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Obnoxious senator’s N13.5m monthly allowance

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DEJECTED but slow to anger, Nigerians, as usual, are exhibiting apathy where there should be widespread indignation. They are struggling hard to assimilate the latest explosive revelations about the stupendous salaries and allowances of federal lawmakers. According to Shehu Sani, each senator receives N13.5 million monthly as running cost, apart from the N750,000 consolidated monthly salary.

Although it had been an open secret that the lawmakers were among the highest paid in the world, nobody knew the exact size of their hefty emoluments, until the All Progressives Congress senator lifted the lid on the obscene pay last weekend. The exposé is a confirmation of the avarice and selfishness of Nigeria’s political elite, particularly the lawmakers.

In a country where most states cannot pay the monthly minimum wage of N18,000, federal pensioners are owed 14 months arrears and social services have collapsed, it is disturbing that senators are so remunerated. “It was a moral issue,” Sani said. “The National Assembly is one of the most non-transparent organs of government. It pricked my conscience and I decided to burst the bubble and open the National Assembly to scrutiny.”

That a major democratic institution like the National Assembly is so opaque in its operations is a contradiction in terms. It is indeed laughable and downright insensitive of a body that has so disdainfully protected its obnoxious emoluments from public knowledge to come up with a defence that what Sani said “is nothing new.”

While the minimum wage stands at N216,000 per annum, the federal treasury loses N162 million per annum on each legislator. At the official exchange rate of N305.75 to $1, each senator’s allowance on just one item is $529,897 per annum. In addition, Sani stated that each senator grosses N200 million per annum via the controversial constituency projects. In any other clime where the people are not docile, the revelations would have triggered mass action against the degenerate and selfish parliamentarians.

Sani said, “But I can tell you that I would love a situation where we do away with running costs, constituency projects and leave senators and members of the House of Representatives with salaries.” He should follow through on this and expose the other hidden allowances being earned.

Ironically, this is a parliament that has been anything but productive. The lawmakers keep boasting that they are the representatives of the people, but what have the people benefited from them? From 1999 to date, the country has lived with a National Assembly that has abysmally failed in its responsibilities. Quite often, it thumbs its chest on bills passed. But many of them are self-serving, such as the National Peace Corps Bill. The corps is a private organisation that the parliamentarians want the government to inherit without thinking of the source of its funding, especially when existing security agencies are under-funded.

Its oversight functions are perfunctorily done. On its watch, the public treasury is haemorrhaged by public office holders, civil servants and lawmakers. Its involvement in this national bazaar is evident in the billions of naira it approves for its members annually and serial distortion of the budget for their members’ selfish interests. A member of the House of Representatives, Abdulmumin Jibrin, was suspended for 180 legislative days for exposing how the budget was allegedly padded with N40 billion.

Apparently, only an inept, irresponsive and corrupt parliament would overlook the reports of the Auditor-General of the Federation detailing how public funds were managed and abused for 14 years as revealed by the then AGF, Samuel Nkura. He stressed, “…none of the said audit reports has been discussed at the plenary sessions…” Between 2004 and 2014, a total of N2.6 trillion in Service Wide Vote (fund) was spent by the Executive arm of government without appropriation, as a legislative inquest revealed after the damage had been done. Corruption drips in the MDAs as the $2.9 billion the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission recovered in two years shows.

The slashing of the N31 billion in the 2017 budget, provided by the Executive for the ongoing reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway to just N10 billion has led to the stoppage of work by the contractors. The money, with other cuts from the Second Niger Bridge and Mambilla hydro-power projects, was channelled into projects serving their selfish interests. During recession, the lawmakers nevertheless increased their own budgetary allocation from N115 billion to N125 billion in 2017.

Indeed, “there is a limit to appropriation,” as Jibrin railed at his colleagues’ recklessness. In the implementation of their fraud-driven constituency projects, N900 billion was injected into the budget between 2004 and 2014, Mohammed Ndume revealed in 2014, as the chairman, Senate Committee on Millennium Development Goals.

The underbelly of the scheme was exposed by BudgIT last year, which tracked the implementation of the 2016 projects in 20 states. It revealed that 343 projects were not executed. The locations of 4.8 per cent of the projects were not specified. “These projects were signed off and contractors got paid most of the fees…,” its report affirmed.

But while the lawmakers appropriate so much for themselves for minimal productivity, the average United States federal lawmaker, apart from the mean salary of $174,000, calculated in 2016 by the Congressional Research Services, allowances paid for three components for senators – administrative and clerical assistance, legislative assistance, and office assistance – are paid only for staff, and average staff, official and part time, for each in 2017 was 29 personnel.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority that sets and administers the United Kingdom parliamentarians’ pay says, apart from the £76,011 annual salary of an MP, each lawmaker also receives expenses to cover the costs of running an office, employing staff, accommodation in London and in their constituency, and travelling between the capital and their constituency. However, IPSA ensures that the money is spent strictly on what it was approved for. These are countries with Gross Domestic Product and per capita income of $18.57 trillion and $58.030; and $2.61 trillion and $39,899 respectively.

But our senators, and their equally avaricious counterparts in the House of Representatives, are not swayed by Nigeria’s 80 per cent poverty level estimated by the African Development Bank last month, and our GDP and per capita income of $405.1 billion and $2,177.99 respectively, nor by the recent alarm raised by the International Monetary Fund that poverty was rising faster in the country.

A survey by the Inter Parliamentary Union in 2012 found that only 14 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide earned over $100,000 per annum and Nigerian lawmakers, with average basic pay of $154,000, were a part. Still, the country was a dismal 152nd out of 168 countries on the United Nations Development Programme of Human Development Index 2017.

Nigerians should reject the continued rape of their resources by an avaricious, unprincipled and uncaring coterie of lawmakers who operate like the inept Electricity Distribution Companies that collect humongous amounts from consumers monthly for services they do not render. This country can never make meaningful progress with this quality of representation. With poverty, insecurity and joblessness ravaging the land, a weak Executive and political parties that are undistinguished in their disdain for the people and poor service delivery, only sustained action by the people can shake off this parliamentary stranglehold.

All legal means should be adopted to stop the daylight robbery by lawmakers. Complacency has allowed this nonsense to thrive these past 18 years. In June 2009, public pressure forced the UK MPs to publish the full details of their expenses for public scrutiny and this has become a standard practice there. Workers and the labour unions, students and civil society groups, need to make their voices heard within the law as their pre-independence and military era predecessors who stoutly resisted dictatorship.

The clamour for fiscal federalism, transparent elections and good governance should be stepped up at all levels, joined by progressives at the bar and the mass media. This travesty should be stopped. In the face of the failure of other social institutions, the people must take their destiny in their own hands and demand accountability from these cavalier politicians.

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