By Raymond Eyo
It is always wonderful generally commendable for any country to reward good work done by a citizen or a group of citizens (such as in team sports). This is especially more so when the honour concerned is one which has eluded the country for over 19 years.
So, in the case of Nigeria, when the Super Eagles won the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, it certainly was to be expected that rewards were going to be splashed on the players and their technical managers led by Coach Stephen Keshi.
However, it is the excessive scale of the rewards that I grouse about, and rightly so, here. Reports say so far, the Super Eagles have received over ₦150m, in cash pledges, from the Federal Government and an additional ₦80m and ₦54m from the Delta and Lagos State governments, respectively.
In fact, an MTNFootball.com compilation reveals that business mogul, Mike Adenuga has given $1m to the Super Eagles whilst other donations, plus ₦150m from the Federal Government, amount to $5.5m (₦900m). This revelation is so incredible to have prompted this comment from Japheth Omojuwa, a popular blogger: “The only low point [of the AFCON 2013 victory] has to be the hypocrisy of worshipping the players, while sports development still suffers.”
The profligacy, which is one of the hallmarks of the Jonathan administration has again been confirmed by how they have gone over board to reward the Super Eagles.
Notable publisher and politician, Dele Momodu, recently remarked that, “The attitude of the Jonathan government to public spending is that of unprecedented recklessness. No government in Nigeria’s chequered history has wasted money like [the Jonathan administration] is habitually doing. President Goodluck Jonathan has been on a binge and an amazing spending spree.”
What then is the remedy for such recklessness? What must Nigeria do to not spend so much money just to fete with a victorious Nations Cup-winning team?
My take is that there should be a statutory formula for such purposes, with a clear limit on the proportion of reward that sporting or other feats by each individual or group should attract. It should not be discretionary.
Thankfully, former education minister and World Bank Vice President for Africa, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, herself an advocate for accountability in public service, is equally of this opinion. On February 13, she took to twitter to react to the jumbo reward being dished out to the Super Eagles.
She said: “In Public Policy when the government seeks to directly provide incentives for effort it must remember the word ‘Proportionality’
“Proportionality is key for direct incentives but were the reward to be freely market determined, there would be no need. Bench-marking direct incentive for effort and performance will derive from what a government prioritizes. Knowledge? Enterprise? Sporting exploits? Entertainment? Public Service? Research? The government signals its priority when it rewards. Overflowing reward to our Superlative Eagles is not necessarily a bad thing but… every administratively determined incentive will have some element of subjectivity, hence better left to the market to reward. But in this case where the government is rewarding on our behalf for national pride, it has to be administratively done but “proportionally.
“What the government can now do is to design a [legislative] framework for rewarding citizens that bring us honour.”
It is this lack of proportionality that fuelled feelings of disappointment among some retired soldiers who felt that, in their own way, they equally rendered a very important service in protecting the nation or fighting on her behalf, abroad. It is especially painful and unpalatable that many of these retired soldiers are still owed gratuities and a backlog of pensions.
In fact, a blog article reported that “One of these retired soldiers, Staff Sergeant Jim Yawa (rtd) spoke thus: “We were conscripted into the army at 19. We fought the civil war, did same in Congo, Burma and Yugoslavia before we left the service… But some little boys who were born in 1991, 1992 and the oldest one was born in 1980 were rewarded with National Awards, each of them 5 million naira, plots of land and other benefits… for just participating in 21 day event in South Africa… they slept in good hotels and got paid for sleeping and playing football… but we worked for 35 years, risked our lives and today we cannot even get our monthly pension of less than ₦20,000 – is this not injustice?”
Beyond the ostensible disproportionality in the rewards given the Super Eagles above, the costlier loss is in the misplacement of priorities in the utilisation of public funds.
For instance, on February 18, President Jonathan said Nigeria needs about ₦350bn ($1.91bn) yearly if she must meet its water and sanitation objectives. Many other sectors of national life like education, health, road infrastructure, agriculture, security etc. are crying out for want of funds. It makes no sense, therefore, to spend so much on rewarding the national football team for exploits for which their participation alone is a thing of national pride. The better and more apt reward will be to ensure that, henceforth, mistakes such as the non-payment of the coach’s salaries or the players’ bonuses, which almost led to a miscarriage of the AFCON victory, are avoided and that the country’s football, especially in infrastructure terms, receives a boost.
On the whole, for Nigeria to get better, she must be governed by the rule of law and not by the discretion of reckless leaders who do not know how to be frugal in using the national till.