Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Oh Ye Ministers Of Little Faith In The Naira And Nigeria!

Oh Ye Ministers Of Little Faith In The Naira And Nigeria!

By Paul I. Adujie
New York, United States
March 07, 2007


The startling revelations of the fact that some public officials in Nigeria, living and working in Nigeria, demanded to be paid in foreign currency and are, as such being paid in US dollars, is to say the least, befuddling and simply amazing!

This must be their peculiar way demonstrating, with proof, that they ultimately have abiding faith in our national currency, the Naira, and by logical extension, faith in Nigeria? Naira, as everybody knows, have incidentally, been in a devaluation free-falls and more free-falls of devaluations and the Naira remains in cascades and spiraling down-fall, even now.

How come then? Some Nigerians entrusted with the management of Nigeria’s finances and treasury, foreign affairs, key portfolios, prefer to put their trust in foreign currencies? What reasons, whatever reasons on earth permit this egregiously bad judgment? How can Nigerians sincerely expect others to have faith in our national currency, while we sneeze at it? Whatever the reasons or excuses, that have been given by the Nigerian public officials or whatever the excuses that have been mumbled by the government, the idea of paying Nigerian public officials in foreign currencies, is a stinking and disgusting idea!

Those public officials who prefer payments in foreign currencies, instead of the Naira, should resign or be removed from office, there are surely qualified Nigerians at home and abroad with equal or better academic qualifications, work experience and suitability to be ministers or to hold such other public offices, there are surely no good reasons or excuses at all, no excuses are good enough!

What American public official, paid with tax payer money, would ask to be paid in foreign currency, say, the Japanese Yen, just because he or she once lived and worked in Japan and because the Japanese currency is currently stronger than the American dollar? What public official demand payments for services rendered in his home countries, as a public servant… to be paid in foreign currency? What does this expatriate mentality portray?

About ten years ago, while here in New York, I learnt that foreign airlines operating in Nigeria started to demand payments for air tickets purchased in Nigeria, be paid for in foreign currencies other than our Naira, and I thought it was an outrage! And accordingly expressed my opinion to the effect that, the foreign airlines were mockingly, insulting Nigerians, because of the poor state of the economy, but now, we have Nigerians in Nigeria doing the same thing, it is even comparatively worse! These are not just Nigerians, but Nigerians in public service!

It is really sad, that those elected and or appointed to manage our country, have more faith in things foreign than in things Nigerian, how is it possible to manage Nigeria effectively, with managers like these?

A great number of Nigerian public officials are quick to run overseas for medical treatment, while the average Nigerian citizen is left to sink or swim in the available but under-funded hospitals and other medical facilities, facilities that were abandoned, neglected and left in a state of disrepair for decades and this situation pervades the country and as such, our public healthcare delivery system have become decrepit nationwide… that is what we now have….. But, when those put in charge and those who have the responsibilities of managing Nigeria’s national healthcare are paid in foreign currencies, and they are allowed to junket overseas to treat malaria and head colds, what then will be the motivation or incentive for them to build, equip and maintain or repair and efficient healthcare delivery system?

As it now stands, so many Nigerian public officials do not have to deal with our local hospitals and medical facilities, because the government allow them overseas choice, and these officials are spared of the bare-bones healthcare, they do not have to deal or confront the stark reality on the ground in Nigeria, they have the ever present choice to seek “good” treatment overseas, all at taxpayers’ expense!

Educational infrastructures have decayed over decades, why repair and rehabilitate them, when your children are overseas studying? Why worry about school closures when your children are not part of the populations attending these schools? There are clearly too many government or public officials in Nigeria that are wasting the limited resource that Nigeria has, and they are engaging in these detours and frolics, as there are increased competition by various sectors needing solutions and revamp from decades of decay.

Why in all of these, do we have Ministers, these absentee public servants without focus on what our national priority is? I am delighted at the fact that Barrister Gani Fawehinmin has taken this matter to the courts, he deserves our support, he remains a trail blazer.

Public service clearly requires a desire, a burning desire or fire-in-the-belly willingness to do public good for the majority of Nigerians, public service also requires and even necessitates personal sacrifices on the part of anyone, who accepts public service, whether elected or appointed position of public trust; And everyone probably knows, that public service is not more lucrative that private sector employment and opportunities with immediate financial rewards, at least, public service is not or is not supposed to be for profit, it is not the place where the most salary is paid, so that, a managing director of a bank in Nigeria as a president of a bank in America, earns more money than the president, governors, ministers down to local government councilors.

This is of course, the same in the United States, where until a few years ago, the US president annual salary was limited to $200,000 while many private sector Chief Executive Officers etc earned and continue to earn the average of $300 million per year, excluding other compensation package, such as retirement plans, golden parachutes and varied stock options.

Clearly, those who are elected or appointed into public office, must accept such positions, other than for profit or other than for lucrative emoluments, as there is more money in the private sector than there is in public office, which is, or ought not to be about money, or at the least, it ought not to be!

This is the reason why, Nigerians and there American counterparts, who have already succeeded and excelled in their various professions and business, enter into politics and public service, from their sundry backgrounds, whether through elections or appointments to engage in public spirited efforts at service to the nation.

Not long ago, Dr. Henry Kissinger, the erstwhile American secretary of state, rejected a public appointment by the current president Bush, because the appointment was in conflict with Kissinger’s personal business and his business partners, it is also why Vice President Dick Cheney had to put his more than $20million in a so-called blind trust, to avoid impropriety of the appearance of it… The avoidance of strictures, which public office imposes on public officials and their business partners should be clear to all.

