Ministers’ N8.6 billion four-year budget has sparked outrage

Nigerians are outraged, scared, and disturbed after reading in the media that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s newly chosen 48 ministers will take home a whopping N8.6 billion in wages and perks in just four years.

Their concern originated from information provided by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) that the salaries and allowances of ministers will consume N8.63 billion of the country’s limited resources over the next four years.

There is also growing anxiety that the money may rise in value over time, a situation that has enraged and condemned many Nigerians. After the RMAFC completed its recent review of public officials’ remuneration, the story of what the ministers would earn in wages and allowances became public.

This has continued to elicit negative emotions from Nigerians, especially given the current All Progressives Congress-led Federal Government’s commitment to cut the cost of governance while improving people’s living standards.

Many people worry about how the promise of lowering the cost of governance will be realized with 48 ministers earning such a large salary in just four years.

Those peddling this narrative said that Tinubu should have reduced the number of ministries to as few as 33, as former President Goodluck Jonathan did.

Given the country’s fiscal situation, they reasoned, this would have freed up a considerable sum of money for the President to deploy to other sectors of the economy.

Mr. Marcellus Onah, a lawyer who supports this narrative, stated, “Tinubu’s cabinet of 48 ministers appears to be the largest since Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999.” Muhammadu Buhari, his immediate predecessor, had 42 ministers. During his eight years in power, former President Olusegun Obasanjo had 42 ministries. Former President Umar Musa Yar’Adua appointed 39 ministries. Goodluck Jonathan had the fewest ministers, with only 33 remaining from Yar’Adua’s administration. Jonathan later raised the figure to 37, soon before the 2015 general election.

“However, Tinubu is here appointing 48 ministers at a time when the country’s fiscal woes are nothing to brag about.” He should be focusing on cutting the cost of governance, as he pledged, rather than adding new expenses.”

However, faced with the reality of high governance costs, as evidenced by ministers’ pay over four years, many Nigerians are urging Tinubu’s administration to resurrect Stephen Oronsaye’s report on civil service reform, which has been gathering dust in the presidential villa since it was submitted in 2011.

Remember that Jonathan established the Presidential Commission on Restructuring and Rationalization of Federal Government Parastatals, Commissions, and Agencies in 2011, led by Oronsaye.

The report was ultimately rejected due to its ‘objective’ content. Oronsaye has advised that the government merge various Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) in order to cut the cost of governance and conserve money for other national challenges.

The report proposed that 38 federal agencies be eliminated, 14 agencies be integrated into the ministries from which they were created, statutory agencies be reduced from 263 to 161, and 52 institutions be combined, among other things. Regrettably, Jonathan abandoned the study after it was submitted, and neither former President Buhari nor the present president has given the report any consideration.

Experts believe that if the government examines the study and reduces the MDAs to 161, the country will save more than N12 trillion. As a result, they are encouraging the government to reconsider the report and consider the possibility of implementing it, even if just partially.

This, they claimed, has become critical in light of the country’s current budgetary woes, in which the country continues to borrow with no strategic repayment strategy other than servicing the rising debts with more than half of the country’s annual budget.

Some may argue that the appointment of ministers is a constitutional matter.

However, there is a counter-argument in some quarters that, while the appointment of ministers is a constitutional matter, which the President would also want to push, he should remember that the same constitution states that one minister is appointed for each state plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, for a total of 37 ministers.

They also want the president to remember that former President Jonathan had only 33 ministers throughout his tenure and that heaven did not collapse during his tenure.

Some argue that if Jonathan had 33 ministers when the economy was booming, Tinubu has no reason not to lower the number of his ministers now that the economy is in shambles and citizens are going through hell just to survive.

“Borrowing by the government has become a national embarrassment.” The government’s debt profile is at an all-time high. Given the government’s current debt profile and the severe hardship being experienced as a result of the removal of fuel subsidies, one would expect the government that is professing renewed hope to emulate Jonathan or even stick to the constitutional requirement of one minister per state, at least for the time being. However, the government continues to act as though everything is well with the country’s economy.

“Obasanjo had 42 ministers when the economy was thriving.” Yar’Adua appointed 39 ministers. Buhari, too, had 42 ministries. They were all presidents when fuel prices were low and necessary necessities were affordable to the average person, yet none of them had more than 42 ministers. Today, there is no subsidy for gasoline, and its impact has permeated practically every part of people’s lives, making survival extremely difficult.

“Yet, the government preaching new hope appoints 48 ministers, the most since the country returned to democracy in 1999.” Where is the renewed hope when people are losing hope almost every day?

“Normally, this government should have considered the economic situation and emulated Jonathan, who did not appoint up to 36 ministers, or even done better than him by appointing fewer than 36 ministers because the country does not have money; the government survives on borrowing.” But, no, politicians must enjoy it at the expense of the populace,” Mike Okaro, a concerned Lagos resident, remarked.

