Africa viewpoint: Spendthrift nation

A child looks towards an abandoned oil well head leaking crude oil in Kegbara Dere, Ogoni, Nigeria Where has all the money gone considering Nigeria makes $50m a day from oil?

In our series of viewpoints from African journalists, Sola Odunfa considers money matters.

It appears Nigeria is entering would could be called a period of insolvencies.

Former Nigerian Head of State General Yakubu Gowon General Yakubu Gowon ruled Nigeria from 1966 to 1975

That may surprise you, coming so soon after all the talk of multi-billion dollar budgets and junkets "to cheer up the boys" for the now-ended football World Cup in South Africa.

Many Nigerians cannot understand this new vocabulary of insolvency because they still swear by the gospel, preached in the 1970s by the then military head of state General Yakubu Gowon, that Nigeria's problem was not money but how to spend it.

The first government entity to be hit by this financial crisis was the national petroleum corporation, which manages the country's 2m barrels a day crude oil production.

Even at a depressed $50 a barrel in very bad times, the corporation would net a handsome $50m (about £31.7m) every day of the year.

You may then understand the shock when a junior minister said last month that the corporation was flat broke.

My friend, it was no joking matter.

Within hours of his comments, Nigerians were asking, where has all the money gone?

Blue or red ink?

The nation may be ranked among the most corrupt by its detractors - and they are many - but siphoning all that money would be beyond even Satan.

Start Quote

You may need to think twice before condemning impoverished illiterate voters who demand money for their ballot when electioneering campaigns begin later this year”

End Quote Sola Odunfa

The Federal Executive Council wasted no time giving the answer everybody wanted to hear: The petroleum corporation was far from being broke - its accounts were entered in indigo blue!

Then, billionaire industrialist Aliko Dangote petitioned the government over alleged mismanagement at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, suggesting that it was heavily in the red and investors' funds were being meddled with.

The exchange promptly issued a statement giving a picture of robust health

But Mr Dangote was not just another member of the exchange - he was president of its council and his word therefore could not be dismissed lightly.

The Securities and Exchange Commission responded by launching an investigation into the affairs of the stock exchange but it also sacked Mr Dangote, his council, and the chief executive of the exchange last week.

Yet the biggest worry is that the government itself could become broke because of the uncontrollable greed of the legislature.

This concern has been raised by none other than former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

A man shows his crude-oil covered hands near an abandoned leaking well head in Kegbara Dere, Ogoni, Nigeria Politicians in Nigeria, a major oil producer, are among the highest-paid in the world

Mr Obasanjo says the legislators have become a financial burden on the nation's lean purse.

He is worried about something many of us have been bothered about for many years, that is, how much it costs to maintain each member of Nigeria's Senate and House of Representative.

Like most Nigerians, the ex-president can only guess.

He says he believes it is about $1.7m a year per senator. A representative takes slightly less.

There are 109 senators and 360 representatives in the National Assembly.

The bulk of the money they take is described as "constituency allowance", a payment received by each legislator to maintain a constituency office and to launch an economic or infrastructure development programme.

The outrage is that this and other allowances are determined by the legislators themselves and paid in bulk by the government into the coffers of the legislature for disbursement to individuals.

'Vampires'

There is no independent audit of this expenditure.

Four men stand behind a ballot box at a polling station in Bodo, Ogoni, Nigeria [14 April 2007] Nigeria is due to hold general elections next year

Law professor Itse Sagay says Nigerian politicians are among the highest-paid in the world.

A columnist in the Lagos newspaper The Punch calculates that, "more than 70% of national income now goes into paying salaries and allowances of political office holders".

The legislators, irrespective of parties, seem to have become vampires on the nation's democracy, and there is little or nothing Nigerians can do about it.

The constitution allows legislators to do what they are doing and only they can amend the document, unless, of course, as the frustrated lawyer, Ben Nwabueze, pointed out last month, some revolutionaries emerge to clean up the system forcefully.

Now, you may need to think twice before condemning impoverished illiterate voters who demand money for their ballot when electioneering campaigns begin later this year.

Their votes may be irrelevant to the results.

If you would like to comment on Sola's latest column, please use the postform. A selection of views will be published below.

