By Banji Ojewale
Far north of Nigeria, a state governor directs all public officials to withdraw their children from private schools and move them to government-owned ones.
About the same time, the celibate daughter of a former Vice-President just sworn-in as a commissioner in one of the troubled north-eastern states forswears enormous wages and allowances waiting for her. Later, a pressure group somewhere in a state down south calls on the authorities to ban those in government from travelling abroad for medicare, whether for therapy or for checkup. Let them do it here in Nigeria. Much earlier the nation’s Spartan president and his equally abstemious deputy announce a cut in their pay.
It’s all in the air; the change aura suggesting times have changed. It’s a lean dawn when you can’t lean on government again. These are days that tell you a lean government is itself seeking where to lay its own lean and languid head.
Let us comfort and heal this land, battered and violated like a woman over the decades by so-called lovers who have only milked her dry out of her beauty.
A diet of half measures won’t deliver this broke and broken nation from the salivating and insatiable palate of these public office holders and their fellow carrion eaters.
Let what we do with these lean times become a leverage for our comeback.
So I come forth with the proposition that the answer to the outcry over what most of us correctly perceive as the ginormous pay regime of public office holders and their crowd of aides is to abolish wages for them altogether. National service, via election or selection, should be sacrificial and ought not to be made to attract emoluments that negate that grundnorm.
When you opt to serve, you don’t go to make money. You go there to be the people’s server, their servants, not to be served by their money and sweat. You don’t go into public office to help yourself as our leaders do when they allocate to themselves egregious wages that end up pulverising and pauperising the land.We can halt this unproductive trend by abolishing pay for all categories of political office holders.
In the system I am proposing all those who serve will be maintained by the state. Since no pay would accrue to them directly, all that they need for their upkeep would be provided by the state. The education of their children, if they still have that responsibility, should be the burden of the nation. Such offspring must attend state owned schools-primary, secondary and tertiary. The only exemption is where infant education is required in private centers. But at age 4, 5or 6 these children will be expected to move to government schools. Should the kids be abroad in elite institutions or here in private ones, they must be withdrawn for schooling in public schools in Nigeria. It is stating the obvious to mention that one huge advantage of this course of action would be that our public schools would experience a golden age of transformation. How will the president, governor, senator and the assembly of public office holders leave our public schools the way they are if their people are there?
Benefit number 2 is that our leaders shall no longer have a gargantuan taste for jumbo pay to satisfy huge fees at home and overseas. The consequence? The nation saves money to fix creaking but critical infrastructure and to help the vast majority of the poor.
Those who serve the country in this new dispensation would not need private jets and luxury cars while they are in office. The nation provides their entire family with a car or two, chauffeur-driven, state-serviced. They must not be vehicles meant for the superclass. But they must be highly functional.
The feeding, clothing and accommodation of our leaders along with those of their families would be at the expense of the state. They will never lack on this score. Indeed the provision of these basic needs would be prompt and regular so that they would have no need to regret serving their fatherland. What the state offers must be ascetic but decent. Naturally this would discourage our leaders from developing beer belly or turning State House into a fashion home.
With regard to health care, our leaders and their families should be made to patronize government hospitals. There should be no frivolous medical tourism, as they call trips abroad for health issues. Of course, if it is absolutely necessary our leaders might resort to such travels at full state expense. But this isn’t likely in the long run because as with schools, our leaders would move with the supersonic speed of light to ensure the kitting of our health centers with the most advanced equipment science and technology can afford. Would they want the hospitals they and their families patronise to be “mere consulting clinics” as one military dictator cheekily described them when he announced a coup that overthrew a democratically elected government? Would they want the hospitals that handle their ailments to be caregivers or death-givers?
I recall that decades ago when Joseph Kennedy was grooming his children for public service in the United States of America, he was said to have warned the kids that if they desired to sustain their good character and the integrity of the family and earn themselves honour in posterity while serving the country they must give and give and expect nothing from America. In order for his boys not to be lured into reaching for the national till and to be free from the corrupting influence of office, the senior Kennedy set aside some good family money for each of them so they “don’t get distracted by considerations of where the next meal would come from… so they get fixated on serving America… with no expectation of monetary rewards.”