– The Sun News
Balarabe

Legislators’ compensations

Compensations for members of the National Assembly has for 18 years been a difficult topic in Nigeria.  Any visitor to Nigeria from a democratic country would find it as one of the red flags which Nigeria’s claim to being a democracy would raise.  Elsewhere in the democratic world, the compensation for legislators is one of the easiest things to find in any country.  It is so common, the members of parliament would volunteer the figures without batting an eye.

I have watched several TV programmes in which for 30 minutes, the interviewers did all they could but could not get the member of the National Assembly, House or Senate, to name a figure or figures.  I became convinced there was more to it when even former members could not speak truthfully or plainly about the compensations they received when they were members of the Assembly.

The nearest thing to reality is the publication by The Economist, the London-based news magazine which did a piece on the subject in 2010.  This was followed by fairly credible websites run by Nigerian journalists who quoted sources that appear fairly credible.  Some of the publications that seem credible with information on the subject no longer seem active and are purely quoted as archival materials, the Next Newspaper, is an example of one of the most reliable reports on the subject.

Some of the figures quoted are in US dollars, especially the comparative figures, most of which gave the eye-popping impression that the National Assembly was the best paid legislature in the world.  Some publications, especially those made when the Naira was stronger (150 Naira to the dollar) showed figures that meant that the Nigerian Senator earned more than eight times the American senator and three times the salary of the US President.

Occasionally an outraged Nigerian would scream about the National Assembly compensations.  The standard response of the National Assembly and its public relations units is to quote the Constitution and invite the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).  For years, the commission was the crutch to explain everything until three years ago or so when a former commissioner explained that the commission had nothing to do with the compensation of the National Assembly because the members refused to deal with the commission or to discuss their compensation with it.  Even without saying, it was obvious from the start that given the experience of Nigerians when granted the power of the purse, it was unlikely that any sense of responsibility or prudence or frugality, or consideration would be exercised.

The 1999 Constitution was unequivocal that the National Assembly must approve all appropriations.  In other words, the members have been given the yam and the knife not just to cut pieces and offer to other arms of the government but to also cut and offer pieces to itself.  There was no check or balance.  No oversight. No second opinion.  It was probably not a surprised that the members did as they pleased.  Because the figures would stagger the imagination of Nigerians and lead to national outcry, they swore to an oath of secrecy which has never been broken.

About a year ago, a little storm caused the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai to directly accuse the National Assembly of being indifferent to the fight against corruption and for encouraging corruption through its bloated emoluments.  The response of the Speaker of the House of Representatives was so indignant, he published what he told the Press were his pay slips for six months to debunk the insinuation that he and his colleagues were being over-paid.  The average pay as contained in the pay slips of the Speaker, Dr. Yakubu Dogara, was N346,577.87.  Many Nigerians were asking if those pay slips were his or his assistant’s.  If such doubts could be raised on the Speaker (in the US he would be the third person in the hierarchy of the government), the credibility of the National Assembly certainly seems to be under water.

All this was before the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory  Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) Prof. Itse Sagay informed Nigerians about the earnings of the National Assembly: According to him, “From the information I have gathered, a Nigerian Senator earns about N29 million a month and over N3 billion a year.

Basic salary N2,484,245.50; hardship allowance, 1,242, 122.70; constituency allowance N4, 968, 509.00; furniture allowance N7, 452, 736.50; newspaper allowance N1, 242, 122.70.

In addition, Sagay reportedly said “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.”

The National Assembly descended on Prof. Sagay in its typical fashion excoriating the revered lawyer whose integrity is beyond anything that can be impugned by malice.  Nigerians believe Sagay.  But the Senate went ahead to request President Muhammadu Buhari to call the PACAC boss to order, accusing him of “spreading falsehood and making hate speeches” against the federal legislature. (Note that Prof. Sagay’s views have been labeled as a hate speech.  In other words, when the Hate Speech Bill now going through the National Assembly is passed, the professor could be arraigned for hate speech for expressing his views about the unnatural scale of the emoluments of members of the National Assembly.)  Now, Sagay’s argument had been that with the kind of income the members were awarding to themselves their expenditure  was adversely affecting the economy.

This is the background on which Senator Shehu Sani’s disclosures must be seen.  I think he was doing a rescue mission for the image of the National Assembly.  He is the only one in those two chambers whose integrity Nigerians can vouch for without hesitation, being the only one among them who freely, voluntarily, and publicly declared his assets.

  The argument that the RMAFC could make the National Assembly to comply with its recommendations is wishful thinking.  The RMFAC is not exactly the kind of body to do this job.  Was it not the RMFAC that recommended 17 separate allowances to officials for whom it had approved a generous salary?  Wardrobe, newspaper, hardship and 13 other allowances, are separate from the N700,000, monthly salary, it is also different from the N13.5 million expense account, and should not be confused with the N200 million constituency project which is pure “pork barrel” spending.

   It is optimistic to expect integrity from a National Assembly with so much history of corruption.  It seems Nigerians have forgotten that in 1999, the first Speaker of the House of Representatives, Salisu Buhari, not only forged his age but he also forged his educational credentials; while the first president of the Senate, Evan(s) Enwerem, was found to be an ex-convict.

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