It remains a fact that the Nigerian society has endured more than what people who have an idea of what existence should be like could possibly endure. Corruption is on a grand scale and infrastructure is decaying. Public institutions are a pain and every engagement with them leaves a bad feeling. The political class should bear the responsibitlity of the degree of progress made and the people of the country must rise up to determine their future. The next elections is a good opportunity... provided the police and other security agencies allow people to exercise their franchise.

Philip Dashak, Maiduguri, Nigeria

If there's no accountability, no checks and balances and a Nigerian MP earns $1.7 million a year as 'contituency allowances', when more than half of the population live impoverished lives, then this simply helps to answer the recent question if Nigeria is a failed state or not? Ultimately this generation will either fulfill their destiny and that of the nation or they will betray it.

Akin, London, United Kingdom

There is nothing like election in Nigeria. It is the kingmakers or cabbals who decide who wins the election. Election in Nigeria for all I know is for formality, an avenue to sipphon money and to appease the international community. There have been cases whereby ballot in boxes were more than the population of the area. The illiterate voters are right to demand money for their vote even though it doesn't count because that is the only time they will get their fair share of the national cake. I don't know where my senators office is and none of the senators that have represented Edo State set up any programe to help the state, provide jobs for the jobless or anything elese. It is time for the senators to give account of what they do with the constituent allowance that they receive. Lack of accountabilty would mean that the senator can marry a thirteen year old for $100,000, more concubines, buy exotic cars and build houses they don't even sleep. With the present state of things in Nigeria, the future of the younger generation have been mortgaged. If Nigeria must move forward, corruption must be brought to its knees and corrupt officials brought to justice.

Omorodion Osula, Boston, USA

One doesn't need to be clairvoyant to see d dark horizon across the cloud of nigeria's future! Individual nigerians are successful but as a nation we have failed! Dishonesty characterises leadership at all levels and sadly the revolution required to flush out the set of thieves running the polity is far from beginning! I weep for nigeria!

Ekitumi ofagbor, Ilorin, Nigeria

The nation is full of insane people because the same thing is repeated always but expecting different result. Since independence succesive governments have been consistent with wasting funds and embarking on projects which are not fit for purpose. The nation can only move forward if no citizen is immune from prosecution & those found guilt of stealing should face death penalty while the proceed of the crime is sold & distributed to the vocal slenders.

Kaye Kuye, London

The United States Congress spends on average about $174,000 on rank and file House and Senate Members. That is, 10% of what a Nigerian Senator receives yearly is what his American counterpart makes. The President of the United States, the most powerful politician on earth makes about $400000 a year! We are a sick nation if incompetent folks, some of whom never show up for their legislative and executive duties continue to drain resources in the name of governance.

Josiah Zubairu, Nigeria/USA

It would be nice if exact Naira and educational level of each of the legislators are published. It seems like my one plus one is no longer equal to two. Correct me if I am wrong! No good road because there is no money. No good comunication system in Nigeria. No accountability for what the money was used for! These are some few lame escuses we will be runing into each time. And .......

James Igwe, Enugu, Nigeria

We are just kidding ourselves if we think Nigeria is going to progress with these sets of political thugs, hooligans and kleptomaniacs in the national assembly and beyond. If Nigerians can't collectively bind together and fight for what rightfully belongs to them, I'm afraid the future looks bleak for the next generation!!!

CJ Wab, Lagos, Nigeria

Could anyone explain how a foreign reserve of close to 50billion dollars suddenly hovers around iess than 40 billion dollars all within a period of two to three yrs.These vampires are gradually running the country down a steep cliff and if this slide continues unchecked, we might soon end up with an empty coffer as a foreign reserve.

simpson george, mechelen, Belgium

Nigeria as a nation has suffered alot in the hands of it's indigens especially our so called "senators". corruption as we all know has gone far and eaten deep into our system. And as for the revolution that has been earlier mentioned; when it rises ; i will surely be a part of it! i'm a young nigerian living in niamey: niger rep. and seeing what is going on back home breaks my heart.

christian levi ezenwaka, anambra, nigeria

I agree with Ben Nwabueze, except "some revolutionaries emerge to clean up the system forcefully." If not Nigerians will still be ruled by extreme corrupt politicians.