However, adding to the rising alarm about the situation, Dr. Pogu Bitrus, President of the Middle Belt Forum (MBF), expressed his disapproval and stated selecting 48 ministers at this time was unmanageable.

“This is not the first time this has happened in Nigeria.” During the civilian regime, for whatever reason, they appoint a large number of ministers beyond what the constitution allows. It is detrimental to the economy.

“The constitution says a minister per state, which is supposed to be 36 plus one from the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, but because the constitution does not limit the numbers, presidents frequently appoint more than that minimum number.”

“It’s cumbersome; it’s bad for the country, but that’s the state of our democracy.” And keep in mind that in Nigeria, what we call democracy is only a political game employed to satisfy the expectations and interests of political officeholders and the constituencies they represent.

“As a result, I particularly oppose this large and overburdened cabinet structure.” In terms of size, the United States of America is greater than Nigeria, but how many ministers do they have there? In the United States, there are no more than 20 ministers. So the issue is that our ponderous government is not beneficial for our society; it is bad for us and bad for governance.”

He also pushed for the National Assembly to investigate the situation and see what steps may be taken to minimize the number of ministers in Nigeria.

“It is necessary for the National Assembly to revisit this issue in the constitution in order to have a better government that does not overtax taxpayers.”

“Yes, Tinubu is not the first person to do it,” he said, “but what we are saying is that there is a need to legislate on such things so that we can have a better government system that does not consume too much of our lean resources.”

Pogu also cited a significant drain on the economy as one of the consequences of the huge cabinet, owing to the fact that each minister would have a large number of assistants in addition to the wages they would receive from the system.

“Perhaps the President is acting for political reasons rather than considering the economy and the country’s ability to sustain such a structure.”

“What we are saying is that the National Assembly needs to wake up and do what needs to be done so that the presidential system of government does not remain as cumbersome as it is.” This will also ensure greater caution.

“You see, I do not believe in the parliamentary system of government, but it is less cumbersome and more cost-effective because the ministers, including the person who will lead the country, will be chosen from among them as legislators.”

“And, instead of having two portfolios, the governance will be a little less resource-intensive, and everything will be debated in the House, so the executive and the legislature are the same.”

“I’m not sure whether we should develop a Nigerian-specific type of governance to make it less cumbersome than it is now.” Unfortunately, in our current economic scenario, we are still dealing with superfluous ministerial appointments.

“However, we need to tell the National Assembly that it has the authority to amend and add to the constitution, to do what is necessary so that such things can be curtailed and stopped immediately, and to seek a system of governance that is not as costly, including what is happening in the National Assembly,” he said.

Also, Umar Yakubu, Executive Director of the Centre for Fiscal Transparency and Integrity Watch (CefTIW), said it was foolish for President Tinubu to select 48 ministers at a time when the government claimed to be attempting to reduce the cost of governance and produce money.

“The constitutional requirement for appointment specifies one minister from each state and the FCT, for a total of 37.” However, the president has already nominated 11 extra ministers over the constitutional requirement, putting additional strain on the expense of governance and recurrent spending.

“Having 48 ministers is wasteful when other countries are merging.” For example, the United States has only 15 ministries.

“Unfortunately, we are expanding here and adding to the burden of our fiscal crisis.” Official vehicles would be purchased for these ministers, and you can imagine the cost of petrol and maintenance,” he explained.

Again, Hon Yusuf Shehu, an APC chieftain and former member of the Katsina State House of Assembly, called the situation as sad given the hardships Nigerians are facing.

He bemoaned that just approximately 10% of residents in northern states like Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, and Zamfara can afford three square meals each day, while the rest struggle to even afford a meal.

“Some people can’t even afford one meal a day.” Families go two or three days without eating. “It is very unfortunate that only 48 ministers consumed N8.6 billion,” he remarked.

He condemned the type of politics being practiced in Nigeria, which he blamed for the country’s lack of growth.

“Politics in Nigeria is so expensive that leaders don’t consider the situation of the common man,” he explained. Some individuals will faint when they learn that such a large sum will be spent on 48 ministers in only four years.

“Our hospitals are dilapidated, our schools have collapsed, and our roads are in poor condition, but the government is perfectly content spending such a large sum of money on only 48 ministers in only four years.”

“This excludes any other benefits not known to the general public.” This solely includes the salary and benefits. “How can Nigeria progress with such spending on leaders?”

He further emphasized that, given the country’s current suffering as a result of the withdrawal of fuel subsidies, currency exchange, and naira change, the government should have reconsidered spending such a large sum of money on ministers.

“If ministers truly work for the people, they should sit down and negotiate a reduction in their salaries and allowances because the money is too large.” “They should be aware that people are in pain,” he remarked.

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