As Nigeria’s narrative often goes, just when the abused, oppressed and misgoverned citizenry finds a reason to be exultant, that source of hope has a way of being employed by the ruling elite to put the nation’s vessel of progress in reverse.
Effectively, the newly inaugurated national conference upon which much hope of a new Nigeria is hinged has just been reduced to another avenue for vanity and jostling for pecuniary benefits. Going by the noise over allowances for delegates and their aides, the conference is in danger of losing focus. That will be heartbreaking.
There ought to be a collective resolve for those who can afford it – and they constitute the bulk of the delegates – to reject any payment in the spirit of service to, and sacrifice for the nation. Commendably, Olisa Agbakoba, Kabir Yusuf and Tunde Bakare have set the right template for this. Those gentlemen’s decision not to collect any allowance is not only praise worthy, this newspaper hereby commends that spirit to all other delegates. Nigeria needs men and women who would make sacrifices for her greatness.
Each delegate will reportedly earn a princely sum of N4 million per month, meaning a total of N12 million in three months. Multiplying this figure by the number of 492 delegates gives a figure of about N6 billion. This is apart from other undisclosed administrative costs. Interestingly, some of the delegates are reported to have demanded separate payments for their aides, even though these were not delegates to the conference.
Of course, this amount of money may not make much sense to some promoters of the conference. After all, the looters of the national treasury no longer deal in millions, but billions and trillions. But this is bizarre, especially against the background of the most recent experience where almost a million healthy and academically qualified Nigerians physically jostled for less than 5000 job vacancies, leading to the tragic death of many applicants.
It is very important to note that one of the major problems retarding the development of this country, which Nigerians expect the delegates to address decisively, is the huge cost of governance. The delegates ought to set the example by, at the very least, accepting the barest stipend to cater for their essential needs during the duration of the conference. That will be a honourable path to take. It will also set a sound example for those in public office who should be expected to lose perks and privileges if the conference keeps faith with the expectations of Nigerians. Granted that not every delegate to the conference would be able to serve without payment, the current amount is still untenable and should be redressed. Given that these delegates are from different constituencies and representing specific groups, the right thing to do is for the various groups to sponsor their representatives. That way, they would be strengthening their hands to debate without fear or favour. The delegates should, therefore, revert to their constituencies for full sponsorship, according to the capability of those units. This must be done in such a way as would make no delegate suffer financial difficulties or embarrassment in the course of the assignment.
It must also be admitted that indeed, government provided accommodation for previous conferees. Satellite Town in Lagos, after all, was the abode of the members of the Constituent Assembly in 1978. Nigeria needs to move in a new direction. Her journey to greatness requires sacrifice and discipline as the first steps. Let these delegates set good examples.