Fresh from a two-week break, President Umaru Yar’Adua has pulled a Public Relations stunt by ordering a “drastic downward review” of all salaries and allowances of all political office holders in the country.

 The President described the current salaries and allowances as unjustifiable in the present realities.

We of Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG) received the news with little commendation that the reality of the worldwide financial meltdown is at last getting to our President. We are however not taken in by this gimmick as it is only those who don’t live in Nigeria or don’t have full understanding of what goes on here that would be fooled that our public officers would not continue their extravagant and ostentatious living even if they are on zero salaries.

For a long time, public office has become the most lucrative business in Nigeria as a result of it being the easiest route to acquisition of quick wealth through sleazy means. From the councilors to the president, we have seen embarrassing transformations in the lives of our public office holders not on account of any other business other than access to the treasury. Over 60% of our budget goes into maintaining government’s structures.

How many current or ex-public office holders in the country today can trace all they have acquired to their legitimate earnings?

How is it that a man who came out of prison with only N20,000 in 1998 in his account is today one of the richest men in Africa after eight years in the Villa? The media recently celebrated the multi-million Naira wedding between the president’s daughter and the Governor of Bauchi State, what fraction of that extravaganza could have been financed with the salaries of the President from his Governorship days plus that of the Governor-in-law? It was reported last week that a former petroleum Minister paid $2.5m to secure his wife’s release from kidnappers, could he have earned that as salaries throughout his stay in public office?

 By the official figures a Senator is supposed to be taking home N2.4m per month, but independent sources have said an average Senator in Nigeria today takes home at least N10m in a month. How come?

At the executive level, thanks to the House of Representatives, we  now know that over N400b was raked in as “unspent funds” last year alone which would have gone into the pockets of public office holders.

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Dimeji Bankole despite blackmail from the Head of Service, Mrs. Amma Pepple has yet to retract the information that an average of N700b is annually withheld by elements within the Government from going into Government coffers.

The urgent task is how to block all these loopholes and ensure that all these funds are freed for developmental purposes.

We are equally not fooled by this hoodwink of salary cuts for the reason of high tolerance that the present administration has shown for corruption, and its overt protection of corrupt ex-Governors who have turned the presidential villa to their “Obudu Ranch”.

We cannot reconcile the concern for the “present realities” with the role the Attorney-General of the Federation has played in shielding former Delta State Governor, James Ibori from justice in London, the “bow and go” treatment of Lucky Igbinedion fined N3.5m for monumental corruption and the appointment of some of their colleagues with questions to answer before the EFCC as Ministers by the President. If there is any serious attempt to recover the hundreds of billions many of these ex-public officers have been alleged to have stolen, it would be a big bail-out for the economy.

ARG is therefore of the considered view that if we are able to stop corruption in public life, retrieve the stolen wealth from looters of treasury who are now the friends of the Presidency and plug all the loopholes that have been exposed we probably could even live with the outrageous official salaries of our public office holders.

However, to keep the rotten and corrupt structures as they are and be talking of slashing the salaries and allowances of public office holders is deception of the highest order.

We thank the President for this gesture but we were not impressed as it is an insignificant tokenism. He should come out with bold measures to fight corruption which we can all buy into before we can view the salary cut order as altruistic.

 Yinka Odumakin

National Publicity Secretary,

Afenifere Renewal Group

www.afenifererenewal.org

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