Participating in Positive Change

Agendia Aloysius' line of duty

header photo

Iranian President's Monthly Expenses And Nigerian Leaders

This article is not written by me, but, i am relaying it on my blog because, it reflects exactly the same situation in Cameroon, in relation to President Paul Biya, his ministers and Provincial governors. By Reuben Abati

"The Fox News TV (USA) asked the Iranian President Ahmedinejad: "When you look into the mirror in the morning, what do you say to yourself?

He answered: I see the person in the mirror and tell him 'Remember' you are no more than a small servant; ahead of you today is the heavy responsibility, and that is to serve the Iranian nation"

These are the opening lines of an unsigned but interesting profile of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad. The Iranian President is not a particularly popular world leader. He is better known, in Western circles, as an apostle of hate, as a racist who wants to "wipe off" Israel from the map, a religious fanatic, a devotee of the Mahdi, the 12th Imam of Shiite Islam who Shiites believe would resurrect one day to bring peace and harmony to the world, and an unrepentant enemy of the United States. His insistence on a uranium enrichment programme, and Iran's acquisition of nuclear power has led to the United States marking down Iran as part of "the axis of evil", with the threat of an inexorable military solution to "Terror and Tehran". Ahmedijenad, in the eyes of his critics, is an extremist whose kind of politics threatens world peace.

Iran under his watch has developed nuclear capability that can reach as far as Southern Europe, Israel, and the US military base in the Middle East. Domestically, Ahmedijenad is grappling with the challenges of infrastructural expansion, inflation, the annual rate of which is about 29 per cent, energy crisis, and recent protests over Value Added Tax (VAT). He may be a high-faluting rhetorician, hero and villain, and a poor economic manager, but there is something in the profile of this leader of heavily-resourced and oil-rich Iran which immediately invites comparisons with Nigerian leaders. How many Nigerian leaders can look in the mirror, and tell themselves the truth about the responsibility of the office that they occupy, with a proper emphasis on service?

"The Trouble With Nigeria" still remains for the large part, the domination of the public space by rent-collectros who feed fat on the state and for whom public service is an opportunity for corrupt self-enrichment. When Transparency International reported in its 2008 Corruption Index that Nigeria has made some progress, some 26 steps leap from 147th position to 121st position, its assessors obviously underestimated the threat to the Nigerian state, and how things have remained relatively unchanged, even under an administration that professes the rule of law but whose members are just as ostentatious as their predecessors.

When the Iranian President first assumed office in 2005, the first thing he was said to have done was to get rid of all the "highly valued Iranian carpets" he found in the office of the President; he donated the carpets to one of the mosques in Tehran and replaced them with low cost ordinary carpets. He shut down "the huge and extravagant" lounge for receiving and welcoming VIPs and replaced this with an ordinary room furnished with "wooden chairs". This is Ahmedijenad reminding himself that he is a "small servant". In Nigeria, the first thing state Governors, legislators and other categories of public officials do is also to change the furniture in their offices, but this provides an opportnuity not for austerity, not for any show of modesty but extravagance.

Even if the furniture had only been replaced a few months earlier and not in any need of replacement, the new official must insist on using state funds to buy new furniture. The big scandal that led to the exit of Patricia Etteh as Speaker of the House of Representatives, many would recall had to do with the furnishing of the official residence of the Speaker's residence. Nigerian leaders do not want to use modest furniture, they buy the most expensive in the market. Many state Governors even go as far as rebuilding the State House, to make it more befitting, that is more exotic. We don't have the privilege of having small servants in the Nigerian government at all levels. We have lords of the manor who use the word "servant" as a campaign gimmick.

Ahmedinejad, we are told "joins the cleaning staff of the municipality for cleaning the streets in the area where his home and the Presidency are located." Nigerian leaders definitely cannot clean streets. What kind of thing is that? When a man becomes even a common state Commissioner in Nigeria, he becomes an invalid. He cannot be seen doing things that ordinary people do. The excuse for the irresponsible conduct of Nigerian public officials is codified in that notorious word: "Protocol", now elevated into a special code of conduct. Nigerian leaders cannot clean streets, visit friends, stop by the roadside to buy roasted corn; their wives cannot cook in the kitchen, their children cannot mix with old neighbours.. . protocol won't allow that. This same bogey called protocol makes it difficult for ordinary people to have access to their leaders, it places the people at a lower and farther distance and turns them into the servants of the same persons who should be serving them.

When the Iranian President appoints any Minister to a post, he insists on getting a signed document from the person indicating that "he shall remain poor and that his personal and his relatives accounts will be watched and the day he leaves the ministry shall be with dignity, and therefore it is not lawful for him or his relatives to take any advantage of his office". If any Nigerian President or Governor gives this kind of condition, he will be the only person in that government. He may not find anybody to serve as Minister or Commissioner or Special Adviser. A public appointment in Nigeria is ordinarily seen as an opportunity to become "� big man", not a pact with poverty.

There are former Nigerian Ministers and Governors who have cases to answer before the anti-corruption agencies for leaving office richer than they were when they assumed office. But they are so confident about their sins, knowing that there is no determination to punish them according to law. One lawmaker once declared that he is not in government to sign a pact with poverty. Is there any doubt as to why there is always a scramble for public posiitons in Nigeria?

