Before legislative aides disrupt National Assembly
The strike by hundreds of these aides, which took place in the first week of this month, was curiously accompanied by threats to shut down the federal parliament if their allowances were not paid by September 25, 2018 when the Eighth National Assembly is scheduled to resume from its break.
The slogan, “we are aides, not slaves,” which accompanied the strike, suggests perceived poor treatment of these aides by the officials of the National Assembly.
From available information, every federal legislator whether in the Senate or the House of Representatives, is entitled to five legislative aides. Hence, with 109 senators and 360 members of the House of Representatives, this translates to 469 federal legislators and consequently a minimum of 2,345 legislative aides.
The presiding officers usually have more than the standard five aides per legislator.
Statutorily, the payment for these aides is usually captured in the annual budgets which the National Assembly Service Commission and the Clerk of the National Assembly manage.
In this regard, one wonders where the problem really lies.
The employment of these aides is usually tied to the tenure of their principals and thus short-term, with their employment contract usually processed and formalised by the management of the National Assembly.
Accordingly, the job placements are made following the federal public service salary structure.
In addition, by their employment, they are also entitled to some allowances, which include duty tour and training allowances.
They are also entitled to a severance package of three years basic salary at the expiration of their contract.
The main issue in contention here is the payment of these allowances.
Information available indicates that the legislative aides of the Seventh National Assembly were paid only half of their severance package.
For the aides in the Eighth Assembly, they are yet to receive their duty tour allowances; they have also allegedly, not been sent on capacity building programmes, which would warrant the payment of training allowances.
The payment of these allowances is allegedly clearly stated in their contracts.
The question that arises here is whether these demands are extra-budgetary or have been properly budgeted for.
If the allowances were part of the employment contracts were they not budgeted for?
If they were not budgeted for, then the National Assembly bureaucracy should be liable in not putting these payments in the annual budget.
If on the other hand they were adequately provided for in the annual budget, then why are the payments not made to the striking legislative aides?
Stories of buck passing between the management and leadership of the National Assembly have been making the rounds on this issue and it appears neither is really taking responsibility for this perceived anomaly.
If the work of the federal legislators requires them to have aides to enhance their efficiency, then why are these aides not being taken care of in the performance of their duties, in line with the dictates of their employment contracts?
This lackadaisical attitude of government in managing contracts freely entered into, cuts across every ministry, department and agency in the public sector.
Governments across the federation are known to have continually entered into contracts with various workers through their unions and most of the times have failed to fulfil their own side of the bargain.
A clear case in point is the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
There is also the case of resident doctors among many others.
A case in point, for ASUU, is the agreement by the Federal Government to settle their demands for earned allowances which to date is yet to be fully implemented.
This has led to a state of uncertainty in the university system with ASUU thinking of embarking on another strike soon. When will there be an end to this kind of insincerity in governance?
This penchant by government to enter into agreements with different segments of the population, particularly its workers, without a clear intention to implement them should stop.
Government needs to build trust with the population and not just be perceived as an unfaithful partner in any negotiation it enters into.
However, the threat by the legislative aides to disrupt proceedings when the National Assembly resumes later this month should not be taken lightly.
One wonders whether the nation can afford such a disruption with the oncoming 2019 elections and the overheating of the polity with uncommon defections and threatened impeachments hovering in the political atmosphere.
These striking aides even threatened to petition the anti-graft agencies to investigate whatever might have happened to their allowances, which are presumably budgeted for.
The intervention of the anti-graft agencies may be necessary so that more light can be shed on the running of the finances of the National Assembly.
Though this case of the non-payment of allowances to the legislative aides may appear microscopic in relation to the size of the entire national economy, it is symptomatic of anomalies in governance, particularly in the public sector.
The leadership as well as the management of the National Assembly should not allow this problem to fester.
They should endeavour to sort it out soon before it worsens its already precarious situation.
All told, we should not get it twisted, the legislative aides are also important to the working of the legislature.
Without them, there will be no legislative drafts and so their grievances should be settled in good time.
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