Change Begins at Wardrobe

I believe the N8.64bn wardrobe allowance meant for  some 460 Nigerians has been paid already. The money could have entered their accounts even before the media reported on the heist. Our opposition to such looting of the treasury since 1999 seems to have yielded nothing. In 1999, it was N5m furniture allowance that each received; it has now jumped to N20-something million each.

It’s of no use crying over spilt milk. The money is already gone. It’s their election expenses allowance. They probably deserve it. If only they could  steal no more, the nation would move forward. But will they stop? Never! The looting spree will continue ad infinitum. Other allowances will be paid quietly.  The wardrobe allowance is coming even before many of them are yet to set foot on the floor of the National Assembly and none of them has begun to do the work for which they were hired.

The head of the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, Elias Mbam, has come to the resue of the legis-looters. He said only N200m was approved for them as wardrobe allowance without mentioning other allowances that gulped N8.64billion. Each would get N500, 000 as wardrobe allowance, he said. So, if the wardrobe allowance is just N500, 000 what has Senator Ben Bruce offered to give Osun workers and widows in his beloved Bayelsa?

I’m yet to understand what the job of RMAFC is. What do they do at RMAFC? Sharing money? Right-sizing of the civil service should start from there. Like those in the Budget Office, many RMAFC officials are candidates for hell because they collect bribes in millions of naira. Ask the head of any  agency how they get their allocations and hear what happens at the treasury department. In a similar way, I suspect,  RMAFC  is  just a drain pipe. One person alone can share all the money in Nigeria by just using one laptop.

I would be disillusioned if President Buhari failed to stop this thievery. I know the thieves that have ruled Nigeria have put laws to protect them in place. But it’s time for change. That’s what Nigerians voted for this year. Change! Change! Change! Any attempt to allow our legis-looters to make away with this loot at a time of great economic uncertainty will mark the beginning of the end of this new regime. The anti-corruption fight would come to an abrupt end.

States cannot pay salaries. Osun, for instance is owing seven months’ arrears of salaries. Pensioners are not paid. Contractors are not paid. All we hear is debt, debt and debt. Nobody knows when the hundreds of billions were borrowed and the purpose for which they were borrowed. Dwindling oil prices? At $67 per barrel, our oil still fetches good money. The price was less than $15 in 1999. Naira’s value? It doesn’t matter. So long as our taste for foreign goods remains unchanged, so long will the naira remain worthless.

Constant pillaging of the public treasury, as the politicians are doing, is what is causing the current austerity. Traders are not selling. Manufacturers are not selling. Wherever you go, everyone is moaning.

Only our lawmakers should be smiling now. Even those in the states (and local governments) must have started salivating. Once the federal lawmakers get their allowances, they would toe the same line. For real change starts from the wardrobe, you know. As “representatives of the people”, their dressing has to change. They shouldn’t be seen dressed like the common people. Change!

Lest our leaders — the change agents — forget the situation of their country, let me repeat some words I had written some nine months ago:

What is responsible for the current cash squeeze in the country? Everywhere you go and wherever you turn, everyone is moaning. Not just the poor and the impoverished. Even the legislators who get paid N15-20m per month for spending weeks on vacation or shouting “aye” and “nay” once a week are scratching their soup-pots in search of lumps of meat.

Money is not circulating because the amount shared by the three tiers of government has reduced significantly. The anti-terror war is taking a very large chunk; oil thieves are enjoying the best of times; and government agencies are conserving money with which to fight the 2015 elections. Treasury thieves are everywhere trying to get money for politics. Karl Marx said that economics determines politics. In Nigeria, it’s the other way: politics determines economics. Nigerian politics has become toxic and so has the Nigerian economy. Do I need to explain?

You need to converse with heads of government agencies to understand how Nigeria is plundered. To get the allocation meant for an agency, the head or heads have to bribe both lawmakers on “oversight functions” and civil servants in the relevant offices. It is one reason the agencies are currently overstaffed: senators, honourable members, directors and perm secs are constantly sending lists of people that must be employed.

And how does one get appointed to offices in government agencies? The primary condition is for them to “deliver” hundreds of millions of naira to their godfathers when the politics race begins. Competence is never considered; the ability to steal undetected is what matters. Former and future thugs have worked as commissioners in many states. Knowing that government business is “lucrative”, politicians fight hard to get into the business…

The ultimate nightmare is not far ahead. As John Kennedy said, “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” War kills the rich as well as the poor. And, under such state of emergency, everyone can afford to be lawless. Seeking refuge in better managed countries won’t help our thieving leaders.





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