Article written

  • on 31.07.2015
  • at 02:14 PM
  • by Naomi Cohen

Let’s Have Part Time Legislators 0

I recall a testy exchange in 2009 at the Westin Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island between a ranking member of the Nigerian House of Representatives and a US-based, Nigerian-born attorney. Both men were attending the inaugural edition of the Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa. During a break in the proceedings, this US-based attorney as well as two other Nigerians cornered the representative.

How much do you make as salary in a year?” the lawyer asked with the kind of directions that Americans display when face-to-face with public officials.

The lawmaker was in no haste to divulge the information. Instead, he asked, “Why do you want to know?”

“Because I am a Nigerian. And you’re supposed to be stewards of the Nigerian people. You owe it to us to be open about how much you get paid for the job you do—or don’t do.”

It was clear the legislator would not be tempted into openness and transparency. In Nigeria, few would have dared accosting him on his pay. His police orderly (poorly paid, by the way) would have used the butt of a gun to crack open the skull of his oga’s interlocutor. And then the rude “challenger” would be dragged away to an overcrowded, feculent, mosquito-infested police detention cell.

Thank God the encounter was on American grounds, the legislator without the accustomed police detail that, in Nigeria, would have built a human buffer between oga and any hostile citizen.

“Our salary is not a secret. Anybody can have access to the information,” the lawmaker said. He made the assertion in a fiery vein, his manner impatient and bellicose. Despite his claim about the availability of the information, he would not provide a straightforward answer about his pay.

The lawyer happened to be a stubborn man. He would not accept the legislator’s demurral. “You say the information is not a secret, yet you’re not providing it to me.” Using his hand to do a sweep of the circle of spectators, he added: “Everybody here is a Nigerian. And you are not just a member of the Nigerian House of Representatives; you are, in fact, a top official of the lawmaking body. If the information is as open as you suggest, why not go ahead and tell us?”

“Why should I give you information that you can find by yourself?” the legislator asked.

“Now, sir, if you’re uncomfortable telling us how much you make, why not state what an average member of the House makes?”

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By Okey Ndibe

Photo Credit: Sahara Reporters (Okey Ndibe)

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