Bukola Ogunyemi: The Opportunity Cost Of Nigeria’s N115 Billion National Assembly

For a robust understanding of this exposition, let’s embark on a brief revision of basic Economics. An opportunity cost is the alternative that must be done without whenever a decision is made to pursue a certain action. For example, deciding to buy lunch as against seeing a movie, when faced with those two options. This concept has its roots in the central economic problem that asserts that human wants are unlimited, and constantly changing, but the resources needed to satisfy those wants are not. This leads to the question: how do we satisfy infinite human wants with finite resources? This fundamental economic challenge requires sound judgement in the allocation of resources – making the best use of what we have to get what we need. A challenge cash-strapped Nigeria is dealing with in the most absurd way by running a National Assembly that costs taxpayers N115 billion.

The concept of limitless wants and scarce resources dictates that we can’t possibly always have everything we want. So what happens when the resources become even more scarce? You learn to prune your wants and commit funds only to the things that are of utmost importance to you. Nigerians want many things, and some of them are so basic you’re left wondering just how far behind the developed world we are. Nigerians want 24-hour power supply, so we can turn electric fans on at night and not die of heat. Nigerians want to be able to buy fuel without having to spend 12 hours on the queue. Nigerians do not want to suffer the grief of losing loved ones to ailments great and small because public hospitals are not equipped or doctors are on strike. Nigerians want a standard educational system so children are empowered to survive in human capital age. Nigerians want good roads, so traveling either for business or leisure, ceases to be the stress that it currently is. But Nigerians also understand that resources are finite but these are not wants to be foregone for a N115 billion National Assembly.

In July 2008, a barrel of Brent crude traded for about $146 and remained above $100 mark from 2010 to 2014. For Nigeria’s oil-dependent economy, that certainly counts as a boom. The 2013 budget was premised on oil production of 2.53 million barrels per day at benchmark price of $75 per barrel. For the 2016 budget, production has dropped to 2.2 million barrels per day and benchmark is less than half what it was 3 years ago at $38 per barrel. Nigeria has seen federally collectible revenue crash over the last one year due to global drop in oil prices, and the masses are bearing the brunt. States have seen their federal allocations reduce, a situation most governors did not foresee or prepare for. This has led to months of unpaid workers’ salaries, which in turn has affected the economies of local communities dependent on cash outflows from civil servants.

A nation’s budget gives ample insight into its developmental scale of priorities, and if the 2016 budget proposal as presented by President Muhammadu Buhari on December 22nd 2015 is anything to go by, the National Assembly of 360 Representatives and 109 Senators is the 8th most important sector by total allocation. Indeed, the National Assembly’s N115 billion budget is almost the same as the capital expenditure allocations for Agriculture (N47 billion), Education (N37 billion), and Health (N35 billion) combined. These are critical sectors in need of huge revenue injection to jumpstart the rebuilding process after years of neglect and decay mediated by unprecedented corruption especially in the last 5 years. Basically, much needed development and progress in education, health, energy and physical infrastructure is the opportunity cost for the N115 billion earmarked for the maintenance of the obscene and criminal tastes of Nigeria’s 469 federal parliamentarians.

Everywhere in Nigeria people are adjusting to the realities of a cash-crunch and pressured economy. Businesses are getting creative about cutting costs, sometimes left with no option but to lay off staff. Families are learning to survive on less and forgo some basic luxuries. The federal government implemented the Treasury Single Account policy to plug leakages in revenue collection and remittance, while state governments are weeding out ghost workers to lower their wage bills. In the midst of all that, the biggest sacrifice yet from the National Assembly is the decision to buy 36 SUVs for over N1 billion, instead of 109. Details of the breakdown of the N115 billion budget and the salaries and allowances of the federal legislators are strongly guarded secrets.

It is such an economic paradox that a nation with more than 70 million poor people, more than the population of the United Kingdom, is also home to the highest paid lawmakers in the world. The average Nigerian lawmaker is thought to earn N40 million in a year, more than 2,200 time the national minimum wage. Indeed, that N40 million is more than what an average worker earning N80,000 per month would earn in 35 years of service. In that same country a woman’s chance of dying from pregnancy and childbirth is 1 in 13. Nigeria is the second largest contributor to the under–five and maternal mortality rate in the world, losing about 2,300 under-five year olds and 145 women of childbearing age every single day. According to UNICEF, preventable or treatable infectious diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, measles and HIV/AIDS account for more than 70 percent of the estimated one million under-five deaths in Nigeria.

The National Assembly has since 1999 received over N1.26 trillion, yet less than one third of Nigeria’s total road network of 194,394 km is paved and only 40 percent of Nigeria’s 180 million population is connected to the national electricity grid. At 149 kWh, Nigeria has one of the lowest per capita electricity consumption in the world. Total generation capacity is currently less than 5,000 MW, about 10 percent of South Africa’s 50,000 MW. A nation which paid N8.64 billion to 469 lawmakers in 2015 also has 3.3 million internally displaced persons, the highest in Nigeria and 3rd highest globally. About 11 million Nigerian children are out of school, the highest in the world and malnutrition accounts for more than 50 percent deaths of under-5 children.

The schools left unbuilt, hospitals left without staff and equipment, the roads left untarred, the millions of Nigerians without portable water and electricity, the children denied a chance to live, the millions of Nigerians who are barely able to afford a day’s meal, the millions of unemployed graduates roaming the streets because N115 billion is needed to finance a retrogressive National Assembly that has turned out to be a production centre for backward laws and lazy debates… all these are the opportunity costs for the financing of the ostentatious lifestyle of our lawmakers.

A lot of people are advocating that Nigeria follows the steps of Senegal in scrapping the Senate to save costs, but I believe we can run a bicameral legislature on less than half of N115 billion. All it takes is for these lawmakers to dial down the frequency of their greed and live within the realm of Nigeria’s economic realities. The era of allowances running to several billions for an assembly of less than 500 legislators at the detriment of the welfare of the millions of people they represent has to end if Nigeria is to attain any meaningful development in the immediate future.

*Bukola Ogunyemi, a digital marketing executive, writes from Lagos.

**This column runs on AfricanLiberty.org every Thursday.