By Abdulwahab Oba
The number of political appointees working for the average Nigerian politician has always depended on and couched in utmost secrecy. Typically, there are no information as there are no pointers as to how much tax payers sacrifice to their daily, weekly allowances or monthly wage bills. Worse still, where town-hall meetings which is often a scarce occurrence, happen, those subject matters never always earned a mention. No one but the politician knows. And, inquests into such matters considered an exclusive preserve of the public officer holder, who more often than not, seems accountable to no one and law unto self, have always hit the brick wall. That has been the Nigerian public office experience over the years.
However, recently, following the steadily falling Naira exchange rate to world currencies, public office holders were once more reminded of the need to trim down the number of their office hands. The call earned prominence as it became public knowledge that some states were still unable to pay salaries as a result of continuous dwindling monthly federal allocations. Unfortunately, skewed delineation of state boundaries constrained a few states from generating sufficient internal revenues to augment their allocations. Interestingly, too, it was not just the states that were caught in the financial drought wire. The federal government apparently, bleeding financially, was buckling down as most premium projects across the country suffered. No thanks to the steadily falling national revenue as per barrel oil sale bottomed at $50 in the international market.
Obviously, the nation needed much more than mere talk. It was in desperate need of leaders, particularly public office holders, who can practically demonstrate patriotism by heeding to calls to trim down their office hands in remedial response to the prevailing economic mesh. As often is the case, such calls had always been pooh-poohed without hair-raising protests. But last week, the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, proved what could probably qualify as a classic case of exemplary leadership by trimming down the number of his office hands.
Coming barely four months after ordering a comprehensive staff audit, Saraki, by his move, demonstrated leadership and set a rare standard in the way public office holders should go. Curiously, however, in a country and society where leaders, who put the nation first and above personal gains are hard find, one had expected Saraki’s rare act of patriotism to grab newspaper headlines and buzz without end on the social media, but not. In fact, the few newspapers that binged on it clearly thinned down its importance, but the number of office hands affected. And a friend whispered to me “bad media politics”.
Indeed, like other senate presidents before him, including senior top political office holders, Saraki had a choice to ignore the calls and act as though nothing was amiss. But seemingly nudged on by public and national interest, he set himself apart by identifying with posterity. This explains why he deserves commendation for pointing the way to how responsive a public officer should behave, and more so, as the nation clearly was under financial knife and needed practical and far-reaching redemptive measures to whittle down its huge financial burden. Interestingly, it was not the first time the Senate President was sign-posting responsible leadership. The former governor, like many of his colleagues still receiving pensions in their respective states, had equally outed out of the statutory pension as stipulated by the third schedule paragraph D (i) of Governor and Deputy Governor (payment of Pension) Law, number 12 of 2010 of Kwara State. The State Pension Law empowers the State Government to pay pension to former governors and deputy governors of the state. But, in an act of selfless service, Saraki wrote the Kwara State Government and requested immediate stoppage of such payment to his account and refunded all previous credits to his account back to Kwara State government.
The senate president explained that though they were lawful entitlements, his decision was based purely on morality as he was still serving the nation. Again, to further demonstrate responsible leadership, Saraki approved the sack, last week, of no fewer than 98 out of the estimated 300 Aides attached to his office and by so doing, setting a new direction in an acceptable standard behavior expected of a public office holder in a country where contrary behavior would not have affected the status quo.
Apart from strengthening optimum service delivery in consonance with the agenda of the 8th National Assembly, Saraki’s directive points to a new dawn in way and manner, including the need for, and who qualifies as part of productive team in the office of the Senate President. No doubt, the development would largely and positively impact on his office monthly wage bill, especially as most National Assembly Service Commissions staff seconded to his office would revert back to bureaucracy where they were from the beginning and thereby freeing up funds for other crucial needs. Not only that, the best hands would be left to run the office and ultimately shut down human financial waste pipes that needlessly have the weevil effect on the nation, willy-nilly.
But more than anything else, it signposts a wake up call to all public office holders to act responsibly in the interest of the nation. With oil, the only revenue source for Nigeria selling at abysmally beggarly price of $50 per barrel, Saraki’s move should prototype standard public service behavior so the nation can mop up funds and crawl out of the woods starting from within. Records show that Nigerian lawmakers and their Aides count among the best paid in the world, pointing to how largely funds mopped up by trimming down the size of Aides to public office holders could help fix some premium projects that would otherwise stall due to dearth of funds. It is even more important considering that in a dying economy as Nigeria’s, funds so saved could help inject life into the economy and ease up the vicious poverty and hardship in the land.
Saraki’s leadership style has not only separated the 8th National Assembly from those before it, but given hope that though the road might have been tortuous and wavy, a glimmer of light sets in the horizon. In the last two years of Saraki’s Senate Presidency, the nation has witnessed what could safely be described as anxious responsibility towards public good and interest. Saraki’s NASS among others bills, has successfully passed into law more than 20 premium bills, including the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill, which aims at introducing new operational and fiscal terms for management of revenue from the sector. It had also passed the Customs Service Management Act, which aims at enforcing unconditional compliance to global best practices, as well, as the Ports and Harbours Reforms Bill; which focuses on protecting the rights and interests of service providers at the port, including but not limited to commercial port users.
Again, the Saraki’s 8th Senate, it would be remembered, also passed the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets Bill, to create a new specie of capital that can be used in our financial system, as well as, moved to reduce the risks involved in doing business with companies that have the history of not paying back through the Credit Bureau Services Bill; the Witness Protection Bill, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, and, the Whistle Blowers’ Protection Bill, among others.
Apart from the constitution amendment Bill in which the senate adopted 29 Bills, the amendment of the Universal Basic Education Act which extended the right to free education across the country from nine years to twelve years for all children, and which the youngest Nobel laureate, Malala commended Bukola Saraki and the 8th Senate, is most fundamental.
While more endearing and responsible leadership roles are expected from Saraki’s 8th Assembly, especially towards restoring trust, unity, patriotic zeal, and national pride, it is hoped that other public office holders would learn from Saraki’s exemplary humility in trimming down his Aides in national interest, voluntarily refunding his constitutionally guaranteed pension and landmark achievements of the 8th Senate under his leadership. Even more, as the nation has never been so divided along ethnic and religious divides in its 56 years of chequered political history as today, and requires much more than legislative eloquence to earn the support and trust of the people. This underscores why Saraki’s move is worthy of commendation and celebration as by demonstrating such exemplary leadership, public office holders make themselves accountable to the people, and in return, earn maximum support of those whose trust they enjoy for good of nation.