Nigeria is one of the countries in the world where costs of governance are very high. Political and public office holders in Nigeria turn millionaires and billionaires overnight as a result of the skyrocketing emoluments they enjoy coupled with the impunity with which some of them misappropriate, embezzle, steal, and siphon public funds. Unlike in other climes where the emoluments of political and public office holders are in the public domain, in Nigeria, the reverse is the case, as no one can reliably tell how much the members of the legislative houses in Nigeria receive as annual emoluments, except the members themselves. This has generated heated debates in the past; nevertheless, the total emoluments they receive are still shrouded in secrecy, even when these representatives are paid from our public funds. This evidences, to a larger extent, the craze and desperation to occupy one public position or the other in Nigeria.
Recently, during the just concluded general elections, our environments were awash with political posters advertising various positions the political contestants aspired to occupy. Those in the corridor of power employed the sit tight syndrome and were not willing to relinquish power, as the opposition vowed to snatch power from them by all means possible. The political stage was tensed up with its usual characteristics of campaigns of calumny, making hate speeches, inciting and inflammatory statements, assassinations, threats to lives, buying over some stakeholders and voters with money, making empty political promises that hardly materialize, making sycophantic statements aimed at carrying favour from the politicians and their political godfathers, emptying our common treasury to sponsor political campaigns, among others. For these political gladiators, elections are a “do or die affair”.
This craze to occupy one public office or the other has reached its climax to the extent that when one asks ten children who they intend to become in the future, at least about six of them will reply that they will like to become politicians. And when one presses the question further and asks why, one will be surprised to hear them say that politicians are very rich people in Nigeria. This is not far-fetched; the evidence is clear.
Governance in Nigeria is very attractive, considering the mouth-watering privileges that come with holding political or public offices in Nigeria. However, if governance is made less attractive as recommended in this article, it will result to an exodus of people abandoning politics and embracing their hitherto abandoned professions, so much so that holding political or public offices will then be left to those who actually have the interests of the masses at heart. One of such means of making governance less attractive will be by enacting a special legislation that will make provisions affecting political and public office holders aimed at reducing the costs of governance.
The need to enact such legislation is overdue. I therefore recommend and urge the 8th National Assembly to urgently enact what I term “The Public Office Holders (Certain Prohibitions) Act. This Act will make certain sweeping provisions, prominent among them will be as suggested below.
Every public office holder in Nigeria shall seek the services of Nigerian physicians and no public office holder in Nigeria, spouse or children shall travel abroad for medical treatments except the illness being suffered or diagnosed by such public office holder, spouse or children, is among those exempted; in which case, such public office holder, spouse, or children, may travel abroad for such treatment or diagnosis. However, before embarking on such treatment or diagnosis abroad, such public office holder, spouse or children, shall make known to the public the nature and extent of the illness. The essence of these provisions is to compel public office holders to pay adequate attention to our dilapidated hospitals and medical facilities. If adequate, conducive and well equipped and staffed medical centres are available in Nigeria, our public office holders will not be embarking on foreign trips to treat even a mere headache as is presently the status quo.
Another prominent provision relates to education. No public office holder, upon assumption of office, shall obtain any foreign education other than in Nigeria, and no such public office holder shall send any of his/her children or spouses to other countries for the purpose of obtaining foreign education. A further provision will be made to the effect that where a public office holder, spouse or child is a student in a foreign country, such public office holder, spouse or child shall forthwith cease the education in such foreign country and change to a public school in Nigeria. Also, as a corollary to the provision, every public office holder, spouse or child shall attend public schools in Nigeria, and no public office holder, spouse or child shall attend any private schools, whether in Nigeria or elsewhere. The proviso to the prohibition of foreign education will also be applicable to obtaining education in private schools. The essence of these provisions will be to compel our public office holders to pay adequate attention to our dilapidated public schools at all levels. It is hoped that Nigeria will boast of well equipped and staffed public schools with all the modern facilities in place if such legislation is enacted.
