GOVERNMENT BY THE RICH FOR THE RICH
By: Sir Henry Olujimi Boyo (Les Leba), first published in April 2006
Last week’s republication titled “Nigerians for Export” discussed the political economy of Nigeria after the withdrawal of the imperial powers and the gross mismanagement that followed shortly. It discussed how this mismanagement led to a consistent devaluation of the naira which affected local businesses, and the livelihoods of our people- contributing to unemployment of youth, high costs of living etc., leading some of our brightest minds to seek greener pastures in lands where they are often underappreciated. If you missed this article, it can be found using the link below.
(See www.betternaijanow.com for this series and more articles by the Late Sir Henry Boyo)
The article for today is also a republication, dating as far back as the year 2006. Due to its continued relevance, considering the stagnancy of our economic situation it has been brought to the surface once more for closer examination. This article discusses the poor state of the average Nigerian: with minimal access to adequate health treatments, nutritious food and clean water, in the presence of ridiculous expenditures by the government for awards and things of that nature that do not benefit the masses. The article calls for the EFCC to fulfil its function by probing into various issues on the “leakage” of monies from the system by public servants and the institutions that aid and abet these acts. Kindly read on.
Despite a generally conducive climate and abundant arable land, food and water have become increasingly expensive for the vast majority of our people; for example, gari, yams, rice, beans have doubled or even tripled in price in the last 7 years, meanwhile, the general wage level may have increased only nominally in the same period. In other words, the vast majority of Nigerians have had to make critical adjustments in their dietary habits with adverse consequences for nutrition and good health. Furthermore, the scourge of water-borne diseases has intensified as a result of the government’s abdication of its duty to provide adequate clean, portable drinking water!
The poor masses' depreciated income, which was already insufficient for feeding now, has to be stretched to cover the bills for curing typhoid! Thousands of Nigerians, especially children, die daily due to the inability to find the N1000 or more required for appropriate therapy. The number of such deaths is compounded by the scourge of malaria brought about by the fertile breeding grounds which are supported by the government’s failure to provide appropriate drainage and public sanitary systems. It may not be an exaggeration to describe the majority of the Nigerian population as the living dead in a land where a handful of Nigerians can spend N50m of public money to celebrate a controversial award for a public servant!
In focused economies where social conscience prevails, every citizen with a steady job has the opportunity to buy a house or acquire shelter commensurate with their income. The picture is of course very different in our country where the vast majority live in sprawling shanties and the facility for owning a house is the preserve of the few legitimate rich and the beneficiaries of financial and administrative impropriety in the public service and to a lesser extent in the private sector.
In a country, where public service remains the largest employer and the highest salary is below N2m, it is commonplace to find serving public servants who own houses and estates which cost tens and hundreds of millions of naira paid for in cash! It is no wonder that these same public officers who have the responsibility for ensuring the workability of local mortgage institutions especially for the poor do not show much commitment to their cause. In fact, under the current dispensation, it is impossible for the vast majority of salary earners, including top civil servants, to own a house legitimately!
Government low-income housing schemes are few and far between and where these exist, they are often hijacked by the higher echelons who cannot legitimately afford anything better. The huge cash sums paid for houses in the new estates in most state capitals particularly on the Lekki Peninsular and Abuja should be of interest to the EFCC! Most of the buyers of these properties would have difficulty explaining their sources of income. The tax authorities should also be concerned about the amount of tax currently paid by these nouveau rich landlords!
In a country, where so many people are homeless, it is obscene for rents of N50m per annum and furniture expenses of over N40m to be paid in respect of accommodation for any public servant. It is also criminal that some of our elected public servants acquire properties in prime locations in London, Paris, New York and Cape Town with cash payments in foreign exchange when most of the electorate do not have a proper place to lay their heads! In this regard, the EFCC would not have fulfilled its functional obligations if those agents or financial institutions that facilitated the transfer of these loots abroad are not exposed and prosecuted.
Let us now consider the government’s performance in the areas of health, education and social recreation which are vital for promoting economic wealth and personal well-being in a country. Our government institutions, from primary to university have been starved of funds and teachers and professors earn a pittance for their efforts; infrastructure is inadequate both in schools and hospitals and these outfits now enjoy predominantly the patronage of the poor!
The hope and need for a better life have led to a brain drain of qualified personnel from the government-sponsored institutions into private schools and hospitals in Nigeria and abroad. In reality, very few public servants can legitimately afford the school fees and the medical bills charged by the private businesses offering these services, yet over 70% of their students and patients come from families who depend on the meager salary in the public sector!
The more adventurous and successful buccaneers in the public sector go a step higher and send their children and their invalids abroad for education and health care as they can officially convert their ill-gotten naira into dollars for payment of school fees and better health care services overseas. Once again, the EFCC should conduct an audit of all public servants with children or invalid relations abroad and investigate their sources of income! As one can imagine, unless this unwholesome habit is curbed, there can be no hope for serious improvement in our educational and health institutions and the poor who constitute over 80% of our population will continue to be short-changed and disenfranchised.
In this light, it is curious, therefore, that our own Central Bank has become an active accomplice in maintaining this unhealthy imbalance in its recent adoption of an ‘easy dollar’ regime for the payment of school fees and health care services for Nigerian children and patients abroad. Of course, only the rich can benefit from this liberal policy, but it should be demanded and socially appropriate that such beneficiaries should declare their sources of income and declare their annual tax obligations! It would be interesting to see how public servants with a maximum salary of N2m can indulge in such inordinate expenses! The unceasing delegations of overseas educational institutions seeking Nigerian students is a testimony of the concomitant huge foreign exchange outflow from Nigeria.
The recent somersault of the British High Commission concerning the issuance of visas for young Nigerians should not be seen as a sympathetic change of heart but as a response to the pressures of British universities who stood to lose significant income from a rigid visa policy for Nigerian students! In the same vein, the CBN’s recent increase of annual personal travel allowance from $5000 to $16000 a year is a boon for the few rich Nigerians and a large number of civil servants and the ‘faceless’ league of smugglers of banned items to enrich the coffers of their overseas destinations and suppliers.
Certainly, over 90% of Nigerians who are joint-owners of the officially earned dollars have no benefit from this ill-conceived ‘easy dollar’ policy! It would have been more sensible if the government developed local facilities where Nigerians can take their holidays. It is odd that the CBN has allowed a personal travel allowance of $16,000 (N2m) when the highest-paid civil servants’ total salary package does not exceed N2m; from what source therefore will he be expected to save enough to buy $16,000 to spend on holiday abroad each year.
These are worrisome times for serious-minded Nigerians and needless to say we must not assume that the people who control our future know what they are doing or have the interest of the masses in their hearts! Such unfounded confidence may spell doom for our generations yet unborn!
Save the Naira, Save Nigerians.