Former Minister of Education and World Bank Vice-President for Africa, Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, recently claimed that members of the National Assembly (NASS) spent N1 trillion in the last eight years. The ex-minister, at an event organised by the Civil Social Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), in Abuja, said the National Assembly was allocated N1 trillion from the Federal Government coffers between 2005 and 2013. A breakdown of the allocation shows that NASS, in 2005, got N54.79bn; 2006, N54.79bn; 2007, N66.4bn; 2008, N114.39bn; 2009, N158.92bn; 2010, N150bn; 2011, N150bn; 2012, N150bn; and 2013, N150bn.
This expose came on the heels of a recent report in The Economist of London that showed that Nigerian legislators, with a basic salary of $189,500 per annum (N30.6 million), excluding allowances, are the highest paid in the world by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per head. They are followed by Kenyan legislators who, with a basic salary of $74,500, emerged the second highest paid legislators in the world. The magazine report was based on data obtained from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which examined the lawmakers’ basic salary as a ratio of the Gross Domestic Product per person across countries of the world.
The governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had sometime ago drawn public attention to the huge amount of money spent on the maintenance of government officials, including members of the National Assembly. The CBN boss had argued, then, that the country will not develop if the huge cost of running the federal government, the 36 state governments and the 774 councils in the country is not drastically reduced.
We commend Ezekwesili and all other persons who have drawn public attention to the outrageous cost of maintenance of the nation’s 109 Senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, who constitute an insignificant percentage of the population of the country. The staggering amount spent on the federal lawmakers alone is not justifiable in a country where over 70 percent of the population depends on less than $1 per day and the national minimum wage is a paltry N18, 000 per month. The hefty expenditure on our legislators is a mockery of the national minimum wage, which many state governments are yet to implement.
Although Ezekwesili did not give details of this expenditure, and it is possible that it also covers the cost of legislative infrastructure and aides, it is still necessary to reduce the amount expended on the National Assembly to free more funds for public projects, before the nation’s development is stifled forever.
We, therefore, call on President Goodluck Jonathan to lead the crusade to reduce the high cost of governance in the country. He should begin by reducing the huge cost of running the executive arm of the government, before he can effectively reduce those of the legislature and the judiciary. Nigerian leaders should lead by example. They should not feed fat on the national treasury while the generality of the citizenry wallow in abject poverty. Public office is meant for service and the good of the public and not for personal satisfaction and aggrandizement as we have it now.
Now that national revenue is dwindling due to sliding earnings from our major export, crude oil, it has become necessary to drastically reduce the jumbo pay of lawmakers and other public functionaries. The nation’s economy simply cannot support these huge salaries.
The cost of running the various levels of government in the country is a huge drain on the economy.
It has arrested national development and stunted the nation for many years now.
Ezekwesili’s timely revelation is a clarion call to the relevant authorities to reduce the huge cost of governance in the three tiers of government in the country. The nation’s huge expenditure is by no means limited to the lawmakers alone. The executive arm and the judiciary are also neck deep in this jamboree. Legislators do not need this huge sum of money before they can make effective laws for the governance of the country.
Regrettably, they are not even giving the nation enough value for the money expended on them.
They hardly sit for the 181 days they are supposed to sit in one year. Most of their oversight functions are not effectively carried out, hence the malfeasance in some sectors of our public life. The expected legislative check on the executive arm of government in the country is virtually non-existent. In most sessions, many seats are vacant.
In the states, many of the legislative houses have become rubber stamps of the state governors. Hence, effective governance and due process are lacking in some of the states. Let Nigerians demand immediate reduction in cost of governance in the country so that more money will be available for developmental projects.
The Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), which has the statutory responsibility for fixing the salaries of public officers, should act urgently on this matter.