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Dollar Salaries For Serving Ministers in Nigeria Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Wilfred Mamah, United Kingdom Feb 27, 2004
Human Rights   Opinions
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I have been following the story of the reported dollar salaries for two serving Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria with interest, disgust and anger.

My interest doubled following the recent report that Gani Fawehinmi has gone to court again. This time around, Gani is not in court to question the independence of INEC or to seek for an open democratic space. He is in court to raise other serious issues of law and to test the legality of the jumbo dollar salaries, being selectively paid two serving Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs. In Gani's suit, I also see an opportunity to test the worn out phrase that the courts are the last hope common people. It would be enriching to see how the court would answer the monumental legal questions, formulated by this legal conscience of our time.

It is not my intention in this article to make any statement that could be construed as a violation of the sub-judice Rule. I will merely highlight some legal issues raised by Gani and then seek to use the toolkit of morality and leadership in analyzing the views of pro-dollar salary advocates. Coincidentally, morality and law do intersect. Although law is not morality, top scholars of jurisprudence agree that there is a level of intersection between the two.

Now to Gani's suit. The suit is filed against the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Joined as defendants are the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Commission, the Minister for Finance, Dr Okonjo Iweala, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Olufemi Adeniji and the Attorney General of the Federation, Akinlolu Olujimi (SAN). The suit is challenging the annual dollar salaries of USD 247,000 about, 36 Million Naira and USD 120, 000, about 17 Million Naira being selectively paid to the Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign affairs respectively.

In this historic suit, the irrepressible, Lagos lawyer wants the court to determine the following questions, among others:

• Whether any public officer, particularly, a minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, is entitled to be paid in foreign currency outside the currency prescribed by "Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowance, etc) Act No 6 of 2002, which prescribes a yearly salary of 794, 085.00 Naira.

• Whether the authorization by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of payment of a minister's salary outside that prescribed in the Act of the National Assembly and in a foreign currency, is not an abuse of power under the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

The fiery lawyer, is also seeking for certain consequential declarations, including an order to compel the two ministers to refund to the treasury any amount paid in excess since their assumption of office.

As the court's decision is eagerly awaited, pro dollar salary supporters have rushed to the court of public opinion with their sugar coated tongue and as usual are trying to dilute the miserably poor. The type of poverty here is one that does not respect age or academic qualifications. There are several instances of PH.D holders that cannot pay their children's school fees in local Universities. Of course they cannot conceive of sending them to the US, like the Minister. Many young graduates, after a grim search for non-existent jobs have taken to violent crimes. Our prisons are bearing the brunt of congestion and constant jail breaks as a result of this. There is a seething anger in the country as many are becoming disillusioned. The Naira has been reduced to mere filthy papers. Some people that have been hoping that the Naira will rise again, will now sing a "nunc dimittis" to hope, on realising that the highly rated Minister of Finance, who, they believe will come up with a clear action plan of saving this currency does not even believe in the currency.

Some other pro dollar salary analysts have sought to justify their positions, by saying that it is better to pay good salaries to discourage corruption and attract high flyers. I agree to some extent. But why must the enhanced salary scheme be selective? For quite some time now, the Nigerian Labour Congress has been at daggers drawn with this government. The bone of contention has been better condition of service for Nigerian workers. Their pleas have been falling on deaf ears. The situation in some private firms is unbelievable. I know a highly talented lawyer that is being paid a monthly salary of N=15,000. His annual salary is about N180, 000. We should also not assume that we do not have high flyers within the country. If anybody is in doubt about this, advertise the two positions and the person will be shocked by the resume of many Nigerians within the country.

There is another troubling aspect of the whole issue that hardly meets the eye, that is, the example we are setting for our future leaders. Many Nigerian youths have come to see that at the heart of the Nigerian crisis is leadership. Many of our youths are in desperate search, of leadership role models, especially leaders that are alive they could understudy. It seems that since the demise of the likes of Chief Awo and the great Zik of Africa, Nigeria is yet to fill the leadership vacuum. What the youths are being fed with are examples of how not to be a good leader.

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