Should politics be a lucrative calling? And why do-or-die affair will continue?

Rufus OteniyaIn the world over, politicians are ‘handsomely’ rewarded in the sense that they are paid more than an average worker. In most cases, top politicians belong to the high level of the income echelon.

They earn reasonable enough to belong to the middle class but not as much as top level professionals, business executives and other high end earners like the sport and entertainment professionals.

In a normal situation, the attractions to politics is not inspired by the pay because more often than not, politicians are people who are already established in one call of life or the other and who would need to take pay cut and put in more time to the

service of their constituencies than they normally would put in their former occupations. For most top politicians, involvement in politics will likely reduce their income. A politician is rather wooed by the opportunity to serve his people and the prestige that comes with the political office.

Politics as calling necessitates a sacrificial offering of oneself to the service of the people with a huge denial of one’s privacy and private privileges.

It is noteworthy that one’s service can only be offered to the extent that the people demand of it. Literarily, in a functioning democracy, a politician can present (offer) himself for election or selection by elected officers while the people or their representatives will elect/select (accept the offer) of the politician to serve them and that makes the people to be the deciders of who serve them either directly through their votes or indirectly through their elected officers and representatives.

Politics can and should never be a do-or-die affair because the deciding power to elect or select does not lie with the politician but with the people.
In the US (the country whose political system inspired our presidential system) even though the salaries and benefits of politicians have been the source of taxpayer unhappiness and myths over the years, most people believe they are overpaid and receive too much benefit but here are some facts for your consideration:
Effective from January 1, 2001, the annual salary of the president of the United States was doubled to $400,000 (N60m) per year, including a $50,000 expense allowance making the president the highest paid public servant. The $400,000 includes everything and $350,000 out of it is taxable.
Below is a table of the earnings of some politicians in the US:

Public Officers

Earning per year  ($)

Earning per year Naira (million)




V. President



Speaker of the House



Majority Leader (Senate)



Minority Leader (Senate)



Other Senators



Majority Leader (Representative)



Minority Leader (Representative)



Cabinet Secretary




* Exchange rate is set at  $1.00 = N150.00

*Please note that US Vice President is also the Senate president.

The politicians’ salaries listed above might look big to you but if you look at what is obtainable in the society, you’ll surely get the drift. I’d like to compare the earning of these top political positions with those of surgeons in America.
According to, Several factors such as experience, employer, location, gender and degrees may affect the earnings of a heart surgeon. Salaries discussed here are median earnings from 2009.

  • • Experience:  A cardiac surgeon with less than five years experience may earn approximately $247,174 on average. With over 10 years of experience, though, that salary might rise to $305,209 per year.
    • Employer: Working for a hospital could earn a heart surgeon roughly $241,587. If the employer is a non-profit agency, otherwise, he may earn an average of $500,000 per year.
    • Location: The state that a cardiac surgeon works in will affect his annual salary. In Ohio, he may earn around $180,000 per year, while in Massachusetts he might make $395,479 annually.
    • Gender: Gender definitely makes a difference in salary earnings. Males tend to make $301,433 on average while women earn $101,736 on average.
    • Degree: A cardiac surgeon with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree will earn an average yearly salary of $292,774. If he has completed a Ph.D., however, the annual salary may rise to $400,000 on average.

It can be inferred from this that a surgeon earn as much as the president or even more. And in nearly all cases a surgeon earns more than the VP and other public office holders.

In the US, top attorneys in a top legal firm earn as much as $500,000 annually, a top journalist (like Christiane Amanpour) earns over a $1m, Wall street guys and top business executives earn $ millions in salaries, benefit, stock options etc. Top Sportsmen and Entertainers earn tens of $ million in salaries, endorsements, advertisements, profit sharing etc. Top CEOs also earn tens and in exceptional cases, hundreds of $ million in salaries, benefit, stock options and profit sharing.

If you consider the fact that many top politicians were also top earners before joining politics, you’d be able to understand the sacrifice I intended.
When the then 52-year-old Tony Snow was leaving the Bush administration as the Press Secretary to the President, he told a White House news conference that he was leaving to earn more money. He took a big pay cut, he said, when he left his previous jobs as anchor and political analyst for Fox News. Snow was making $168,000 as the White House spokesman, one of the highest-level salary among White House officials.
Snow said his departure was based on family finances. “If I had the dough I’d stay ’til the bitter end,” He also said he had no immediate plans but would seek employment where he could earn more money. Snow said he intended also to become more visible in cancer activism but unfortunately he died a few months later because he was already battling with cancer at the time.
Also, in one of his earliest offer of appointment, the then President-elect Barack Obama offered Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon and chief medical correspondent for CNN, to be the U.S. Surgeon General, pending Senate approval. As the surgeon general, he will serve as the nation’s “chief health educator” by providing the public with medical information on how to improve health and reduce the risk of injury and illness. The surgeon general also is responsible for commanding the 6,000-member U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He was also offered the lead role in the new White House Office of Health Reform, which would give him “twin duties that could have made him the most influential surgeon general in history. The annual salary of the Surgeon General is about $190,000.