Vincent Duruji, Madrid, Spain

Everybody seems to know the problem with Nigeria but very few people seem to profer any solution. Why don't we all start in our own little way by doing the right things: showing our disapproval when a member of our family in the civil service builds a big mansion and buys a big car which we all know he can ill afford on his salary, showing consideration for others in our daily lives, and seeking to do the best that we can both at home and abroad to make others respect us and our country. As they say, charity begins at home.

anthony ogunfeibo, london, England

Interesting summary of what the "common" man in Nigeria has known and observed for the past 10 years of democracy. The sickening orgy of allowances being approved on an almost monthly basis under the most frivolous excuses continues to leave a very bitter taste in the mouths of the millions of poverty stricken Nigerians. As a citizen and observer, I sincerely hope that Nigerian politicians have the foresight to understand that there needs to be a rapid and fundamental change in public accountability standards otherwise the country would collectively be courting disaster.

Bunmi Idowu-Kuola, Isle of Man, UK

The French Revolution created one of the best nations in the world today, JJ Rawlings started the Good Governancy theorem in Ghana and President Obama demonstrated the result, up to the world football cup level, Ghana remains the African model in the south african show! which way Nigeria? Apparently you are not a country but an amalgamation.

omokogboh akin, France

O! God, please help us, our nation Nigeria we commit into your dear hands. As for our politicians, they are worse than the pain of death. They have driven, and are yet driving the nations to doom, despair, and financial insolvency. Worse still, these men have no conscience, no vision, and nothing to offer to the common Nigerian.

Dr Stanley Chinonso Ezeanyika, Sheffield, UK

we love you Nigerians, we are in the world where everybody must benefit from what he or she does. they not doing anything bad, just sharing national cake according to eachs capacity. if you have no capacity then, there should be nothing for you. "no bait no fish". fight hard and you will get your share, blow up the pipes and you will also earn something for the kids and wifes in the house. thank you brother sola, but get this well "this is africa".

Kabu Acro Jon, Accra, Ghana

We've been lulled into a state where many Nigerians do not care anymore what goes on in the political circle. we no longer see this country as "our country" so nobody expects any good from her. we have switched to "survival mode" so politicians now have the liberty to do whatsoever they desire; and nobody can bring them to account for their actions.

Chudi, Asaba, Nigeria

Where has all the oil money gone?, what a stupid question to ask of the most corrupt country on the planet. Successive governments have been " helping themselves" to what they consider their share of the takings & no one has ever been prosecuted. Dishonesty is top of everyones list & you will never flush out the culprits as there is always a replacement waiting in the wings to jump into the vacant spot, take their turn & help themselves.

Leslie, Dartford, Kent

With all due respect to the saying of others on this platform.I believe in the revolution of the nation called Nigeria irrespective of the high rate of corruption in the country.All this menace can only stop if we the youth will take our stand and say NO to there intimidation.Standing don't mean that you stand only,you try to lecture other people about the important of the vote.Because the vote is their power.

joel, Isolo, Lagos, Nigeria

Corruption is a free-for-all indulgence in Nigeria because there is no stiff punishment for perpetrators. As long as this behaviour continues to be positively reinforced, there will not be a stop to it. The good thing is, the nigerian people do have what it takes to rid the nation of this ravaging beast.Let the tens of millions of concerned nigerians sponsor a bill to the national assembly to enact a law that will make convicted corrupt offenses punishable by life imprisonment with hard labour, no option of fine & forfeiture of all illegally acquired wealth. This to an extent will be a deterrent to others.

Kenneth Nnabo, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

Your country doesn't need to be in some economic or political turmoil or to stretch it a bit further, to be in a civil war for it to be regarded as being a 'failed state'. Nigeria my good people, is a failed state. The guy who said the problem was in spending the money was right and it's a problem that is spreading like a cancer across Africa where governments are building white elephants with money made from selling their resources. The western governments and multi-nationals are equally to blame as they arethe ones who normally profit from such infrastracture and ludicrous spending.

Tapiwa Machinga, London

There was a report that each of the members of the dishonourable house gets 1,400 dollars for lunch each day. Apart from other allowances like house allowance, kitchen allowance, wardrobe allowance, etc. It is not surprising knowing how much these criminals pay sex workers each day to sleep with them. A recent report puts it that some pay as much as 2000 dollars a night with prostitutes. From all indications, Nigeria is doomed. The executive is corrupt,the judiciary is corrupt,the legislative is corrupt, the masses are corrupt, the corporate Nigeria is corrupt, I see no future in that country except there is a forceful flushing out of these criminals in power.