The moment the Iranian President assumed office, he was quick to declare "all the Big wealth and the property he owned" which include "a Peugeot 504 car model 1977, an old small house inherited from his father 40 years ago in one of the poorest zones in Tehran. His accounts with a zero balance and the only money coming into his a/c was from his salary from the university as a lecturer with an amount of US$250 only. For your information, the President still lives in that house. This is all that he owns; the president of one of the world's important countries, strategically, economically, politically and with regard to its oil and defense." Well, this is not possible in today's Nigeria. It is too surrealistic.

And the point about living in one's house, there are Nigerian leaders who are entitled to official accomodation, but when they choose to live in their own houses, certainly not in an inherited shelter built by their fathers, they do so, in order to collect rent from the state, and of course that same house will be furnished and upgraded at taxpayer's expense. In addition to this, they would be entitled to guest houses all over the state. The Nigerian President has an official lodge in every state capital, maintained round the clock at taxpayer's expense and there is a purpose-built Presidential Ranch at the Obudu Cattle Ranch which I suppose the present President is yet to visit. If forrmer President Obasanjo had succeeded with his Third Term ambition, that Presidential Villa at Obudu Cattle Ranch, with the surrounding temperate weather, would have been handy as a get-away resort.

The Iranian President "doesn't even take his personal salary with the argument that all the wealth belongs to the nation and he is the safeguard over it. One of the things that impressed the staff at the Presidency is the bag that the President brings with him every day, which contains his breakfast; some sandwiches or bread with olive oil and cheese prepared by his wife and he eats and enjoys it with all happiness." Part of the perks of being a President or Governor in Nigeria is a retinue of cooks, an expensively furnished kitchen, and the right to bring friends, relatives and outsiders to come and eat and constipate at the taxpayer's expense. The leader's wife is so busy acting the part of a First Lady, she no longer goes to the kitchen, except to go and talk down on the chefs. And salary? Nigerian public officials do not joke with salaries and allowances.

Ours is perhaps one of the most expensive democracies in the world. This year, Nigerian leaders at the Federal level increased their salaries, sending their wage bill into the trillion naira range and an ordinary lawmaker earning millions of money every month. This in a country where workers are under-paid and pensioners have not received their entitlements. The monthly expenses of Nigerian leaders pose one of the biggest threats to national development. Nigerian public officials, on a good day, set out onto the road, with a fleet of vehicles, all maintained at public expense, with blaring sirens, and gun-wielding security aides who chase ordinary people off the streets.

President Ahmedinejad changed the Presidential aircraft that he inherited into a cargo aircraft in order to save public funds. He travels in commercial airlines in the economy class. He closed down the office of the "manager of the President"and any Minister can enter his office without any permission. There are more than 70 smaller servants in the Nigerian Presidency serving the President, the Vice Presidnet and their wives. Here in Nigeria, the Presidential aircraft is a status symbol. Former President Obasanjo didn't miss the opportunity to buy an expensive Presidential aircraft to match his status. State Governors in the last dispensation also bought aircraft at state expense. And if there is any Nigerian Governor who travels economy class, let him speak up. Economy class? Well, that will be a breach of Nigerian protocol! When the President is travelling in his aircraft, the country's airspace is shut down until he leaves, when Governors travel, they chase ordinary people out of the way.

In Ahmedinejad' s Iran, there are no red carpet ceremonies or personal advertisements of any kind whenever he vists any part of the country. Go to the states of Nigeria, the biggest tourist attraction in many of those states are bill boards advertising the achievements of the particular state Governor to high heavens, Billboards at every street corner. They even put their names on vehicles and facilities bought with taxpayer's funds. A Presidential visit in Nigeria or a Governor's visit to a local council in the state is always an occasion for theft and profligacy.

When the Iranian President needs to stay in a hotel, he "asks them to make sure not to give him a room with any big bed because he doesn't like to sleep on beds but rather likes to sleep on the floor on a simple mattress with a blanket." There are Nigerian leaders who were brought up in poor homes and villages, who grew up sleeping on mats, but nobody would dare offer them anything below the level of a presidential suit if they must stay in a hotel. These are not "small servants", they are big men. They wear expensive clothes, sleep in expensive homes, travel in expensive cars, and they are not likely to go about boasting about inheriting a run-down Peugeot from the 20th century or a 40-year old house.

It is possible to argue that Ahmedinejad is almost an ascetic, a man of such fundamentalist faith whose only explanation for the global finacial meltdown is that it is due to "the lack of piety and faith in God." But don't we have in Nigeria men and women in high places who profess so much piety but whose lifestyles reek of so much graft? Our own leaders may be religious too but they prefer to live like Saudi Arabian princes, without the discipline. The extravagant lifestyle of Nigerian public officials has also been traced to culture. What culture? Nigerians spend recklessly only when they have access to public wealth.

Ahmedinejad may be a distant/controversial example as there are Iranians who accuse him of corruption in the shape of cronyism amd nepotism, and for cauing the isolation of their country by the West. But we once had in this country a modest and humble leader, the only Prime Minister the country has ever had, the Rt Honourable Tafawa Balewa. There was also the late General Ramat Murtala Muhammed. And in Tanzania, there was the example of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

We should stop deceiving ourselves. A starting point for turning governance in Nigeria into a serious business is to reduce the cost of maintaining the taste and lifestyles of public officials and their relatives. Official convoys of all state officials should be reduced to no more than two cars. The number of special assistants should be reduced. What is the President and the Vice President doing with 70 aides, 80 per cent of these merely hang around doing nothing? When Governors travel, they should stop moving about with their entire cabinet. Other officials should stay at home and work...and about time our public officials took a pay cut for being so overpaid and underworked!

Courtesy: Malam Wane

Go Back