In March 2009 Gupta withdrew his name from consideration for the post, citing his family and his career and that he wasn’t prepared yet to make a financial sacrifice at that point of his career.

“I was incredibly flattered, humbled by the consideration, Gupta said. “This is really more about my family and my surgical career.”

Save for a few states, the salaries and benefits of public officers are much lower at the state level and ridiculously low in some states yet highbrow professionals are attracted to serve taking huge cuts from their lucrative callings.

It’s a known fact Michelle Obama, the US first lady was earning much more as a hospital administrator in Chicago than her husband, President Barack Obama was earning as a US senator. According to the couple’s 2006 income tax return, her salary was $273,618 from the University of Chicago Hospitals as Vice President for Community and External Affairs, while her husband had a salary of $157,082 from the United States Senate.

In a real democracy, a political office is not get-rich-quick avenue because the salary and benefit are not astronomical and a public servant cannot tinker with the public fund because of the culture of accountability and the inherent checks and balances in the system as provided by a circular and triangular internal control embedded in the three arms of government: executive, legislative and the judiciary. People are rather driven by the desire to serve.

In Nigeria, political offices are often seen as a get-rich-quick avenue because the legitimate salaries and benefits are enormous and are probably unobtainable elsewhere in the system. Another reason is that politicians can also meddle with the public funds with impunity. Candidly, public officers do not differentiate between public and private funds and this is probably the main cause of the do-or-die politics. All arms of government collaborate in the looting causing no checks and balances.

The lure of the incredible legitimate financial reward and the illicit financial exploits have turned the political climate almost an exclusion of the greedy, selfish, heartless and wicked desperados who would do anything to get to the offices without any idea of what they can do to better the lives of the citizens. Little wonder the first bill passed into law by this administration was a bill to increase the already plump salaries of political office holders by more than 100% while the Nigerian labour congress (NLC)  has been denied of even a modest increase for Nigerian workers by the same administration. Since the passage of that infamous bill, you can count the numbers of the other bills passed by the National Assembly on your finger tips. This caused the late President Umaru Yar’Adua at a time to accuse the legislatures of ‘sleeping on duty.’

After the late former president Umaru Yar’Adua complained about the nation’s dwindling revenues and that politicians were being overpaid and causing his government a financial stress, there is an approved reduced remunerative package for the politicians. Based on the this, each of the 107 senators (excluding the Senate President and his deputy) will collect N11 million ($73,333) in basic salaries and regular allowances every year while a member of the House of Representatives will get N9.9 million ($66,000). Previously, a senator was getting N17 million ($113,333) while a House member was collecting N14.99 million ($99,933).

The regular allowances are accommodation, car maintenance, domestic staff, personal assistant, entertainment, leave, utilities, newspaper/periodicals and constituency. These figures do not include non-regular allowances– vehicle loan, furniture allowance, estacodes, and duty tour allowance and severance gratuity–which are paid separately to each legislator as they become due.

Below is a table showing some of the items in the new (reduced) package for the members of the National Assembly:



Senator (N)


Basic salary/Regular allowances






Motor Vehicle Loan



Duty Tour Allowance per day



Severance Gratuity






Other allowances expressed as percentages of basic salaries are:
Hardship Allowance  @ 50%   
Constituency allowance @ 200%     
Newspaper allowance @  50%    
Wardrobe allowance @ 25%     
Recess Allowance @ 10%   
Accommodation @ 200%    
Utilities @ 30%    
Domestic Staff @ 75%    
Entertainment @ 30%      
Personal Assistance @ 25%      
Vehicle Maintenance Allowance @ 75%   
Leave Allowance @10%
Of all these allowances, the most intriguing is the constituency allowance. What is constituency allowance? You may ask. It is an allowance approved by Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) – the commission empowered by the Paragraph 32(d) Part 1 of the third schedule of the 1999 constitution to determine appropriate remuneration package for political office holders, including the president, vice president, governors, deputy governors, ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers and Legislators – to politician to enable them execute projects in their immediate constituencies thereby giving the people the dividend of democracy. The constituency allowance as approved by RMAFC is supposed to be 200% of the basic salary for politician but in reality, they are paid far more than that. The major flaw of this allowance is that the law does not require the politicians to file reports of how the money is spent.
In the world over the project execution is an exclusive function of the executive arm of government but in the typical wrong ingenuity of Nigeria, this is also extended to the legislative. Technically, the constituency allowance is a scheme of the executive arm to turn the oversight function of the legislator to an ‘overblind’ one using this allowance to  ‘rub’ their palms’ and make them dumb.
The executive arm of government including the president and the vice president also collect constituency allowance. I wonder where on earth will a president have the time to execute project in his constituency.
In a Next newspaper news article entitled ‘An Assembly for looting’ written by Musikilu Mojeed with Elor Nkereuwem, the authors rightly claimed that each of the 360 members of the House of Representatives were getting  N35 million in cash money in quarterly allocation while each of the 109 Senators pockets N48 million each.  These allocations have however been slashed by 20% to N27 million ($180,000) and N38 million ($253,333)  respectively due to the 20% reduction requested by the late president.

