the leadership of legislatures to legislators themselves and not to their parties. Accordingly, the members of the House of Representatives simply ignored their party directive and went ahead to elect Aminu Tambuwal as their Speaker. President Obasanjo also had his hands burnt in his numerous attempts to impose leaderships on the National Assembly. The APC Administration should not try to repeat such mistakes, they should simply allow the legislators to choose their leadership if not, they are likely to suffer the Tambuwal Effect.

It is important that the President-Elect should not start his tenure with a needless quarrel with the National Assembly; he has to conserve his take-off strength. I can assure him that he will have a lot to fight the National Assembly about if he is to keep his word and fight all facets of corruption. The mood in the country today is that the cost of governance is too high and must be reduced if resources for development are to be liberated. Today, our legislators are the highest paid in the world and our ministers are also among the top in the league table of jumbo salaries for executives. In November 2012, the then Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had revealed that Nigeria was using 70% of its budget on salaries and emoluments of public servants in the executive and the legislature and made a passionate call for the reduction of these emoluments so that we as a nation can free resources for development. His call was drowned out by anger of our legislators who were furious at his statement that the legislature consumed a significant percentage of overhead costs. It is important that our country returns to the core argument that by paying excessively high salaries and emoluments to top public officials; in particular, permanent secretaries, ministers and legislators, we are mortgaging the rights of our people to development. We need to spend the bulk of available public resources to provide improved infrastructure, health and education to our citizens.

In July 2011, the then professional ruffler of feathers, and in-coming Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir El-Rufai had warned the nation that the total revenue from oil that year could not pay “the salaries and allowances of politicians and public sector workers and their “overheads” – their tea, coffee, travel and estacode.” He pointed out that it costs on the average about 2.5 million to maintain each of our one million public servants. The cost of maintaining one legislator is 320 million Naira, he pointed out. Since then, the situation has become worse. The monthly take home pay of a member of the House of Representatives is about 750,000 Naira. In addition, however, they have decided to pay themselves an additional 10 million Naira monthly in the form of various allowances not known to the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, which has statutory responsibility for fixing their emoluments. As Buhari will discover, both APC and PDP legislators will fight tooth and nail to conserve, indeed to increase their allowances.

Professor Joel Barkan has already elaborated a theory that justifies why African legislators need a lot of money. He argues that legislators acting individually, rather than as members of a corporate organisation that engages in collective decision-making, perform the additional function of constituency service. In most African countries, legislators have imposed upon them two forms of constituency service – Regular visits by MPs to their districts to meet constituents and assist some with their individual needs. Involvement in small to medium scale development projects that provide various forms of public goods – roads, water supply systems, schools and scholarship schemes, health clinics, meeting halls, etc. to their constituents. This constituency service function has always provided the subtext for raising emoluments of legislators but even more importantly, getting them to meddle in budget-making and budget-implementation.

In Nigeria, the legislature has responded to its constituency service function at three levels. First is the introduction of constituency projects in which legislators propose specific projects for their constituents, which are implemented, not by them, but by various ministries, departments and agencies under the Millennium Development Goals Programme. So while the executive branch carries out the projects, the legislators get the credit or so the theory goes. The reality is that the legislators have worked out modalities for their direct implementation. The second is the inclusion of zonal projects for legislators in the budgets of ministries, departments and agencies and the legislators themselves decide and implement such projects. Often, the projects are not implemented at all and the monies are simply collected up front. Thirdly, there has been a huge increase of constituency allowances to allow legislators respond to regular appeals from constituents for financial help for weddings, burials, ill health and so on, in addition to other demands for jobs, contracts and every conceivable demand.

The argument for constituency services is untenable. Virtually all working Nigerians can make the justified claim that they are all participants in a demand system in which relations, friends, associates and everyone else come to people considered to be relatively well off who then become targets of solicitation. General Buhari will discover to his shock that legislators are deeply implicated in crunching budgets with civil servants for projects that are not implemented. He would need to conserve his energy to engage in a struggle against this insidious corruption that has developed in our political system. There must be a stop to the abuse of the powers of appropriation given to the National Assembly, and the division of powers between those who make the laws, the legislators; and those who implement them, the Presidency and its ministries, departments and agencies must be restored.

The 8th National Assembly should embark on a path of transparency and accountability in engaging Nigerians in a frank conversation about their emoluments. It might well be the case that the waste of public resources is higher in the executive branch compared to the legislature. If, therefore, the legislature takes the initiative to curb its own excesses, they will be strengthened in using their oversight and budget-making powers to curb the excesses of the executive. One of the challenges facing the Presidency and the National Assembly is to respond effectively on the ethics, irrationality and high costs of spending the earnings of 170 million Nigerians on the one million people in the public sector. We must bring in the people as beneficiaries of public revenue through the expansion of public services. As petroleum revenues continue to decline, the reality on the ground is that we can no longer sustain the current expenditure profile we are running.

One of our weaknesses in both civil society and the media is that we have not put sufficient efforts in studying legislators and score carding them. We need to develop an index to regularly review the performance of the National Assembly as an institution, as well as the performance of individual legislators. It is my view that the moment has come for Nigerian legislators to clearly define their duties and responsibilities in favour of citizens and constituents as is assumed in democratic theory, rather than in terms of commitments to their personal accumulation or their showing gratification to their godfathers and party barons as is sometimes the case.

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