Prof. Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River state, has drawn the attention of many critics with his appointment of nine new special assistants on religious matters. Before now, the governor had added to the financial liability of the state, the appointment of over 1,000 aides this year. According to Mr. Christian Ita, the governor’s special adviser on media and publicity, “the appointment of the men of God as special assistants on religious matters is true. The governor had said it repeatedly that he only needs about five per cent of his appointees. So, he deliberately creates these jobs to put food on the table so as to reduce social tension.”
What it means is that each of the special assistants represents the 18 local government areas in the state and were drawn from the three senatorial districts and that the gesture was meant for wealth creation and poverty alleviation. These appointments translate into a total of between 1,250 and 1,300 aides that earn an average of N600,000 per month. Over the years, the cost of governance in Nigeria has continued to be a serious source of concern for many Nigerians. Successive governments have consistently harped put a stop to this waste and misplaced priority. This is because government expenditure has not in any way translated into genuine development for the country because much money is voted for recurrent expenditure at the expense of capital expenditure requirements in critical areas of infrastructure, education and other key sectors that can truly enhance the quality of the life of the people.
It is equally disturbing that these huge allocations have no multiplier effect on the economy and the overall development strategy of the country that is still ranked among the comity of poor nations. The amendment of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution (as amended) could be explored to limit the size of government through drastic reduction in the membership of the federal and state cabinets, including the number of advisers and assistants, who in most cases, have no clear functions and schedule of duties. Rather than continue with this profligacy, those at the helm of affairs should be made to know that many people are suffering in Nigeria and any responsive government would always unfold programmes that benefit a large number of people at the same time not a few.
The prevailing jumbo salaries and emoluments of political office holders and their retinue of aides should be reviewed downwards at the federal and state levels. When this is done as part of the cost-cutting measures, more resources would be freed for developmental purposes. Many Nigerians including the outspoken, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the immediate past Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, have called for a reduction in the cost of governance in the country with a warning that about 70 percent of the Federal Government’s revenue goes into the payment of salaries and entitlements, leaving only 30 percent for development.
This spending pattern does not allow for genuine development. The task of reducing the cost of governance is daunting but imperative if the country should end the wanton waste and misplaced public expenditure that brings misfortune to the socio-economic advancement of the nation. It is paradoxical that despite the huge revenues accruing to the Federal Government, the level of poverty in the country appears to be declining. This is because our expenditure habit does not commensurate with the revenue profile. Hence, the imbalance and distortion in the country’s public finance and the quest for loans and credit facilities. Considering the level of poverty and unemployment pervading the country and the fact that the government is the highest employer of labour, the truth is that it may not be easy to really cut down the size of bureaucracy in the absence of active private sector players.
Therefore, there is a need to drastically reduce the cost of governance. Undoubtedly, the current bureaucracy in the country cannot be sustained in view of the imminent financial crisis and recession fuelled by the coronavirus that ravaged many world economies including Nigeria. It would be recalled that the National Conference adopted the recommendation of its Committee on Religion calling on the government to hands off all religious matters, including the sponsorship of pilgrims to holy lands.
Rather, religious bodies in the country should be given the mandate to handle all religious matters relating to pilgrimage through the pilgrims commissions duly-managed by them under a law passed by the National Assembly to regulate their functions. The conference further recommends that in order to distance the government from involvement in religious matters, no government should use public funds in sponsoring of any religious programme including government functionaries. Unfortunately, the recommendations of the 2014 confab have not been given the deserved attention. Governments should desist from making appointments related to religion because Nigeria is a secular state since religion is a personal thing. It is on this premise that the Cross River state government should stop creating further drain pipes on public finance by looking into the needless appointments.