Political leaders, social pact and the citizenry
In the last couple of years, there has been agitation around the emolument of the legislators in Nigeria. The accusation has been that it is shrouded in secrecy for the singular reason that it could not be justified, particularly in the face of the humongous rate of hunger and poverty in Nigeria, coupled with the battered state of the economy of the nation. The executive is equally not spared, particularly in terms of the various appropriated pension schemes, security vote, and, of recent, multiple compensations for those privileged to be ministers or legislators afterwards. It is the belief of the citizenry that their leaders are being unfair to them in terms of the remuneration and the various perquisites of office appropriated to themselves.
This is more so when their own salary packages could not take them home. It will be recalled how long it took to agree recently to a minimum wage for the workers, and even when ultimately agreed, it is yet to be fully implemented by some state governments. In approaching this issue, it is apt to undertake an historical journey into the social pact between the leaders and the people. All citizens of a nation, arising from their being human, had absolute rights exercisable under the state of nature. However, because of the non-curtailment of these rights, frictions and conflicts became the order of the day in the society then, to the extent that the strong was devouring the weak. So, no human being in this state of nature, actually had peace, thereby resulting into lives being nasty, brutish and short according to Thomas Hobbes. Although some philosophers diverged from this opinion, for instance Francis Fukuyama who argued that man has always been a social animal and that at no time has man been so individualistic as painted by Hobbes. However, it is certain that man required rules and regulations to make social co-existence less frictional.
To avert this state of affairs, there was unanimity of position by all of them that portion of those absolute rights inherent in them as human beings, be shed into a common pool for the purpose of collective exercise by a few chosen amongst them to exercise those pooled rights on their behalf. This was the origin of social pact which in modern day is reflected in all nations’ constitutions. The social pact created a relationship of trust between those who donated their rights into the common pool, the citizens and those exercising the rights, and by extension, the power on their behalf who form the government. That is why in contemporary times, these representatives of the people are said to be responsible and accountable to the people. By the nature of this trust relationship, the people are the beneficiaries. Thus, a trustee, in this wise, the leaders, are not meant to be more comfortable than the people they represent. This is what representation is. Religious wise, the same concept is reflected in Islam as amanah which means trust. Quran [MOU1] in Chapter 33 verse 72 emphasised. In Christianity, the Bible in Exodus 18 v 21 says: “Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens.” Thus, it is not only political/legal duty but a religious duty on the leaders to observe.
In fact, for every murdered citizen, hungry citizen, etc, the leaders who ascended office on the strength of affording them security, or ensuring their welfare, will account to the creator. You would be wondering what all this analysis, or as Nigerians will put it, this ‘story’ is all about! It is essentially the story of the youngest parliamentarian in the United Kingdom, by name Nadia Whittome, a 23-year-old Labour MP for Nottingham East who declined to enjoy her annual renumeration of 79,468 pounds per annum until such a time there is rise in wages for carers, teaching assistants and nurses. She instead settled for the sum of 35,000 pounds, which is the “workers’ wage” per annum. The accrued difference of 44,460 pounds she donated to the local Nottingham charities plus homeless people, sex workers and families struggling to afford the basics. Quoting her, “I think it’s really important for workers’ representatives to be on salaries that reflect workers more closely…And it’s not berating MPs for taking the full salary. It’s saying workers need a pay rise – carers, teaching assistants, nurses – and I’ll take mine when they take theirs”.
Her contention basically is that she had not been sent to the parliament to enrich herself. Now to the Nigerian situation, as indicated above, minimum wage in Nigeria is N30,000.00, while a senator, according to then Senator Shehu Sani, takes a total package of over N14m per month (which is 27,833 pounds, 1 pound to 503 naira a month) and the House of Representatives members about N11m per month. This is claimed to include the running cost for the office, which excludes such other logistics as the new special purpose vehicles.
Without doubt, for the minimum wage, it certainly cannot take the workers home. For illustration. A worker with N30,000.00 wage, which is less that 100 dollars a month, equivalent of 77.54 pound sterling, living in a city, will certainly not pay less than twenty thousand naira as rent for just a room, excluding cost of electricity, water, security, refuse collection and other utility bills. After such payment, it will be miraculous, except where his abode is so close to the work place, for him to maximize the balance of whatever remains on transportation. The implication of that is if he remains single for life, he will not feed, clothe himself nor maintain his health. Should he venture into a family life, then he is doomed from inception. In the circumstance, except he is inanimate, he certainly will die of starvation.
From the picture painted above, how comparable is the representation of the British parliamentarian with that of the Nigerian parliamentarian? Obviously, the gap is too wide for any form of justification. Another good illustration is that of the judicial officers whose emolument has remained static in the last 13 years in spite of the ravaging inflation in Nigeria. What about my other constituency, the academicians? Are they to be blamed for selling handouts and engaging in multiple part-time jobs at the expense of the basic responsibility assigned to them? There is certainly no correlation between what the political leaders earn and the minimum wage of the people or whatever is the maximum wage of an average civil servant. This tends to suggest that they are representing themselves and their families rather than the citizenry. It is unthinkable that Nigerian leaders at any time will reject any appropriation in their favour on the ground of struggle for the electorate. Although they may claim to be redistributing the excess of their emolument to their constituents in the name of some miserable items described as palliatives or poverty alleviation schemes.
Quite contrary to the behavioral pattern of our public officials, details of all public officials’ total emoluments are easily obtainable online in other countries. I effortlessly accessed the emolument of the American and British legislators and other officials online. Same is applicable to that of their South African counterparts. This can only aid transparency and the fight against corruption, if such information is obtainable easily online. Part of the argument advanced by the public officials in Nigeria for avoiding the publication of their emolument is that their constituents will become economic pests on them, should they know how much they earn. Firstly, this may be so where such sum is itself outrageous, and, secondly, the constituents rightly or wrongly believe that the leaders put them in such condescending positions, so they must bear the brunt. What the above depicts is that there is no quality representation in Nigeria. Are the leaders to be blamed?
I am not too sure we can lay all the complaints at their doorstep. This is due to the fact that the electorate themselves mortgage their entitlements as beneficiaries of the trust. At the time of election, they traded off their rights by merchandising their votes, or exercising their franchise on ground of primordial sentiments of tribe, religious organisation, etc. Rather than settling for the best candidate during the election, they choose to sell off their entitlements like the wantoks experience of the Melanesian society of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands [MOU2] . Consequently, they forfeit the right of recall, or that of impeachment as a result of their default in doing the right thing. These are rights associated with their beneficial status where they stand upright. Consequently, we may not blame the elected representatives who need to recoup their investments and make profit as political mercantilists that they are.
If we, therefore, expect purposeful representation that is sensitive to the people’s plight as in the case of the British young parliamentarian, then the electorate must eschew the misbehavior of compromising their votes and considering vote as a product. The people need to appreciate the nexus between their lives and their votes. It is when this happens that we can begin to hold the leaders, as trustees, accountable to the people as beneficiaries. Therefore, as we approach the next set of general elections, let the people start being aware of the need to exercise their franchise qualitatively in order to secure quality representation that can cater for their interests, otherwise, their sufferings will continue.