- Their All Expense Paid Enjoyment!
Serving as a legislator in Nigeria’s National Assembly is seen by Nigerians as one the best jobs in the world. The pay has been termed “fantastic”. And apart from the highly impressive remuneration, lawmakers hardly get penalized for being late for work or even for absenteeism. With the return of Nigeria to democratic rule in 1999, politics suddenly became the most attractive profession to Nigerians; no thanks to the amount of money involved. Politically minded touts and layabouts have become “big men” just within months of being in office.
The image many Nigerians have of their legislators is that of a group of people who are desperate to amass wealth at the expense of taxpayers without thinking of what becomes of the nation’s economy, a group engaged in a hysteric scramble for the “national cake”. The “legislative drainpipe” has become a major cause of worry to Nigerians, especially the majority who feel the country is being milked by the legislators.
While majority of Nigerians live below $ 1 a day and groan as a result of the economic situation, there have been calls for a unicameral legislative system as against the bicameral legislature being run by the country. The argument of those calling for a single legislative body has been based on the fact that it costs a lot to maintain the two legislative chambers and also on the premise that if at state level, a single legislative house works fine; nothing stops it from working at the Federal level. They have also argued that the maintenance of the two legislative houses is taking its toll on the economy of the country. By scrapping one, the Government would save some funds which could be used for developmental projects.
Sometime ago, the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria made a statement that the National Assembly got a large chunk, about a quarter of the nation’s budget.
It is also the belief of many Nigerians that the remuneration the legislators are getting is way too much for the work they do. For instance, Section 63 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria states that “The Senate and the House of Representatives shall sit each sit for a period of not less than one hundred and eighty days in a year”. Section 68 (1) of the Constitution also states the minimum number of sittings a legislator must attend, failure of which could lead to his removal. According to the mentioned section, “a member of the Senate or of the House of Representatives shall vacate his seat in the House of which he is a member if:
(f) without just cause he is absent from meetings of the House of which he is a member for a period amounting in the aggregate to more than one-third of the total number of days during which the House meets in any one year”.
In other words, a lawmaker would not lose his seat provided he attends as much as one hundred and twenty days in one year, which amount to four months.
A Senator in Nigeria is on a basic salary of N 2, 484, 245. 50 as approved by the Revenue Mobilization, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC). Street Journal however found out that apart from the annual regular salary, each Senator is also entitled to some non-regular allowances. For those in the Senate, the non-regular allowances include Hardship Allowance: 50% of Basic Salary = N1, 242,122.75, Constituency allowance: 200% of BS = N4, 968,509.00, Furniture Allowance: 300% of BS = N7, 452,736.50, Newspaper allowance: 50% = N1, 242,122.70, Wardrobe allowance: 25% = N621, 061.37, Recess Allowance: 10% = N248, 424.55, Accommodation: 200% = N4, 968,509.00, Utilities: 30% = N828, 081.83, Domestic Staff: 35% = N863,184.12, Entertainment: 30% = N828,081.83, Personal Assistance: 25% = N621,061.37, Vehicle Maintenance Allowance: 75% = N1,863,184.12, Leave Allowance : 10% = N248,424.55, One off payments (Severance gratuity): 300% = N7,452,736.50, Motor Vehicle Allowance: 400% of BS = N9,936,982.00. Total per month = N29, 479, 749.00
As such, the average Senator costs Nigeria over N182 million every year. Multiplied by 109, the Senators rake in a total of N 19.8 billion in allowances every year.
Members of the House of Reps too have the same allowances. It was also gathered that the allowances for each year could be collected in bulk at the beginning of the legislative year, a proposition most of them find acceptable.
After a reduction three years before, the quarterly allowance of each member of the House of Representatives was increased to N 27 million in March 2012. A simple calculation of the increase shows that at the end of every quarter, the total amount paid as allowance to members of the House of Reps translates to N 9.72 billion and by the end of the year, N 38.888 billion would have been paid as allowances with each Hose of Reps member getting as much as N 108 million as allowances. Findings revealed that their counterparts in the Senate earn even much more as quarterly allowance. Each Senator takes about N 42 million.
Meanwhile, the Toyota Camry cars requested for by members of the House of Representatives for their oversight functions in 2011 cost N 2.5 billion.
Findings revealed that members of the 6th House of Representatives got N 42 million every quarter. Street Journal gathered that protests trailed the reduction to N 15 million as Reps queried the “gap” between their quarterly allowances and those of Senators. The Speaker, Honourable Aminu Tambuwal bowed to pressure to increase the allowance after he heard of secret moves to unseat him. He eventually announced an increment of N 12 million for each member.
The increase came less than two months after the President announced a pay cut for himself and other political office holders. While justifying the increment however, a member of the House of Reps was quoted as saying “we are not political office holders, we are elected members of the National Assembly so the President’s directive is not binding on us. It only applies to the Executive.”
By September, the House of Reps came from a recess and members again asked for a N 7 million increase in their quarterly allowance.
Quite unfortunately, only a little of the time spent in the chambers of the legislative houses ends up being used to make laws that would affect the average Nigerian positively.
The population of the House of Reps is also one thing that bothers Nigerians. At sittings, it is sometimes difficult to believe that the House is made up of 360 members as a lot of seats are vacant during sessions. A lot of lawmakers are hardly present at sittings while there are regular contributors to debates of the floor of the House. The only time some Honourable Members speak on the floor of the House is when voice votes are being conducted. A lawmaker from Ondo State once told his friends that if he had known there was “free money” in politics, he would not have wasted his time to go and be driving trucks in the United States of America.
It is also an open secret that a good percentage of the electorate do not feel the impact of the legislators representing them. In some constituencies, their representatives in the National Assembly are more or less outright strangers as the people never get to see them. In other places, they are seen as demi gods. If the lawmakers choose to commission projects in their constituencies, it always appears as if the constituency is being done a favour by the lawmaker.
Findings have also revealed that despite being well remunerated, legislators have discovered other means of generating additional personal revenue by putting their positions into “good use”. At the committee levels, it has been alleged severally that gratifications have been given. There are also insinuations that Ministries sometimes have to “settle” before their budgets would be approved by the legislature.
Those favoured by certain policies pushed by the legislature are also said to “appreciate” members. A former legislative aide once disclosed that he was sent to collect an envelope containing $ 500,000 which was eventually shared by 5 lawmakers. The fund was apparently given for a favour done earlier.
Over the years, Nigeria’s legislature has had to cope with scandals, a lot of which border on corruption.
The Senate Leader, Victor Ndoma-Egba however rose in defence of the legislature. In his opinion, there is nothing fantastic in what lawmakers earn. Speaking recently, he said “I have kept a file of my pay slips from the day I came to the National Assembly. I am operating from an office. I have staffers. What I am doing here is official. So, if I am given N10, 000 to buy stationery, the same amount that is given in the executive or judiciary, while in the executive or judiciary theirs is for stationery, my own N10, 000 is allowance. For the executive and judiciary, money to travel for official duty is travel allowance, but when it comes to legislature, it becomes part of my jumbo pay.
Recently, I was at a funeral service where the preacher was talking about what some of us do with what they call constituency allowance and what others don’t do with it. That issue has been in the public domain, but I am not aware of any constituency allowance. I don’t earn constituency allowance because there is no such thing. But this was coming from a knowledgeable and believable Nigerian, a preacher. The point is that there is no such thing as constituency allowance, but the public has its own perception of us, and with the kind of money they say we earn, there should not be a poor former senator. But I challenge Nigerians to show me a rich former senator.”