THE secrecy surrounding the actual salaries and allowances of members of the National Assembly despite repeated inquiries from many quarters and resultant condemnations of parliament by some individuals and groups on the issue is unfortunate and unacceptable under an administration which creed is integrity, accountability, transparency and zero tolerance to corruption.
Considering the fact that the present administration came to power on a mantra of change, we therefore, demand that the veil over the emoluments be lifted as a matter of national urgency.We believe that making such disclosure is in the national interest, promote deepening of democratic culture, a strong antidote for graft and an end to needless controversies because citizens and particularly tax payers, on whose interests the public officers are supposed to serve and derive their funding, are better informed about the take home pay of the 109 members of the Senate and 360 members of the House of Representatives.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, according to media reports, had stirred the hornet’s nest recently when he claimed that each of the Nigerian Senators gets N29 million in monthly pay and over N3 billion a year in a speech he delivered at the Nigerian Society of International Law public lecture in Lagos, a disclosure that elicited immediate outrage and condemnations.
In arriving at the figures, he gave a further breakdown as:“Basic salary N2,484,245.50; hardship allowance, N1,242, 122.70; constituency allowance N4, 968, 509.00; furniture allowance N7, 452, 736.50; newspaper allowance N1, 242, 122.70; wardrobe allowance N621,061.37; recess allowance N248, 424.55; accommodation 4,968,509.00; utilities N828,081.83; domestic staff N1,863,184.12; entertainment N828,081.83; personal assistant N621,061.37; vehicle maintenance allowance N1,863,184.12; leave allowance N248,424.55; severance gratuity N7, 425,736.50; and motor vehicle allowance N9, 936,982.00,” declaring that it is a known fact that Nigerian federal lawmakers are the highest paid in world.
He went further to reveal what their counterparts earn in the United States of America, USA, which is lower and where Nigeria borrowed presidential system of government and United Kingdom, UK.Perhaps anticipating possible backlash from the legislators, the Professor of Law challenged the Senate to immediately publish details of senators’ pay slips and other relevant documents on the salaries and allowances for Nigerians to compare and judge, insisting that a Nigerian senator earns higher than his counterpart in the USA whose annual total emolument he put at $174,000.
But Sagay, while faulting the jumbo pay, hinged his decision on several reasons which we consider germane, including that it is unsustainable for a nation grappling with recession and struggling to pay N18,000 national minimum wage to her workers monthly; where some pensioners are being owed arrears of pensions running into years; millions of jobless youths some of who are actively involved in such violent crimes as kidnapping and armed robbery; low Gross Domestic Product, GDP, per capita of $2,177.99 USD (2016) compared to South Africa’s $12,860 (2016) as well as life expectancy of 53.05 years (2015).
Before now, it is on record also that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had maintained that the bogus earnings of National Assembly members portrayed them as a “bunch of unarmed robbers” even as he raised the alarm that the way “we are going about spending all our revenue to pay overheads, we will not develop. And we will have ourselves to blame. Ninety per cent of revenue is used to pay overheads, allowances, salaries and not much is left for capital development. In a situation like that, we have to rethink”. We observe very painfully, though not unexpectedly, that rather than seize the opportunity of that moment and even now to address the fundamental issues raised squarely, the National Assembly bungled it and resorted to name calling as predicted by Obasanjo with the Senate spokesperson, Abdullahi Sabi, replying with vicious remarks and asked President Muhammadu Buhari to rein in Sagay, whom the Senate accused of “making hate speeches” against the National Assembly and using “uncouth and unprintable words to describe the legislators and the institution they represent.”
Sadly too, the Senate bluntly refused to disclose their emoluments but rather referred Nigerians to get the facts from the National Assembly website even though it does not contain details of the controversial and bogus allowances and the Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission (RMFAC) which is the body statutorily charged with the responsibility of fixing salaries and allowances of all public officials,”
We totally disagree with the buck passing by the Senate and further challenge leadership of the National Assembly and the Senate in particular to make their earnings public as the onus lies on them to do that as true representatives of the electorate and tax payers who ought to be their masters in this case since they voted for them and who they would turn to in the near future begging for votes.
In our view, therefore, the Senate, which is the upper chamber of the National Assembly, should set the ball rolling and clear the air on the issue as its continued silence tantamount s to giving credence to the figures reeled out earlier by Sagay and which we consider outrageous, unsustainable and capable of plunging the country into bankruptcy in the immediate future given the numerous deprivations in the land.
The legislators should realize that Nigeria after 57 years of independence still can’t boast of potable water for her teeming citizens; bogged down by high infant mortality rate, intolerable maternal mortality rate, malnutrition, inadequate health care, epileptic power supply and inadequate transportation system among other developmental problems that require urgent solution.Towards this end, we demand that the RMAFC should review downward the current jumbo pay of federal lawmakers as well as other public office holders if proven that theirs too is high to enable government make additional savings for execution of capital projects including some of the ones enumerated above in order to improve the lives of Nigerians.
Similarly, heaven will not fall if details of the new salaries and allowances are published on a dedicated website by the commission in line with President Buhari’s avowed commitment to accountability and transparency which are universally acknowledged as some of the fundamental attributes of democracy as well as tools to promote economic prosperity.And like Obasanjo noted, we fully agree that not much socio-economic development that will transform the lot of citizens is achievable if government continues to spend a larger chunk of its annual revenue settling personnel and running costs of few officials who constitute less than one per cent of the estimated 180million people, which perhaps is among the major reasons for the slow pace of development across the country since the return to democracy on May 29, 1999 or how else can one explain the current excruciating poverty and hardship in the country.
A deep cut in the emoluments of our federal lawmakers and indeed all political office holders no doubt has the potential of having salutary effects on the contestation for elective offices since the contestants already know that the legislature is no longer as lucrative and hence eliminate the culture of impunity and do-or-die that had characterized the electoral process even as we task the electorate to make less personal pecuniary demands on their elected representatives.It is common knowledge that elected officials are constantly pressured by constituents to shoulder such expenses as school fees, medical bills, burial expenses, marriage ceremonies, house warming and even pay for WAEC and UMTE fees of wards which shouldn’t be. This should stop forthwith.
Federal lawmakers and indeed public office holders should be let alone to concentrate on their primary constitutional responsibility of legislating for good governance in the country and oversight on government’s ministries, departments and agencies, MDAs, because in our estimation, the massive looting of our commonwealth in the past by politically-exposed persons and even the latest alleged $25 billion contracts scam uncovered in the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNC) would have been greatly reduced if not averted if the legislature as a separate arm of government , is spared needless distractions and allowed to do its job and be more alive to her oversight functions.
For a better society