Tomorrow, the first of a three-stage national elections in the country will commence as candidates fight for the right to become members of parliament at the federal level, a job that can earn them at least $100,000 a month in salary and allowances. Arguably, the highest anywhere on planet earth.

The spoils of office in Nigeria are one reason why a violent electoral campaign has claimed the lives of more than 50 people since July, according to Amnesty International. In a March 3 attack, at least 10 people died when explosives were hurled at rally of President Goodluck Jonathan’s ruling People’s Democratic Party in the town of Suleja. “Every office appears worth killing for, given the amount of money they make,” said Jibrin Ibrahim, director of the Centre for Democracy and Development, a group based in Abuja, the capital, that campaigns for democracy and good governance. “That’s why we’re seeing this level of violence.”

The concern about sectarian and election-related violence has sparked domestic demand for foreign currency, central bank Governor Lamido Sanusi said in a March 15 interview in Abuja. That has weakened the naira, which reached an 18-month low against the dollar on March 17. “People want to see a smooth transition, a free and fair election before they bring back the money,” he said. While an armed insurgency in the Niger River delta that cut more than 28 percent of the nation’s oil output from 2006 to 2009 remains relatively quiet, parts of the north have been hit by a mounting campaign of violence by Islamic militants inspired by Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.  Jonathan’s PDP currently holds majorities of about 54 percent in the 109-member Senate and the 360-seat House of Representatives. Of the 59 bills the two chambers passed from the start of their tenure in 2007 to the end of last year, most weren’t part of the governing party’s political program, said Clement Nwankwo, executive director of the Abuja-based Policy and Legal Advocacy Centre, which tracks parliamentary activities.

“That advantage was never deployed to a higher national goal,” Nwankwo said in a phone interview yesterday. “Instead, they took selfish advantage of their powers to budget for themselves extravagant pay and allowances.”  Jonathan, who succeeded former President Umaru Yar’Adua on his death on May 5, tried to rein in spending this year by cutting recurrent outlays by 29 percent. Parliament rebuffed him and raised the budget 17 percent to 4.97 trillion naira ($32 billion).  Since Nigeria’s return to civilian government in 1999 after 15 years of military rule, the PDP has presided over the spending of more than $300 billion in oil export revenue. During that time income disparities have widened, with 54 percent of the population living on less than a dollar a day, about 22 million citizens illiterate, and maternal mortality of 800 per 100,000 live births, a rate among the highest in the world, according to the United Nations Development Programme.  “People in Nigeria see very little in terms of infrastructure, health and basic services,” Sola Tayo, an analyst at London-based research group, Chatham House, said by phone on March 30. “And to hear that people who should be responsible for providing these things are getting all that money is bound to fuel resentment. They don’t seem to be doing much for all that money.”

About a quarter of last year’s budget, about 1.12 trillion naira, went to pay 17,474 officials in federal, state and local governments, according to the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the Abuja-based agency responsible for setting their pay.  Finance Minister Olusegun Aganga called this year’s budget “unimplementable,” while Sanusi cited the spending boom as a reason for the decision on March 22 to raise the benchmark interest rate by a percentage point to 7.5 percent. “We have a constitution that says we must have a minister from every state, so we must have 36 ministers. Do we need 36 ministries? These are questions that we need to ask,” Sanusi said in a speech on March 19. “Can we do something about that and reduce the cost of governance and free up funds for education and health?” Tomorrow’s vote will be followed in a week by the presidential election. That race pits Jonathan against 18 rivals, including former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari and the ex-head of the anti-graft agency, Nuhu Ribadu, who is the candidate of the Action Congress of Nigeria. A week after that, voters choose the governors and legislatures of Nigeria’s 36 states.

The main opposition parties, the ACN and Buhari’s Congress for Progressive Change, stand a good chance of cutting into the PDP’s parliamentary majority, Nwankwo said.  The last elections, in 2007, were condemned as flawed by international and local monitors for violent intimidation of voters, falsification of figures and widespread ballot- snatching. Jonathan pledged a more transparent vote and won plaudits by appointing a respected academic, Attahiru Jega, to head the Independent National Electoral Commission. “This is an opportunity for Nigeria to demonstrate its capacity to both manage and hold democratic elections, which are the desire of the people,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson said in a March 29 teleconference with reporters. The last elections “were deeply flawed and, in fact, were poorly administered and poorly run.” 

 Originally published by Nigeria2Day

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