President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo struck the right chord in the heart of Nigerians when they opted to forgo half of their salaries. This is coming weeks after Kaduna State governor Malam Nasir el-Rufai announced, shortly after his inauguration, that he and his deputy would collect only half of their salaries.

Cost of Governance: Pay Cuts Are a Good Start, but Not Enough [NVS StandPoint] /

The decision by Nigeria’s top two citizens is commendable against the backdrop of the nation’s dire finances, a product of declining oil revenue, which has resulted in a diminished federation account and an inability on the part of many states to pay their workers’ salaries for many months.  The expectation is that these sacrifices will cause a ripple effect across all arms of Government and at all levels.

NVS hopes that governors and legislators at federal and state levels who are yet to take a cue from the President and Governor el-Rufai would see a reason to do so. However, we wish to stress that public office holders should be allowed to do this out of their own conviction and volition, rather than be pressured to take pay cuts for public acclaim only to find other ways to loot the treasury.

Beyond Pay Cuts

NVS wishes to state that, in the context of Nigeria’s current financial predicament, voluntary pay cuts by public officials may be powerful symbolic gestures but they are inadequate to address the nation’s revenue and spending problems.

Drastic actions are required at all levels to reduce the fiscal cost of governance and to better manage the nation’s shrinking resources. In this regard, we urge the federal and state governments to address factors that contribute to the high cost of governance.

The government should, for a start, streamline duplicitous government agencies, plug loopholes and avenues for corruption in state bureaucracy, take steps to recover stolen assets, remove subsidies on pilgrimages, cancel import duty waivers, and sanitize the fuel subsidy payment regime while working to end the system by resuscitating the nation’s refining capacity.

We recommend to other public officials President Buhari’s ascetic disposition, the latest manifestation of which is his recent rejection of exotic bulletproof cars worth over N400 million. Although the president has led by example in this respect, he could do a lot more, and should sell at least two third of the aircraft in the 12-aircraft presidential fleet.

We also recommend the example of Malam El-Rufai, who, at the start of Ramadan, abolished the practice of the state government providing Muslim faithful in the state with free meals. Both the federal and state governments should do away with similar giveaways that deplete public resources but add little value to the economy. Simply put: the state should not be in the business of subsidizing the personal religious or social obligations of individual citizens.

A good number of state governors are still reported to travel along with a retinue of aides in chartered jets or private aircraft. Even in healthier fiscal times, this would constitute egregious abuse of state resources. In the present circumstances of financial difficulty and stalled governance, it is almost criminal.

In the longer term, serious constitutional considerations should be given to reducing the number of federating units and the number of federal and state agencies. The same long-term constitutional fix should include making legislative duties a part-time endeavor, and merging the Senate and the House of Representatives into a single unicameral legislature.