John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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The Cost of Nigerian Governance

by John Campbell
August 27, 2013

General view of the Nigerian National Assembly as Chinese President Hu Jintao gives his address in Abuja April 27, 2006. (Afolabi Sotunde/Courtesy Reuters)


Oby Ezekwesili on August 19 in Abuja said that Nigeria spent over one trillion naira on National Assembly members since 2005. That is about U.S. $6.2 billion. Mrs. Ezekwesili is a former minister of education, former minister of solid minerals, and World Bank vice president for the African region. She went on to say that 82 percent of Nigeria’s budget goes for “recurrent expenditure;” essentially keeping the doors open. She noted a recent UK report that identified Nigerian legislators as the highest paid in the world.

Her remarks were made in the keynote address at a conference on the “Cost of Governance in Nigeria.” The conference was organized by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), a Nigerian non-governmental organization, with help from the Federal Public Administrative Reform Program in the UK.

Ezekwesili’s remarks also contained thoughtful observations about Nigerian governance and her service in the Obasanjo administration that are well worth reading. She offers suggestions for moving forward that are thought-provoking. One of the latter is to move to part-time legislators as a way to bring down costs. She observed that to be a part-time legislator, “you must have means of livelihood so that you won’t have to depend on public funds.” That might also help address the endemic problem of corruption.

Predictably, some members of the National Assembly are utterly rejecting Ezekwesili’s remarks and dismiss her figures out of hand. Others, in effect, claim that the executive is worse than the legislative branch. One legislator accused her of “blackmail, the sole aim is to seek headlines.” Ezekwesili has long campaigned for improved governance in Nigeria. Often the response has been vicious personal attacks against her.

Ezekwesili’s basic point seems to me to be irrefutable. The costs of Nigerian governance are exceptionally high, and the benefits of that governance accrue to a small number of elites who demonstrate too little concern for the welfare of the Nigerian people.

Ezekwesili brings impeccable credentials to a discussion of the costs of governance. She is a chartered accountant who trained with Deloitte and Touché, the international accounting firm. She has a Masters of Public Administration from the Kennedy School at Harvard. She is a confounder of Transparency International. She has also worked with Prof. Jeffrey Sachs at the Center for International Development at Harvard. Her ministerial tenures in the Obasanjo administration were genuinely reformist. She is a senior economic adviser to George Soros’s Open Society Foundation. Among the boards she sits on is a telecommunications firm, the World Wildlife Fund, and the Center for Global Leadership at Tufts.

Post a Comment 4 Comments

  • Posted by Chike

    I’m not going to be politically correct, so I’ll take a contrarian position.

    Virtually all law makers in Africa demand high salaries and it’s easy to see why: Africa’s unique political economy.

    How does one become a legislator in Nigeria & why does one become a legislator in Nigeria? Who funds electoral campaigns and how are electoral campaigns funded? How much does an average electoral campaign cost in Nigeria?

    There is a very weak legal system in Nigeria, so even if we had campaign finance laws, they’d be very difficult to implement.

    I’m not that bothered about high salaries for legislators if that’s the price we have to pay to ensure they don’t pilfer money from elsewhere.

    The “part-time legislator” concept sounds good on paper and will be perfectly suited for Sweden or Norway, not any African nation & definitely not Nigeria.

    Nobody is going to risk/her life on Nigeria’s bad roads for that kind of “national service”. Nigerians used to be “patriotic”, but since Babangida (and the attendant psychological impact of being a few circumstances away from poverty), you CANNOT expect that kind of “patriotism” from Nigerians.

    On the overall theme of cost of governance, I agree it is too high & should be cut. But anyone who believes a group of people in Nigeria will serve the nation well without being EXTREMELY well compensated is naive.

    Finally, Ezekwesili was part of an administration that did virtually nothing to reduce the cost of government. In fact, it ballooned under that administration’s watch. Why isn’t that considered?

    It is very easy to write recommendations and campaign “against the cost of government”, but the reality is a bit more different.

  • Posted by HISSSM Nubian Emperor

    Fellow Nigerians home and abroad, we under pay the police, under fund their training, and expect excellent service with impeccable appliance of the law, including non corrupt practice.

    Yet we pay the highest wages in the world to the Legislators law makers, with near much unlimited funds to cover expenses, yet they do not perform up to par, they under work, over abuse, have created policies that punish the poor, and the economy for the poor has become extreme, while education reflects the National Assembly in corruption stakes regards students and cults, hence ASUU and strike.

    Whilst this shows that over paying does not mean better government, since our Assembly has been founded many industries has closed, infrastructure has collapsed, we are now a country of dream killers, where potential is snuffed out.

    Should it be the money that entices people to become legislators or patriotism with intention to improve the nation to its Greatness that has been abandoned since, it became all about the individual pocket. Many have a right to talk as they are more proficient but we looking in most times feel ashamed at all the excuses.

