Unrealistic running costs for lawmakers
The N17 billion being paid yearly to members of the National Assembly, as disclosed by the Senate President, Dr. Ahmed Lawan, is high and in disunity with the state of the national economy. It is a phenomenon that has undoubtedly been aggravating high cost of governance, and very limited real development of the Nigerian polity. If the federal lawmakers have any love for the ordinary Nigerian, they should voluntarily cut the allowances drastically, or allow the appropriate authority to review them downward and thus free resources for more direct impact on Nigerians.
The Senate President’s disclosure was perhaps the first time in decades that the leadership of the National Assembly would openly make public part of the honorariums of members of the National Assembly (NASS). His action is courageous but still falls short of full disclosure of the entire remunerations of the legislators; a failure that has rendered their salary package into subjects of speculations, notably that they are among the highest paid legislators in the world. During the 2021 Distinguished Parliamentarians’ Lecture facilitated by the National Institute of Legislative and Democratic Studies, Abuja, the Senate President said NASS members were being paid N17 billion yearly.
According to him, the average yearly running cost for a Senator was N13 million per year; while a member of the House of Representatives gets N8 million. Thus, a Senator is paid N52 million as running cost per year and a Representative takes home N32 million. The 109 Senators and 360 Representatives get N5.6 billion and N11.5 billion respectively. As salary, a Senator earns N1.5 million per year while a Representative gets N1.3 million per annum.
Lawan explained that the N17 billion covers the costs of their local/international travel, consultancy services, medical services, office stationery/computers, consumables, books, newspapers, magazines, maintenance of motor vehicles and office equipment, among others. “The quarterly office allowance for legislators is what is erroneously conflated with a monthly income to create confusion and mislead the Nigerian people,” he said.
This honorarium scale is excessive in a country that is living on loans, a country that is owing pensions at local, state and federal levels and a country whose educational system is in shambles partly due to underfunding and failure to honour the obligations it adopted to tertiary institutions regarding commensurate payment of teachers of the Academic Staff Union of Universities. This high running cost occasioned by huge allocation to legislative houses is self induced and cannot be justified nor aligned with the N30,000 minimum wage payable in Nigeria. Worse still, many states of the federation cannot pay the minimum wage.
Moreover, legislators don’t have to pay their aides personally. It is an abuse of the separation of powers for legislators to take over the functions of the executive branch. Where did they get these examples from? It is against the run of play for legislators to abandon the norms of the separation of powers for petty financial gains.
In order to cut Nigeria’s high cost of governance, the executive and legislative arms of government should jettison their self-interest and go back to the practice of part-time lawmaking and payment accordingly to legislators, as was the practice in the First Republic. It is the principal officers of NASS that works full time and get full pay. Moreover, in the financial exigency of Nigeria where debt servicing takes 62 percent of the country’s annual budget, the country can hardly afford to continue with her bicameral legislature at the centre.
In the First Republic, the country ran bicameral legislatures in local, regional and federal levels.
In the current dispensation, she jettisoned the houses of chiefs in the councils and states. There is no justification to retain the House of Representatives and the Senate at the centre. Only one chamber operates in South Africa. With 21 senators from the North West, let every geopolitical zone/region have 21 Senators while the House of Representatives is scrapped. After all, the country is not observing the equality of population required for membership of the House of Representatives.
Every zone is not truthful about its true population, or does not really know. Even then, there is need for full disclosure as regards the true honorarium accruable to legislators in order to stop the spread of rumours and speculations on the subject. Sadly, even the Federal Government is not sincere in its dealing with the people. The executive promised restructuring for instance. This was amplified by Governor Nasir El Rufai-led Panel constituted by the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). Yet 18 months to the end of the tenure of the administration, nothing like that is in the offing. Indeed, President Muhammadu Buhari had made statements indicating his position against restructuring, and his unwillingness to carry out same, on the ground that the country’s problem is not that of structure but of the personnel. That position is hardly reconcilable with the reality of the country that is retrogressing on all fronts and very rapidly at that. Insincerity is undermining efforts at realizing the dream of a potentially great Nigerian nation leading the African Union and standing behind NATO, China and Russia in a quartet of world powers.
It is important that the Wages and Salaries Commission and the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission begin a review of emoluments to various cadres of workers in Nigeria in accordance with their relevance to the current needs of the nation. This exercise should begin with the National Assembly. Sincerity and transparency should be the hallmark of a government to its people. The excessive honorariums being paid to legislators should be reviewed as a matter of urgency.