Noel A. Ihebuzor
Our legislators are among the best paid in the world. If you look at their salaries and emoluments relative to either the mean, median and modal wages in Nigeria, then you are forced to take back that statement and to correctly say that they are among the “worst” paid in the world since their salaries are totally out of sync with the socio-economic realities of their environment. The Economist report has it that the basic salary of a legislator is about 116 times Nigeria’s GDP per person. Now if this claim is accurate, such a salary is not just bad, it is sinful. Our legislators ought to, in every responsibility, advocate for an immediate downward review of their salaries and allowances. I will be among the first to support a petition by the electorate for the immediate downward review of the salaries and allowances of these people.
Our history on demonstrations is not the best in the world. We appear to be totally unable to come up with demonstrations with peaceful endings. The fault is at two levels. The first is with the demonstrators. Some of the demonstrators act with immaturity and are prone to demonstrating the worst forms of self- restraint during demonstrations. The second is with the agents of law and order who are not always “lawful nor orderly” in their conduct and who are not very skilled in handling demonstrations/marches and in crowd control. The combination of an immature group of persons and law enforcement agents who are not too skilled in the management of crowds during demonstrations usually spells disaster. Disaster arrives even faster when mischievous element, anxious to make either political capital or quick financial gains from demonstrations, join this mix. The descent from a peaceful assembly and parade to confusion, mayhem, anarchy, tire burning, road blocks, extortion and other forms of disorderly conduct is rapid and the consequences can be very painful, wasteful and socially divisive.
I hear a march to protest NASS salaries is planned for 26th September, 2013. Details are still sketchy as to the locations, route, how and the form of this march. But it is important for the march organisers to recognise upfront the realities of demonstrations in Nigeria and to take steps to ensure that the planned march is peaceful and that their ranks are not infiltrated by elements with other intentions. They must also ensure that the march is not hijacked by persons or groups with party political motives and ambitions. It is important that clearance(s) for the march or marches (if they are planned for several locations) are obtained from the relevant authorities and that designated venues and routes are kept to. The organisers must therefore organise a responsible march and ensure that marchers march with responsibility and keep within the limits of the law. The law enforcement agencies, on their part, also must keep away from provoking the demonstrators. Their roles must focus on ensuring public order and peace and on protecting the lives and safety of Nigerians, including the marchers who they must see as simply exercising their democratic rights. The crowds must be handled with great sensitivity and tough tactics should only be deployed when breaches of the peace are clear and obvious. When this happens, response should swift, targeted and commensurate with the perceived risk and nothing more. We saw such swift and targeted responses in the police handling of the last riots in the UK.
I do not want to be alarmist but I am just calling attention to a planned event that could provoke clashes which then have the potential of snowballing out of control. Clashes can be avoided if clear commitments are made before the march and adhered to by the marchers and law enforcement agents also agree to abide and actually abide by agreed principles of crowd control during the march. Incidentally, the planned march can still be headed off now (and valuable man hours and agro saved and possible disasters/hard feeling averted) if significant persons representing all the political parties from both houses of the National Assembly were to step forward now and assure the electorate that the NASS would be engaging in discussions with the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) in the very near future with a view to a downward and realistic review of the salaries and allowances of their members.