Discordant Tunes Over NASS’ Incessant Recess, Jumbo Salary
IN the last 16 years of Nigerian’s democratic journey, the jumbo salary and allowances being received by the members of the National Assembly has been a subject of discussion, controversy, and secrecy.
Many Nigerians have consistently clamoured that National Assembly work should be on part-time basis, considering the fact that its members’ jumbo salaries are not commensurate with the work they do.
Again, Section 63 of the 1999 Constitution as amended stipulates that the Senate and the House of Representatives shall each sit for a period of not less than 181 days in a year. With this, it is obvious that the National Assembly can complete its annual legislative works within seven months on part-time.
But this is a clarion call neither the National Assembly members nor the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), an agency constitutionally saddle with the power to determine and fix salary and allowances of political office holders will like to hear.
Many Nigerians have accused the Commission of performing its responsibility in breach, having failed to publish the salaries and allowances of political office holders for years.
Even though the salaries and allowances are fixed by the commission, the National Assembly approves its own budget on the basis of what the members want, and keep the disbursement under wrap for reasons best known to them.
In what looked like a confirmation of this, Former Chairman of RMAFC, Engr. Hamman Tukur had revealed recently that the commission under his leadership was in the dark on the source of salaries and allowances of National Assembly. He said their emoluments are in excess of what was approved by the Commission. He also alleged that the Commission’s effort to checkmate the National Assembly was resisted by the lawmakers.
Investigations reveal that apart from legitimate salaries and allowances which are quite outrageous, members corner other illegal allowances worth billions of Naira annually.
Also of concern over the jumbo salary is the productivity of the members of National Assembly. While majority of them are benchwarmers, others are contractors who float phony companies to corner constituency project contracts, in place of their legislative duties.
That is why most often, legislative activities revolve around few members, especially when it has to do with sponsoring bills and engaging in meaningful debates.
Reports which emanated from the 7th National Assembly showed that 191 members out of the 360 members of House of Representatives did not sponsor a single bill in their four years in the House. While the House managed to pass into law 108 bills, the Senate on the hand passed only 67 bills between 2011 and 2015.
Engaging in what could best be described as legislative rascality, the 7th Senate at the twilight of its tenure passed into law 46 bills in 10 minutes. It trashed its own rules stipulating three readings before a bill could be debated and passed. They also passed amendments to the 1999 Constitution and tried to cow the then outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan to sign it into law and at a stage, threatened to override the presidential veto.
Findings reveal that Nigerian legislators earn the second highest pay worldwide, higher than what their colleagues earn in Britain, Canada, Brazil, China, United States, Russia, Germany and France.
On several occasions, the leadership of the National Assembly, and its members had strongly tried to defend or deny the jumbo pay. But Nigerians are not convinced with their explanations, especially as they have refused to disclose their actual salaries and allowances.
With Muhammadu Buhari’s presidency, coupled with All Progressives Congress (APC)-dominated National Assembly which was inaugurated on June 9, many have expected some drastic change in the modus operandi of 8th National Assembly.
But it appears nothing has changed despite the change mantra that is synonymous with the APC led-government. Apart from the initial leadership crisis that dogged the National Assembly, the two chambers have only sat for 15 days. They have gone on recess for 12 weeks, while they have passed no bill. Also, each of the 109 Senate members has collected N36.4 million, while each of the 360 members of House of Representatives has collected N25 million each.
On assumption of office, the Senate President, Bukola Saraki promised Nigerians of running a transparent and accountable Senate. He also promised downward review of the members’ salaries and allowances in line with the economic reality and public outcry.
It was in fulfillment of the promise that Saraki set up a 10-man Ad-hoc Committee on Review of Finance headed by James Manager, PDP senator representing Delta South. After weeks of deliberations and consultations, Manager’s committee submitted its report recommending slight downward review.
The committee as was disclosed to The Guardian recommended that the Senate should make public, whatever cut it has made on its finance to address the wrong perception by the Nigerian public as far as salaries and emoluments are concerned. But the report which was to be openly debated on the floor of the Senate for possible adoption before the Senate went on current recess was stood down for further legislative input after about two hours of closed-door session by all the senators on it.
Speaking on what transpired during the closed- door session, Senator Mathew Urhoghide (PDP, Edo South), said senators told themselves the truth on the need to be very cautious on such move. He said though majority of the senators agreed that funny allowances like the monthly N42,000 wardrobe allowances should be cancelled but still reasoned that substantive statutory emoluments should be sustained in the face of increasing financial requests from constituents and other Nigerians.
“Yes, as recommended by the committee, all senators agreed that there must be openness in senate budget and by extension, that of the National Assembly but at the same time, many reasoned that why should we further reduce our budget when already, N30 billion has been reduced from the traditional N150 billion that it used to be for all the seven different organs of the National Assembly?
“All of us have people in our constituencies and financial requests from them keep piling up on daily basis, the reality of which made steps to be redirected, otherwise, some of us may stop coming here”, he said.
It was recently revealed that following the approved salaries and allowances by RMAFC, the annual salary excluding estacode, Duty Tour Allowances (DTA), and other illegal allowances which they are paid often, each member of the House of Representatives receives N18.26 million annually. Each senator collects N19.66 million annually. With this, the country spends N8.72 billion annually on members of the two chambers of the National Assembly.
Speaking on the development, a Lagos-based businessman, Mr. Johnson Akuma called on President Buhari to ensure that the 2016 budgetary allocation for National Assembly is reviewed drastically.
According to him, ‘I don’t know what the National Assembly members are doing for the country that warrant them cornering the collective patrimony of Nigerians.
A financial analyst, Dr. Okey Nwabu told The Guardian that considering the state of the economy the country cannot sustain the payment of the jumbo salary to the lawmakers.
“When are we going to have patriotic lawmakers in our country? Even when the president and his vice have slashed their salaries by 50 per cent, national assembly members are insisting on bogus salaries.
“It is obvious that they did not mean well for Nigerians. Some of the senators are ex-governors who have enjoyed perks of office as governor for eight years. What do they want the money for again? There is no justification for jumbo salary being paid to them because they are not doing much for the country to deserve such pay. The current National Assembly has been more on recess than work,” Nwabu said.
To Chief Guy Iko, a politician, jumbo pay and bogus allowances are the major reason politicians fight tooth and nail to be in National Assembly.
Iko said: “What do members of the Assembly do? How many bills did they pass in year? It is high time we did without them. They are impoverishing Nigerians.
“The constitution should be tinkered with to reduce their encumbrances on the country’s economy and governance.
After the inauguration of the present 8th National Assembly, the leadership and members expressed their readiness to disclose their emoluments to the public.
But looking at the way the Senate members reacted to the recommendation of slight downward review of salaries by Senator James Manager-led committee was a clear indication that the lawmakers are not ready to part with their jumbo pay.