The "Big Big" Dollar Salaries of the "Diaspora" Ministers

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


Mobolaji E. Aluko, PhD

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 in American dollars 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 involved world-class Minister of Finance Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala who I have known since childhood.


Luckily, the name “Olufemi 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 bring 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, who is 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 the bulk of my family of seven [my wife, five children (four of teenage-age and above) and I] remains back in the United States,  I could not survive on less than 80% of my present American salary any where in the world, not even 95%.  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  and they would occasionally have to travel up and down to enjoy each others’ company!  I am patriotic, but I am not foolish, thank you.


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 return 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?  That is not what I call “sacrifice” – with much reduced salary,  I might even live better in Nigeria than in the United States, what with an army of “servants” and a high barbed-wired fence!


What I am getting at here in summary 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.


Now to my four issues on this matter.





One of the major problems with the disclosure about this differential salaries 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 and out of Nigeria, either on sabbatical for about 7 months and traveling in and out of the country for over five times last year, I never heard of this NDTF, have NEVER been paid or OFFERED to be paid from it, and would like to read from some one who has.  I was even involved in advising  over the National Universities Commission-based NEADS (Nigerian Expatriates in the  Diaspora Scheme; which plans for commensurate pay of participants without loss of income)  and no one brought the NTDF up as a potential source of funding.   Similarly, a call was made recently in Atlanta by SGF Ufot Ekaette (who eventually revealed this NTDF, but not on that occasion) for members in the Diaspora to freely donate their services to the country.   SO when was NTDF set up?  How much money is in it?  Who are its trustees?  Who else is paid from it?  If somebody suddenly gets an idea and alleges that President Obasanjo’s salary is also supplemented from a fund LIKE it because he was SPECIALLY “begged” from prison 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 as many as possible:  that is transparency.  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,  or at least a loyal partisan, 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, even if that person is an acknowledged technocrat,  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”, otherwise most people would do right things wrongly.  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’  offices 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 clear impression is that 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 should remove those other ministers from the grumbling orbit:  if whoever invited them to “work and eat” is prepared to sacrifice his own financial ego, who are those others to really 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.  In fact, I think that it is a disservice to Okonjo-Iweala for all this brouhaha to happen the way it has.  I would even imagine that Adeniji himself would not be too happy with the disclosure, that a fellow “Diasporan” is being paid twice his dollar salary!





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


1.  He should have gone to the RMAFC ab initio 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 – after all, even the Senate does not know ministerial portfolios before it approves the president’s appointees;  even some of them simply take a bow before the Senate after stating their names – and “Voila!”,  approval ensues!  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, the president can at this late hour still appeal to the RMAFC for retroactive approval of this particular “big big” salary, and to the National Assembly for sealing the deal.


 2.  He could have taken control of the particular ministry himself, eg OBJ could have appointed himself Minister of Finance (like he has been doing for in the Petroleum Ministry since 1999), 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, that he is being sensitive not to break the law.  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, and assume the ministries of Finance, Justice in addition to Petroleum – to display his desperation at keeping them on their jobs.


3.  A wrinkle to Option (2) 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 (PDP) 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 – after all, there are Nigerians also at home who earn more than a minister’s traditional pay:  why should they not be able to negotiate their own dollar salaries, like Diasporans?  If not properly handled by us in the Diaspora,  who have the most to gain from such disparate pay and hence cannot pretend not to be generally biased in favor of this arrangement, it could do just that.  This applies to petitioners for and against these “big big” salaries.


I rest my case.


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