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Should Nigerian politicians earn N62,000?

todayJune 13, 2024 3

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Each time a country goes through minimum wage negotiation, you can take it for granted that the argument to put politicians on that same salary scale will come up. It is a common argument, one that the Victorian Socialists Party in Australia included in their campaign promises. Granted, they were an upcoming party—the equivalent of the many political parties in Nigeria that exist through their press releases until elections are around the corner—and were unlikely to win anyway. Still, asking politicians to feel what they dish out is a universally resonant sentiment. In 1816, when the United States Congressmen voted to increase their salaries to $1500 a year (from the cumulative $900), a significant number of them were promptly voted out! Such reactions show how much people have always resented their delegates living above the majority of the people they are supposed to represent.

In Nigeria, we have repeatedly heard versions of the argument as the Nigeria Labour Congress slugs it out with the Federal Government on calibrating the pay scale. The NLC started out with N615,000, a rather outrageous sum even for a negotiation starting point. They revised their offer to 495,000 and are now down to N250,000. The Federal Government, meanwhile, is offering them N62,000. In bargaining, the union leaders justify their figures by comparing the sum with politicians’ income. To enhance the moral legitimacy of their stance, the breakdown of lawmakers’ income has been circulated in the media along with the payslip of a prominent media aide. If they could earn that much, the workers too should be able to up their demands. While we know it is highly improbable that our politicians would ever legalise such a proposal, it is a discussion still worth having. The Nigerian political class earns a high income. If placed on a minimum wage, will it make a difference?

Arguments in favour of the proposal assert that politicians are public representatives and their realities should not be distant from the society they purportedly administer. Besides, politics is not a profession one should embark on for the salaries but for the prospect of making a social impact. This line of argument is not entirely without provenance. Until the 20th century, lawmakers in Britain (the country that colonised/modernised half of the world) were unpaid. In those times, it was not a full-time job but a partial vocation for propertied men who could afford to take some time off to deliberate for society.

Several analysts suggest a correlation between the income we pay politicians and the quality of governance. They argue that better salaries induce better people into politics, which is good for the system. The standard reference point for those who take this position is Singapore. Their lawmakers are officially the highest paid in the world earning about $900,000 per year (for comparison, US congressmen earn about $178,000). Singaporean ministers earn around $1.1m, while their president earns about $1.7m (the US president earns $400,000). Other countries, especially in the Middle East (like Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait) and Europe (Monaco, Norway, and Sweden), also have leaders earning humongous salaries. What do these countries have in common? Good governance, high quality of life, minimal corruption, and leaders who demonstrate public accountability

Written by: EaglesFM

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