Nigeria is not different; we can and should do the same, Mrs. Okonjo-Iweala and Ambassador Adeniji ought have rejected the offers of appointments from president Obasanjo, in view of their personal obligations and commitments, not to mention their enormous salaries at the World Bank and the United Nations respectively, instead of requiring the already bedraggled Nigerian taxpayers to bear the burdens, all Nigerians should always public national interests before self, where it is impossible or inconvenient? It probably is reason not to serve

Nigerians must earn foreign currencies or foreign exchange in the private sectors at home or abroad, not in public service sector arrangements, unless of course, such Nigerians are in foreign or diplomatic service; In my estimation therefore, any Nigerian seeking election or appointment to public office, and desirous of public trust, must first consider and resolve the personal issues entailed or which are involved in it, resolve all personal conflicts and many issues that would arise, whether as a result a desire for lucrative salary or business opportunities and connections with business partners, that may impede ability to be a good and effective public servant.

This means that Nigerians with contractual and or family or professional obligations or responsibilities, must first consider, and resolve the delicate balance of convenience, before venturing or volunteering and accepting public service, it must be delicately balanced by the individual, as to what is more important (a) An opportunity of a life time to hold public position, that enables service to our nation or (b) The Nigerian remains in business or private sector at home or overseas, earns and enjoys the blissfulness in any foreign currencies of their choosing, and therefore retain money from wonderful salary, including stock options etc as CEOs of General Motors, IBM or Microsoft or the big fish at the World Bank or the United Nations, it cannot and should not be both ways.

All Nigerians have the freedom of choice to serve in any government that invites them or to remain in continued opportunity earning private sector employment, remain awash in foreign currencies, live continue to live overseas, retaining foreign employment, and mortgage, credit cards, children’s school fees, vet doctors bills for their dogs and cats, as such expatriate Nigerian maintain their numerous other personal commitments; After all, there are Nigerians, at home and abroad, that are well qualified, willing and able to fill the positions of the current Minister of Finance and the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, instead of paying the current office holders, absentee citizens, in foreign exchange! Must Nigeria pay public employees in currencies other than the national currency, when such Nigerians live and work in Nigeria?

This of course leads to the question … what is so unique or special about these ……ministers, these pay-me-only-in-foreign-currency-Ministers? What academic qualifications, work experience and suitableness do they possess, what is it that they have, that other Nigerians at home and abroad, Nigeria has enough intelligent people at home and abroad, who are willing and able to serve Nigeria, and accept salary payments in Naira, do not have? What impact has their appointments created? What makes hiring Minister Okonjo-Iweala and Minister Adeniji an imperative? What with their foreign currency strings-attached imposition on taxpayers?

Too many of these same Nigerian expatriates, are quick to want to implement, in roughshod manners, textbook deregulation, privatization and subsidies removals, that are not practice in America or Europe, where farm subsidies and housing subsidies currently exists, some of these Nigerian expatriates behave as if seconded from some colonial office to run ministries or government departments in Nigeria and they do so, as they are horses with blinders on! Now, it turns out that they are being shielded from the harsh effects of the policies that they preach, policies that continue to make life miserably unbearable for the average Nigerian! Your salary in foreign currencies, and you devalue my Naira and preach Structural Adjustments and belt-tightening to me and other Nigerians?

Further, what are the miracles that have been performed, where are the magic wands so far? Should we not all wonder about the disparities and discriminations created by this favored status conferred on these two ministers as compared with the other forty or so other ministers? Where is the fairness or justice in these impositions? The creation of some type of special dispensation of payment of salaries in foreign currency for two ministers out of about forty, must be affecting attitudes, enthusiasm and morale.

Mercenaries, mercenary is the word that keeps cropping up and recurring in my, as I think about this whole foreign currency and our ministers-controversy, how can they prefer foreign currency to the Naira? Are they mercenaries without interests in what happens to Nigeria? Even at that, mercenaries will risk their lives, in pursuit of war on behalf of those who pay for their gory services, mercenary commit and stake or risk their lives in the pursuit of wars for others, usually willing to die, in the process, if it comes to dying, for a fee! What is the moral equivalent for these foreign currency guzzling Nigerian ministers? Are these ministers possessed of the same type commitment to Nigeria’s cause, as mercenaries usually are?

Nigeria is probably better off, hiring Americans or Japanese as Ministers for Finance and Foreign Affairs? To the management of these important ministries? I believe that an American and Japanese Ministers appointed, will equally demand to be paid in foreign currencies as well? Of course I am not advocating this! I am just being facetious! But, truly and seriously, any Nigerian that undertakes to work for the government in Nigeria must, accept payment in our local currency, the Naira, or perhaps, they may not serve, if and when they are unable to accept the Naira, our legal tender.

How many Nigerians in Nigeria, Nigerians that are in the employment of multinational corporations, and other foreign companies in Nigeria, demand payments of salaries in foreign currencies? If foreign employers of Nigerians in Nigeria pay these Nigerians in Naira, where is the iota or scintilla of logic in the current practice by our government in Nigeria, acceding to the unreasonable requests, by actually paying some Nigerians who live and work in Nigeria, particularly and especially in the public service in foreign currencies? The government in Nigeria must come forward with full explanations to Nigerians, the recent poor excuses are certainly not good enough!

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