    HISSSM Nubian Emperor
    COO e.n.r.g.g.i

  • Posted by Tekay Montgomery

    Its refreshing to experience well founded and meaningful contribution towards achieving success in governance.

    Like it or not, the truth will always prevail and burying one’s head in the sand never did work. The notion of opposing the observations made is indicative of resistance to change for better. Nevertheless, such oppositions are part of the transition process.

  • Posted by Franklin Nnebe

    The late great author Chinua Achebe in his book Things Fall Apart wrote a poignant tale about political representation. I quote the tale below and just want to add that a major reason why Nigeria fails is not only because it suffers from such bad governance but also because the constituents with a few examples such as Oby Ezekwesili are unwilling to enforce accountability on the leadership. Indeed, until the long suffering common Nigerian feels as strongly about governance as they do with English premier league soccer and hold the leaders accountable they will continue to literally urinate on the collective heads of Nigerians by voting to increase their private salaries with public funds.

    The Feast in the Sky (Things Fall Apart)

    “Once upon a time, all the birds were invited to a feast in the sky. They were very happy and began to prepare themselves for the great day. They painted their bodies with red cam wood and drew beautiful patterns on them with uli.

    Tortoise saw all these preparations and soon discovered what it all meant….As soon as he heard of the great feast in the sky his throat began to itch at the very thought. There was a famine in those days and Tortoise had not eaten a good meal for two moons.

    Tortoise had no wings, but he went to the birds and asked to be allowed to go with them. ‘We know you too well,’ said the birds when they had heard him. ‘You are full of cunning and you are ungrateful. If we allow you to come with us you will soon begin your mischief.’

    “‘You do not know me,’ said Tortoise, ‘I am a changed man. I have learned that a man who makes trouble for others is also making it for himself.’

    “Tortoise had a sweet tongue, and within a short time all the birds agreed that he was a changed man, and they each gave him a feather, with which he made two wings.

    “At last the great day came and Tortoise was the first to arrive at the meeting place. When all the birds had gathered together, they set off in a body. Tortoise was very happy and voluble as he flew among the birds, and he was soon chosen as the man to speak for the part because he was a great orator.

    “There is one important thing which we must not forget,’ he said as they flew on their way. ‘When people are invited to a great feast like this, they take new names for the occasion. Our hosts in the sky will expect us to honor this age-old custom.’

    “None of the birds had heard of this custom but they knew that Tortoise, in spite of his failings in other directions, was a widely traveled man who knew the customs of different peoples. And so they each took a new name. When they had all taken, Tortoise also took one. He was to be called All of you.

    “At last the party arrived in the sky and their hosts were very happy to see them. Tortoise stood up in his many-colored plumage and thanked them for their invitation. His speech was so eloquent that all the birds were glad they had brought him, and nodded their heads in approval of all he said. Their hosts took him as the king of the birds, especially as he looked somewhat different from the others.

    “After kola nuts had been presented and eaten, the people of the sky set before their guests the most delectable dishes Tortoise had even seen or dreamed of…There was pounded yam and also yam pottage cooked with palm-oil and fresh fish. There were also pots of palm-wine. When everything had been set before the guests, one of the people of the sky came forward and tasted a little from each pot. He then invited the birds to eat.

    But Tortoise jumped to his feet and asked; ‘For whom have you prepared this feast?’

    “‘For all of you,’Replied the man.

    “Tortoise turned to the birds and said; ‘You remember that my name is All of you. The custom here is to serve the spokesman first and the others later. They will serve you when I have eaten.’

    “He began to eat and the birds grumbled angrily. The people of the sky thought it must be their custom to leave all the food for their king. And so Tortoise ate the best part of the food and then drank two pots of palm-wine, so that he was full of food and drink and his body filled out in his shell.

    “The birds gather round to eat what was left and to peck at the bones he had thrown all about the floor. Some of them were too angry to eat. They chose to fly home on an empty stomach. But before they left each took back the feather he had lent to Tortoise. And there he stood in his hard shell full of food and wine but without any wings to fly home. He asked the birds to take a message for his wife, but they all refused. In the end Parrot, who had felt more angry than the others, suddenly changed his mind and agreed to take the message.

    “Tell my wife,’ said Tortoise, ‘to bring out all the soft things in my house and cover the compound with them so that I can jump down from the sky without very great danger.’

    “Parrot promised to deliver the message, and then flew away. But when he reached Tortoise’s house he told his wife to bring out all the hard things in the house. And so she brought out her husband’s hoes, machetes, spears, guns and even his cannon.

    Tortoise looked down from the sky and saw his wife brings things out, but it was too far to see what they were. When all seemed ready he let himself go. He fell and fell and fell until he began to fear that he would never stop falling. And then like the sound of his cannon he crashed on the compound.”

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