The Diaspora Minister and Salaries


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The “Big Big” Salaries of the “Diaspora” Ministers




Mobolaji E. Aluko

Burtonsville, MD, USA



March 2, 2003






Nigeria is a funny place – and a dangerous one to boot.  The ongoing controversy over the “big big” differential pay being offered to AT LEAST two ministers in the Obasanjo cabinet (notice that I write “at least”) could easily degenerate into allegations of sexism (“Ehen, is it because she is a woman?”)  or ethnicism (“Ehen, is it because she is Igbo?”) or elitism (“Ehen, na jealousy: is it because she went to Harvard and you went to Bowling Green?”)  That would be a big disservice to the world-class Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who I have known since childhood.


Luckily, the name “Adeniji”  (beneficiary Minister of Foreign Affairs) is also in the sweet pot – he is male, non-Igbo, non-Harvard – so the allegations will not stick.


Quite frankly, things are not as complex as they seem.  This is about only four issues -   due process (transparency & accountability), partisan politics, constitutionality (rule of law) and collegiality.    


I will take each seriatim, but first some disclaimers.





This issue is not really about the personalities Okonjo-Iweala or Adeniji or all those others who may be getting “big big” salaries from the so-called “Nigeria Diaspora Trust Fund”.  Nigeria is in a fine economic mess, and ANYBODY who can help us out of the woods is very welcome to try his or her hands, provided  he or she does not make our situation worse.   We all agree that Nigeria desperately requires people of impeccable worth to serve in certain positions, and not all of them can SACRIFICE equally as others because of their special circumstances.  In fact, that President Obasanjo, well known for his stinginess (sorry, frugality!) can employ people who are getting so much more money than himself – assuming he is not being supplemented himself by some Diaspora-like Trust Fund – is a measure of that desperation.


On a personal note, with my present level of financial commitments and family obligations, provided my family of seven (wife and five children) remains back in the United States,  I could not survive on less than 80% of my American salary any where in the world.  To go to Nigeria to work for government with my family back here in the US would even force me to negotiate a HIGHER salary than I am getting now, first because I even feel underpaid where I am, and secondly because I would have to travel up and down!  I am patriotic, but I am not foolish.


So any salary negotiations by anybody, whether Diaspora or Home-Based, is fine with me.


At the same time,  I state without any fear of contradiction that if I COMPLETELY uprooted from the US to Nigeria, family and all, with all my mortgage and car note paid for, I could more than easily survive on the equivalent of less than one-fifth of my US salary back in Nigeria.  99% of Nigerians survive BELOW that salary, I believe, so why can’t I?


What I am getting at are as follows:


(i)               salary negotiations are in order, particularly if you want to attract certain persons, whether home-based (some of who may actually be earning more than the official minister’s salary) or Diaspora-based (many of who would in general be earning more than that salary).

(ii)              Each person determines the level of sacrifice that he wishes to live with in terms of financial obligations, family commitments and residency.





One of the major problems with the disclosure is the  lack of transparency and accountability which surrounds the Nigerian Diaspora Trust Fund.  As an engaged member of the Diaspora who has spent the past two years in Nigeria, on sabbatical for about 7 months and traveling in and out over five times last year, I never heard of this NDTF, and would like to read from some one who has.  When was it set up?  How much is in it?  Who are its trustees?  Who else is paid from it?  Is somebody suddenly got an idea and stated that President Obasanjo’s salary is also supplemented from a fund LIKE it because he was SPECIALLY “begged” to become president, would there not be an uproar?  


In fact, the Nigerian Diaspora Trust Fund is a laudable endeavor, but  opportunities to use it must be opened up to many:  it should not be used like a slush fund sub-rosa.





I just cannot imagine how an international development fund can be used to fund not a TECHNOCRATIC position but a POLITICAL position such as a Minister of Finance and Minister of Justice, etc., or any Minister who must be a card-carrying member for that matter, one presumes.  No one would quarrel if this differential money were paid to a Technocrat - and this is where all reasonable people must agree - but to pay this to a political appointee in a political position is an OUTRIGHT abuse of the process.





It is a cardinal concept of the respect for  THE RULE OF LAW that “The END does not justify THE MEANS”.  As I stated before, whoever negotiates a salary scale commensurate with his or her market worth and obligations is COMPLETELY entitled to do so, and his or her hirer is entirely free to do so – but within the law.    In this case, the CONSTITUTION of the Federal Republic of Nigeria CLEARLY and UNAMBIGUOUSLY outlined a list of public servants and executive appointees whose salary must be fixed by another constitutionally-sanctioned body – the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).    Mind you, it did not specify a uniform salary, but simply that such salary should be fixed by the RMAFC.  Nigeria IS A COUNTRY under law, not a Banana Republic, and such a clear and unambiguous letter of the law must be obeyed.


In this case, the President has clearly VIOLATED the law of the land.





The fact that the salaries of the two ministers are above that of the President himself remove those other ministers from the grumbling orbit:  if whoever invited them to “work and eat” is prepared to sacrifice his financial ego, who are they to complain?


Yet, the human mind is a frail one, and nothing destroys collegiality more than the realization that a person of comparable responsibility is being paid so much more than yourself.  [I would even imagine that Adeniji himself would not be too happy with the disclosure, that a fellow Diasporan is being paid twice his salary!]  In fact, I think that it is a disservice to Okonjo-Iweala for all this brouhaha to happen the way it has.





 So what should the President have done?   I outline four options below:


1.  He should have gone to the RMAFC to ask for the ability to have certain DIFFERENTIAL PAY scales for certain cadres of appointees.  He need not even specify those portfolios ahead of time.  It may even be a secret deal, but provided the RMAFC gives its imprimatur, then everything would be kosher if it became public information.  If the RMAFC does not agree, then the president can appeal to the National Assembly, otherwise no deal.


Mind you, he can still at this time appeal to the RMAFC for retroactive approval of this particular “big big” salary.


 2.  He could have taken control of the particular ministry himself, eg OBJ could have appointed himself Minister of Finance, but put the putative appointee as the SUBSTANTIVE minister by putting him or her in the most senior administrative position there, explaining EXACTLY why he is doing what he is doing.  In effect, a technocrat would have been appointed to do the work of a minister.


The president can still do this – revert the Ministers in question to Technocrats - to display his desperation at keeping them on their jobs.


3.  A wrinkle to Part (b) is for the president  to revert the high-salaried ministers as Technocrats along with willing Ministers other than  he himself.  It is not likely that either minister will agree to this.


4.  The neatest solution would be for the president to pay the favored Ministers their constitutional salaries, but let the RULING POLITICAL PARTY – the Peoples Democratic Party in this case – to supplement their incomes to the tune that they agree to. 





The key issue in all of the above suggestions is that WE ALL still achieve what we want: competent people, whether home-based or Diaspora,  properly compensated according to agreed terms -  but WITHIN the LAW.


Let me repeat:   the end DOES NOT justify the means.  We are NO LONGER in a military dictatorial regime, and no ambition of ours should allow us to wink and to nod at the law.  Our president should NOT be allowed to do “right” things in a clumsy manner, for us to hail him, to applaud him.  That does not promote democracy.


Finally, we do not want anything to be done to embarrass such competent persons as Okonjo-Iweala and Adeniji and discourage them and those like them who might aspire to conscientiously serve.  More importantly, we do not wish  to drive a wedge between Diasporans and Nigerians at home.  If not properly handled by us in the Diaspora, it could do just that.  This applies to petitioners for and against these “big big” salaries.


I rest my case.



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