derenle, Portugal

Corruption is the bane of our society and every Nigerian is either guilty or is an accessory to it. It has become so institutionalized in the society that we all have accepted it as a fact of life. We cannot, then blame the distinguished senators for their jumbo salaries and their desire to further increase it to justify their lavish lifestyles. Are we complaining now because the figures are so obscene when compared to the rest of the society? It is their legal entitlement as distinguished senators, I think we should be more concerned with the ones they take under the table. Truth be told very few if they become senators overnight would stand and complain that the salary is too much. And there lies the problem, most Nigerians as long as they are benefiting in any way will gladly justify any injustice. As we hear every day why should it change now that it is my turn? Until we all instill a collective conscience for the common good instead of the individualistic one, not much will change. And until then, all we can do is to continue to write and pray that one day God will come down and change what we can all collectively achieve any day we set our minds to it.

OBI MBONU, Port Harcourt, Nigeria

This over-laboured horse (oil production) is going to kaput soon, and then we would all become sober. Then the marriage of convenience called Nigeria may then come to an awful end. Nigerian politicians are all devil worshippers!

Taiwo Olaniyi, Birmingham, UK

It is so unfortunate that our political class has turned Nigeria to a 'big for nothing' nation. If the UK is blessed with just a quarter of what we have in Nigeria, they would have started building estates in the sky. My fear is that the corruption has become a cankerworm - almost everybody (about 99.9%of Nigerians) are now used to living corruptly. Even banks and expatriate organisations are not exempted. The solution, I think, is to cleanse the system - remove all the current crop of politicians, strip the corrupt businessmen of their ill-gotten wealth and import responsible Nigerians from abroad with lawmakers and MPs from America and the United Kingdom to help rebuild and restore sanity to Nigeria. No amount of reform under the present leadership in Nigeria can revive that nation. The only credible leader in Nigeria today is a worldwide renown Christian leader of the Redeemed Christian Church of GOD, but if he has not been called to lead Nigeria as a politician. There might be few others who are not prominent. Again, there is the problem of the North and South politics. While I am not an advocate of two-Nigeria, the almagamation of North and South remains the undoing for Nigeria's stunted development, lack of progress and corruption.

Kunle Esho, London, UK

Disappointed that Ret. Gen Olusegun Obasanjo (two times leader of the Federal Republic) is contributing to this discussion after 8 years in office without anything to show for it except the introduction of GSM. His party is still in government and controls both houses of parliament, so he can use his influence within the party to start the campaign.

Kabiru Olajire, London, UK

All Nigerian both at home and abroad should wake up and stand up for these thieves that rules our country. We all should refuse their common vote me and receive a chicken change money. I demand that all Nigerians should not vote except the constitution is changed to reflect the general needs of the common people, and to establish a proportionate representation among various tribes in Nigeria to avoid a particular area having more representation than others. Let their be young new blood, graduates that respects the values of the common Nigerians and not politicians that is only there to represent their wives, children, girlfriends and concubines and to sustain flambouyant oversea trips and million oversea houses. Every governor and their commissioners should be hold accountable for the failings in their duties and projects of the state entrusted to them. The entire country and state constitution should be changed with immediate effect. Report all sorts of bribery and corruption especially among waiting you carry Nigerian police. All the former Nigerian President and governors should be hold accountable for the failed Nigeria and Nigerian economy and they should be brought to justice including Gen Olusegun Obasanjo.

Stella Almeida, Southwark, London

Referring Vincent Duruji's points, It baffles me that Nigerians would present the problems but few will come up with solutions. Even when the solution is just within reach, Nigerians will go round and round the circle in an attempt to get the solution that is just next door! They give 1.7 million dollars to each member in the legislature for practically doing nothing yet they cry fowl over 18,000 naira minimum wage. It is just so painful that we are all here writing all these oyibo while our country is sliding away into oblivion and a failed state. Pretty soon Somali will be better of.........What a pity!

Nick Ifinedo, Helsinki, Finland

With the way Nigeria is going, I think there will be another war in that country someday, But i don't pray for that to happen. My last Visit to Nigeria early this year, i was so impress with what Fashola has done in lagos. I think he is the only politician i knew in Nigeria that is trustworthy and he should be allow to be the next president if they want Nigeria to move forward. for the likes of our old presidos they should be held to give account for the atrocities that they commited during their term. All those thieves that we call politician always travel to Ameerica, Europe, some of them also visit tokyo, but i wonder why they don't have conscience. Or the don't have the fear of God in them. Anyway, the war am talking about is not war between ourself but between Nigeria and the so-called politicians. May God resue Nigeria from the Hand of those wicked and heartless souls.

