- What seems like the declassification of the actual earnings of National Assembly members is in the offing. Okechukwu Jombo writes
It has become a norm to classify National Assembly members in Nigeria as corruption personified, especially when it concerns salaries and allowances.
Most Nigerians rightly or otherwise think what they earn is too much for them. Some even call them criminals for earning that much without knowing what the exact sum is.
Even though current and past members have denied earning as much as its being speculated, nobody believes them.
When the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon Yakubu Dogara expressed readiness to open up its books for Nigerians to know what the lawmakers actually earn as salaries and allowances, it came as good news to the public to demystify the issue.
His decision came against the backdrop of calls by a section of Nigerians, including Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, that there was the need for reduction in the salaries and allowances of National Assembly members.
The CSOs, during a recent protest at the National Assembly gate, justified the demand on the ground that the vast majority of Nigerians, living in poverty, cannot allow such a huge amount to be expended on the National Assembly members.
Mr Tosin Adeyanju, the Executive Director, Conscience Nigeria, said the CSOs staged the protest because Nigerians were angry that the lawmakers were the highest paid in the world and that “the money is needed to develop our infrastructure.”
According to them, in 2013, the National Assembly allocation and budget was about N50 billion and by 2015, it had astronomically jumped to about 120 billion for just 469 people.
“For a country that has over 180 million people and for a nation that is in crises as a result of the huge dependence on oil revenue, which has dipped by 50 per cent, we need to save Nigeria from imminent collapse or do they want this country to become another Greece?”
However, both the Speaker of the House, Mr Yakubu Dogara and the House leader, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila, who have faulted the widely held notion that the lawmakers earn bumper salaries and allowances, have expressed the House’s readiness to open up the books for Nigerians to ascertain the truth about the issue.
In keeping to his promised to open debate on the finances of the House and not to shy away from the controversial issue, Speaker Dogara has okayed the establishment of a fully independent committee insulated from any influence or interference from the House to look into the books to assuage the feelings of Nigerians.
The committee will comprise of development partners, donor agencies, civil societies, the media to be represented by the Nigeria Union of Journalists, NUJ,the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission, RMAFC, and the National Institute of Legislative studies, NILS. It is billed to submit its report in three months.
Indeed, the decision to open up the House books is in line with the House’s legislative agenda and Speaker Yakubu Dogara’s campaign promises when he was seeking election into the office of the speaker. The legislative agenda drafted by the lawmakers and stakeholders had already been adopted after it was debated upon for a period spanning two weeks.
Highlights of the legislative agenda, which is a blueprint to drive the legislative activities of the 8th House, entails the decision by the lawmakers to cut the cost of running government, reduce wastage and tackle national revenue leakages through the oversight powers of the House as provided for by the 1999 Constitution.
Highlights of the agenda shows that the House’s oversight activities will leverage on the constitutionally mandated power of investigation under Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution to expose corruption, inefficiency and waste in the conduct of government business, just as further powers contained in the Legislative Houses (Powers and Privileges) Act will be effectively utilised.
It would be recalled that recently, reports of controversial N9 billion for legislators as dress allowances hit the media to which Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Sulieman Yusuf Lasun said the legislators only draw their salaries and allowances from the budget allocated to the National Assembly.
Speaking with journalists in Abuja, the Deputy Speaker said the total National Assembly budget was only a fraction of 2.67 per cent of the 2015 budget.
“People have suddenly forgotten, or they don’t know that they are 469 members of the National Assembly, and each with 5 aides and they will be paid from the N150 billion, the assembly itself with its technocrats and the staffers, we have the National Assembly commission, all of them draw their salaries and allowances from this N150 billion.
“For the last 3 years with exception of 2015, the budget of National Assembly has been N150 billion and that is exactly 2.67 per cent of the total budget of the federation.
“So I don’t know where people see this when they say it’s 25 per cent of the budget of the Federation, the budget of the National Assembly is 2.67 per cent of the Federation, so it is not overblown, “Lasun explained.
According to him, the National Assembly budgetary allocation has been cut down to N120 billion, adding that the House of Representatives under Yakubu Dogara’s leadership will sit with a development partner to know what it takes for the National Assembly to be run as an arm of government.
“You will now be surprised, we have reasons for doing that because we can compare with other legislative Houses all over the world but it is not going to come from us, it’s going to come from that body that will sit down and do it.”
Suffice to say that as Nigerians anxiously wait for them to come clean with the correct information on the matter, RMAFC released what they term to be the estimates, lawmakers’ allowances include accommodation (Senator N4m, Rep N3.97m), vehicle loan (Senator N8m, Rep N7.94m), furniture (Senator N6m, Rep N5.956m) and severance gratuity (Senator N6.09m, Rep N5.956m), which are due once in four years.
According to them, it should be noted that accommodation allowance is paid yearly while furniture, severance and car loan are paid once in four years, the commission said.
Annual allowances are motor vehicle fuelling and maintenance (Senator N1.52m, Rep N1.489m), constituency (Senator N5m, Rep N1.985m), domestic staff (Senator N1.519m, Rep N1.488m), personal assistant (Senator N506,600; Rep N496,303), entertainment (Senator N607,920, Rep N595,563), recess (Senator N202,640; Rep N198,521), utilities (Senator N607,920; Rep N397,042), newspaper/periodicals (Senator N303,960; Rep N297,781), house maintenance (Senator N101,320; Rep N99,260) and wardrobe (Senator N506,600; Rep N496,303).
Other allowances are estacode (Senator $950, Rep $900) and duty tour allowance (Senator N37,000; Rep N35,000).
RMAFC said: “Regular allowances are paid regularly with basic salaries while non-regular allowances are paid as at when due. For instance, furniture allowance and severance gratuity are paid once in every tenure and vehicle allowance which is optional is a loan which the beneficiary has to pay before the end of tenure. It is therefore wrong and misleading to add up allowances irrespective of whether they are regular, refundable or non-regular as the regular annual emoluments of political public office holders.”
However, RMAFC warned that any other allowances received by the affected officials are illegal and the chief accounting officer should be held responsible. According to RMAFC: “The commission also wishes to use this opportunity to state that any other allowance(s) enjoyed by any political, public office holders outside those provided in the Remuneration Act of 2008 is not known to the commission and the chief accounting officer should be held accountable.”
The source also notes that with a national minimum wage of N18,000.00 per month and totalling N216,000.00 per annum, it will take the average Nigerian worker, 60 years and 44 years to earn the annual salary and allowances of a Nigerian Senator and Member of the House of Representatives respectively. It states: “This cannot be right and something urgent has to be done to slash the salaries and allowances of the members of the National Assembly and State Houses of Assembly.”
With the above information, one cannot know between the National Assembly members and the RMAFC who is telling the truth.