Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Cost of Justice, by Nasir El-Rufai

Sahara Reporters
24 June 2011

Written by Nasir Ahmad El-Rufai    

Though not a practising lawyer, the legal profession and its intricacies have always fascinated me. It is for this reason that I worked in between my public assignments of the last ten years to earn a law degree from the University of London in 2008. And eventually, I found myself working with lawyers when the Yar’adua administration, unable to find evidence of any wrongdoing, went on its persecution and smearing spree. When that case was thrown out of court for lack of merit, government quickly re-filed against me in a case that is still in court.  But that is a story for another day.

My concern today is the cost of justice in Nigeria and public perception of the judicial processes. When Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi stated some time ago that the National Assembly, a body of no more than 469 Nigerians (with their handful of aides and support staff) took over 25 percent of the country’s recurrent expenditure, there was uproar in the country. It is no wonder that Senate President, David Mark has promised to cut the entitlements and allowances of legislatures. (In reality, it is the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission that is constitutionally empowered to fix their salaries and not the legislators themselves).

Interestingly, even the Boko Haram sect has also joined the fray by warning the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) not to increase the salaries of lawmakers. In an interestingly well written statement, the group notes: "It is very regrettable, especially when you compare their pay with the state of the Nigerian economy, the living standards of those they represent, life expectancy in Nigeria, the per capita income and the salaries paid to the Nigerian workers, Nigerian professors. It is even more unfortunate when you recall that the United States President, Barack Obama's salary is $400,000 per annum, while a Nigerian senator collects N48million per quarter, $1.7m per annum, and each member of the House of Representatives receives $1.2million per annum."

The statement further added that the less than 500 federal legislators earn N60.4 billion a year (N6.2 billion in salaries, and N54.2 billion in allowances), and that just 10,308 Nigerians (legislators at the three tiers of government) earn a total of N453.3 billion, which is an average of N43,975,553 a year. The statement concludes that the amount – a whooping USD 3 billion would make a huge difference if invested in infrastructure. Are we spending too much on our legislators? Compared to other Nigerians, certainly! Are we getting value for money for their services? That is an open question that every Nigerian is entitled to an opinion.

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