Abayomi M Egbayelo, Tokyo, Japan

Has anyone ever been faced with those unending system freezez and corrupt applications that defies any reasonable solution but formatting? I say Nigeria needs a complete system format! The world will look the other way while the process is going on, we can only write our own chapters and hence history! The swansong now is credible elections. Credible elections to elect who? Even if you are able to keep the wolves at bay, which i doubt, who do you then elect? Unqualified and ill-equipped candidates who knows next to nothing about why they are going to be elected or people who are not even fit to lead their own homes? Do you just elect people just tor rule over an electorate who no next to nothing about what their basic rights are? I think the issue is first, determine what we want. A functional, compact and focused issue and goal driven government or a continuation of the expansion of a corrupt ridden bureaucracy? An enlightment of the polity about why we need this kind of government and what it means for the people. Then we can organise credible elections, but not before that. otherwise the entire process will just be fulfilling a bogus inappropriate requirement of the international community, which somehow, we have always managed to stage every four years. Nigeria simply put, has governments bigger than the states they are meant to govern!

Oreasunma, Oran, Algeria

Nigeria's system of politics has been described as "neo-patrimonial" or "clientelistic". If one analyses Nigeria's political economy in this way, it becomes clear that the "constituency payment" and other oil revenue payments are the glue that binds the entire system. By supporting members of their contituency with these payments, politicians and administrators in Nigeria ensure legitimacy and authority that would otherwise be absent. Whilst this prevents a devastating "Balkanisation" of Nigeria, the current system is a barrier to development. Nigerians and outside observers must hope that the next decade sees a more rational-bureaucratic distribution of oil revenues and a rejection of current modes of wealth distribution.

Joe Tuckett, London, UK

The problem with Nigeria is not political; it is social. Politicians everywhere are the cream of the society that nurtures them. And why do Nigerians continue to elect corrupt officials if society is generally not corrupt?

Johnson, New York, USA

People should stop praying to God to help Nigeria, we should get up ourselves and help ourselves. God has already blessed us immensely! I think we expect him to come down from heaven physically to fix everything for us. Nigerians, we really are fooling ourself. It's only a person content with what he has that doesn't strive to make his life better. We sit down and complain that the country is bad and that our leaders are corrupt, but what do we do to make things better, sit down, whine and talk politics (besides who is to say that if we ourselves should be given the position of senator, we would not sit down and 'chop' ourselves). Please leave God out of it, get off your bums and DO something. God has done his own, the ball is in our court.

Saya, London

Nigeria is at the mercy of a primitive group of desperately wicked men and women who see politics as a lucrative business opportunity. To them, governance is about enjoyment hence the issue of zoning political office is a thorny do or die affair. Not one of them is there to serve and build our nation. It is about how much they make, how many cars they own, houses around the world, fly first class while our infrastucture and frontline services suffer criminal neglect and decay. Nigerians must wake up, get involved in the 2011 elections by standing for election, voting massively and defending their votes. The revenue formular must be reversed to empower majority of Nigerians at the local government level instead of pampering unproductive and selfish politicians in Abuja enjoying more perks than USA, UK, French and German legislators put together. Imagine $1.7 million each lawmaker per anuum. They are 90 senators + 360 MPs. Do the math.

Barney Akwenuke, London

Nigerian Leanders are simply stupid people, they are paid lots of money for doing nothing, you see the leaders in the street of london enjoying well organised structure around town, spending money, while can they emulates the structure of a good government, shame on you Nigerian Leaders.

OSAS, UK

Africa, Africa and Africa our be love Continent and Nigeria, Nigeria and Nigeria our great country why are you people treating us this way now, whereas you are suppose to be our great leaders in the country now so that our name can be held all over the World but only there drilling our God blessed oil money as a regards of greed and Corruption, in short where do you people want we the young generation to go now and what is our next future to come after all have be drain? Am particularily refering to those 109 senators and 360 representatives in the National Assembly. Remember nothing last for ever, even if the oil is going to be there for ever, know that everything in life have life spam... there is this words we use to say to ourselves in those days when we were still in school - Soldier go Soldier come but Barricks still remain in one place. Nigeria by now is suppose to be a country among the will listed in the world as among the developed as regards to our oil.

charles jossy, Germany

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