The cut has been a source of a major controversy in the House of Representatives in the past few days where members are agitating to jerk up the sum to N42m quarterly at a time when the government is lamenting to be broke and when the already signed 2010 budget is being cut by as much as 40%. What a bunch of greedy inhuman lots!

This analyses translate to the fact that in addition to the regular and legitimate salaries and allowances of N17 million ($113,333) and N14.99 million ($99,933) which senators and reps were collecting yearly and the irregular allowance of estacodes, duty tours etc, they were also collecting N192m ($1.28m)   and N140m ($0.93m)  respectively in illicit quarterly allocation which is not provided for by RMAFC. Effectively, a Nigerian senator was taking home at least $1.40m ($1.28m quarterly allocations + $0.113m regular salaries and allowances) as against the $0.174m an American senator takes home hence a Nigeria senator earns at least 8 times as much as an American senator and more than 3 times the American president.

According to data obtained from CIA World Factbook, Nigeria has an estimated per capital income (purchasing power parity) of $2,400 in 2009 as against USA’s $46,400. This means that the average earning in the US is 19.33 times as much as in Nigerian.

With the reduced salary package, a Nigeria senator still get paid N11 million ($73,333) in regular salaries and allowances annually and N152m ($1.03m)  in four (quarterly) allocation making a total of $1.11m plus irregular allowances like estacodes and duty tour allowances. 

The executives are not left behind, infact, the legislative plunder is like a child’s play compared to what the executives are illegally taking away from the system.

In addition to their constituency allowances, It is no longer a news that governors collect billions of naira as security votes which are unaccounted for and which makes everyone wonder which security are they providing with the money.

According to Davidson Iriekpen in an article titled, Security Vote – for Whose Security?, “the exact value of the vote is unknown to anyone. There is also no part of the appropriation where it is stated that such a pool of funds should be maintained as security votes in the country. Instead, the malaise has become one of the easiest ways governors allegedly misappropriate funds in their respective states.”

He further claimed that “every year, billions of naira are allegedly squandered under the guise of security votes. The funds suspected to be illegal, are purportedly being used to provide security for the president, governors and their domains, whereas they are being transferred into personal bank accounts. In spite of these huge sums of money, killings, kidnappings, cultism and other security threats are on the increase across the states. At the federal level, funds are allocated to the Ministry of Defence for the upkeep and welfare of the armed forces and the police, yet billions are still voted for the President as security votes whose impact is unknown.”

Many of the governors appropriate the sum ranging from several hundreds of millions of naira to billions monthly as security vote.  And also according to human rights lawyer, Bamidele Aturu, security vote is an illegality and irresponsibility on the part of the country’s leaders. He condemned the governors for appropriating security votes to themselves even when they know that it is unconstitutional. He also argued that the governors who indulge in security votes rob the society of essential resources.

In a report by RMAFC chairman, Hamman Tukur to the presidency, he warned all organs of government to adhere strictly to the remuneration packages by his commission, saying “no other salaries, allowances and or benefits are to be paid to any political, public and judicial office holder. “He said the Federal, State and Local Governments flout the remuneration provisions made by the commission through frivolous foreign trips, arbitrary appointment of aides and use of excessively large motorcades.

He further said “based on the constitution, RMAFC has the final say on the remuneration package of National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly members, while a law need to be enacted based on the commission’s proposals regarding the pay packages of executive and judicial office holders.”

Notwithstanding this warning, this illegality thrives from the presidency to the council. As the president take billions of naira in monthly security vote, he also take several millions in constituency allowance.

In the established democracies, politics does not make somebody rich overnight or how can you explain that after years as Attorney-general of Arkansas state, 12 years as governor of the same state and 8 years as the President of the richest and the most powerful country in the world, Clinton needed to take a mortgage in the year 2000 toward the end of his tenure to buy his only house then. And also after many years as a member of Parliament and 10 years as Prime Minister of the rich and powerful UK, Tony Blair had to take up a paid consultancy job to be able to meet up with his bills.

Do you know even any local government Chairman in Nigeria who does not own houses and fleet of cars?

Nigeria is a relatively poor country and there is no justification for a Nigerian politician earning much more than his American counterpart while others in other callings earn  a fraction of what is obtainable in the US.

I think it’s about time we work out a ceiling system for the remunerations of  public servants and tie them to what is obtainable in certain professions. And until we get this right, our politics will continue to be a do-or-die affair with the greedy lots dominating the air as their only attractions are the pecks of the offices

Rufus Kayode Oteniya (RKO) is concerned. –