Furthermore, there will be provisions relating to the emoluments of public office holders to the effect that the total emoluments and allowances of every public office holder in Nigeria shall be made public. The salaries and allowances of public office holders, especially those of the legislative houses, shall be reviewed downward and no public office holder shall earn any salaries or allowances in excess of the statutory fixed emoluments. These provisions aim at reducing the salaries and some unnecessary allowances that are being paid to our public office holders, which make holding public offices very attractive. There will be provisions on penalties for violating any of the above provisions, and in each case, the punishment, upon conviction, will include loss of the affected public office, imprisonment for a period not less than 10 years, without any options of fine.
Every public office holder will be made to live in an official apartment and use official cars and no public office holder shall live in a private apartment, hotel, or other personal places. Also, no public office holder shall use private or personal cars. Whilst occupying a public office, no public office holder shall own any property which shall not reasonably be expected to be owned by a public office holder of that status and/or the market value of which exceeds the total emoluments earned by such a public office holder within the period of occupation of such public office. Any public office holder who violates these provisions shall, upon conviction, be sentenced to a period not less than 15 years in prison and forfeiture of such property.=
There shall also be included in the legislation provisions creating stiffer punishments on public office holders who award contracts without following due process; public office holders who steal, embezzle, misappropriate, or siphon public funds; and public office holders involved in other corrupt practices. I recommend that upon conviction on any of the above corrupt practices and other related offences, the affected public office holder shall be sentenced to death by firing squad. The reason for this is not far-fetched. Imagine this scenario. A hungry man who perhaps steals his neighbour’s yam in his barn gets a 7-year prison term upon conviction, whereas a governor or any other public office holder who steals, embezzles or misappropriates public funds, or who awards contracts without due process, gets a lesser punishment upon conviction. Is this not a travesty of justice? Where then lies the deterrence?
On many occasions, funds earmarked for medical facilities, social amenities and other life saving programmes had been misappropriated, embezzled, stolen, or siphoned, resulting in deaths of many people. The few cases which had been prosecuted had only resulted in handing insufficient prison terms to the culprits. In many instances, the punishments provided for in the existing laws are not sufficient, and can at best be described as ‘mock penalties’. This cannot serve as a deterrent.
The Act will also make provisions which will aim at putting an end to attaching police officers and other security agents to our legislators, except the heads of the legislative houses. This privilege has recently been abused by the legislators and our police officers and other security agents are being used as bag carriers and errand boys to these legislators. The legislators should be made to go about like other citizens so that they will appreciate the positions they occupy and discharge their duties impactfully towards affecting the lives of their representatives positively, rather than priding at the security provided to them by the government. No legislator shall use any siren of any kind, and the security details to each of the heads of the legislative houses shall not be more than two.
Also, in the legislation, there will be provisions prohibiting the government, at all levels, from sponsoring pilgrimages to foreign countries. Any individual or public office holder who wishes to go on a pilgrimage shall do so at their expense. Thus, no public office holder, or spouse, or children shall go on a pilgrimage at the expense of the government.
These recommendations will invariably affect certain provisions in the constitution and other statutes. One may therefore argue that the recommended provisions will be null and void to the extent of their inconsistencies with the provisions of the constitution and other statutes. Thus, there will be the need to amend the constitution, repeal or amend the other affected statutes so as to make them reflectory of the provisions of the special legislation.
As stated earlier, governance is a serious business and should only be undertaken by serious people. People should not see public offices as avenues for enriching themselves. Public office holders should be held accountable for their inactions and misappropriation of public funds entrusted in their care. The time to reduce the craze to occupy political or public offices as a result of the attractive benefits and privileges that come with them is now. The answer is enacting a law that will provide harsh and stiffer punishments for public office holders who are involved in corrupt practices, thereby making public offices less attractive.
*Cajetan Osisioma is a Legal Practitioner and writes from Lagos. [email protected] 08063640152.