Army of Special Assistants: A Method of Fraud

The Chairman of Kumbotso Local Government Area of Kano State, Hassan Farawa, on 8 April 2021, stunned the public when he disclosed that he has appointed about 55 special advisers and special assistants, to facilitate what he calls “good and effective governance” of the local government.

Speaking at the inauguration of the new appointees, Farawa commended the state governor, Dr Abdullahi Ganduje, for his commitment to eradicating poverty in the state, and thanked the state’s acting chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Abdullahi Abbas and the Commissioner for Local Government Affairs, Alhaji Murtala Garo, for their support.

Politicians are the visible faces of public service, but much of the work and processes by which political decisions are made are handled by political staffers in form of aides and assistants. They prepare reports, conduct researches, draft legislations, and prepare negotiation briefs that allow public service to flow smoothly. An effective aide is a valued advisor and resource.

Most elected officials frequently develop a crack team of trusted core advisers and assistants that they take along with them from office to office throughout their political careers.

Attachment to a particular politician, who often serves as a mentor, is perhaps one of the most striking aspect of the career of a political aide. The development of a long-term commitment and loyalty to a single party or politician can sometimes be extremely rewarding.

When one reads about the history of any tested politician, there is always that aspect that states – he was an aide to a top-notch politician in a particular administration. This is why political commentators opine that it is some sort of achievement and a path to growth to actually serve in this master-apprentice relationship that is not exclusive to the field of politics.

While the place of aides in the political process is not in doubt, the real question is what is a local government chairman doing with 55 special advisers and assistants? The joke is not just in the number, but the audaciousness to carry on publicly with such plenitude of appointment attached to the position of a local government chairman. Indeed the entire staff at the local government secretariat should not even be close to this number, talk less of political aides to the chairman.

The president of the Senate whose office is much more elevated is entitled to 45 aides as provided in the National Assembly Act. The same act made provision for his deputy with 30 aides, and 20 each for other principal officers.

Similarly, Speaker of the House of Representatives is entitled to 35 assistants, 15 for the Deputy Speaker, and 10 each for the six principal officers. Each lawmaker, excluding principal officers, is entitled to five aides – one senior legislative aide, two legislative aides, a personal assistant and a secretary.

If the president of the Senate is entitled to 45 aides, why would a local government chairman need to garner 55 people under the guise of special assistants and aides? Where is he going to get the money to pay every one of them?

It is important to mention that most states put the annual emolument package of a Local Government Chairman at an average of N3,201, 611. This comprise a basic salary of N1,026,327, personal assistant allowance of N256,581, domestic allowance of N769,745, entertainment allowance of N461,847, utility allowance of N307,898, security allowance (supplement of N20,000), leave allowance of N102,632, and wardrobe allowance of N256,581.

Unlike the local government chairman, the vice-chairman’s total package is placed at N2,803,392. This include a basic salary of N904,320, personal assistant allowance of N226,080, domestic allowance of N78, 240, entertainment allowance of N406, 944, utility allowance of N271, 296, security allowance (supplement of N20,000), leave allowance of N90,432, and wardrobe allowance of N226,080.

While it is not clear the exact amount aides earn, sources close to the National Assembly reveal that the monthly emolument of aides ranged from N150, 000 to N250, 000 before it was slashed between N75, 000 and N180, 000 by the current leadership of the assembly.

If one agrees that Hassan Farawa would pay each of his 55 aides even N50,000 monthly which is even low considering the average salary of any political aide, he would be paying a whopping total of N2,750,000.

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So from what coffers is the Chairman of Kumbotso Local Government Area of Kano State, going to draw from, to pay his 55 special advisers and assistants? Is he going to pay these 55 persons from his N256,581 personal assistant allowance or he is going to borrow from his salary and other miscellaneous allowances?

Meanwhile, analysts have raised concern as to how aides are employed to defraud the system. If a local government chairman can appoint 55 aides at the mercy of serving the public, then it raises a lot of eyebrows.

Besides, Kano is one of the eleven states that had their overhead costs higher than their capital expenditure in 2020 according to ‘State of the States’ Report by BudgIT. The other states are namely, Adamawa, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Ekiti, Kogi, Kwara, Nassarawa, Plateau, and Taraba.

This development in Kano State has therefore brought to the fore the need to cut down the costs of governance. Cutting down the cost of governance in Nigeria has been the clamour of youths, civil society groups, major stakeholders and concerned citizens. There have been calls for the reduction in the basic salary and entitlements of public officials, particularly in view of the country’s deep financial crisis.

Although others may also argue that it is not the salaries of these public office holders that is the cause of the economic hardship, however, various indicators point out that it is still part of a larger problem. Half of the total salaries of these political officials’ salaries, if put into proper use, could change the country’s narrative.

The cost of governance is largely tied to the number of appointments and employment in the political space. The more appointees and active political players we have, the more the fiscal burden.

Ordinarily, the number of players shouldn’t be a problem, but the country appears to be biting more than it can chew. To this effect, some political analysts have consistently taken their stands with the position that the country’s political system of government is too expensive to operate, and there is a need for restructuring. This may just be another valid point if Nigeria must move forward.

Nelson Okoh

Categories: Features, Politics

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