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The Intractable Tyranny of the National Assembly

Source: huhuonline.com
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It is true that the remuneration of all members of the Nigerian National Assembly is unacceptable. By the confession of the spokesman of the senate, Senator Ayogu Eze, the recurrent expenditure of the National Assembly in the 2010 budget was N 158 billion, which amounted to 3.5 percent of the entire budget of N 4.4 trillion.   The quarrel the Assembly members have with the CBN governor, Mr. Sanusi, therefore, is that he says 25 percent rather than 3.5 percent is being spent on the National Assembly. Accordingly, they have 'summoned' him to appear before them and 'defend' his figures. Some senators even asked for Mr. Sanusi to resign without first hearing him out!

The House of Representatives passed a bill seeking to appropriate more than N 6 billion for SIM card registration by telecommunication networks in Nigeria. Some members of the House who protested were tyrannically gagged and shouted down by the Speaker, Mr. Bankole, even against heckling by some of the House members. Besides, this approval was made when the majority of members were not in the plenary sitting of the House. How could the House approve N 6.1 billion for an exercise that telecommunication companies should carry out at their expense? Does Nigeria own shares in those companies? President Jonathan should veto this, and the ministry of finance should not release the money.

Only few months ago, some members were suspended from the House because they held contrary views. A member of the House was recently tongue-lashed for expressing his views on television against the resolve to make national lawmakers members of the National Executive Councils of their political parties. He was forced to apologize publicly to avoid being referred to the ethics committee of the House that would have recommended his suspension from the House. Given the public rejection of the proposed amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act at the public hearing lately, I wonder if the House would apologize to the 'grammar' honourable member. The minister of finance, Dr. Aganga, has also been 'summoned' to appear before the senate because he says the federal government is considering reducing the allocation to the National Assembly in the 2011 budget.

In 2009, the federal government's budget to the education sector was only 2 percent (the lowest, in my recollection, as a percentage of budgets in the history of Nigeria) of the entire budget of N3.1 trillion, which approximated the total emoluments of members of the National Assembly, who are less than 500 in number. Moreover, N 60 billion was voted for 'constituency projects', whose accounting mechanism remains very unreliable. A little more than a month ago, as I write, I asked my senator in Abuja about what they do with the money. He danced around it, made some noises, signifying nothing! There is no transparency in the national assembly. If you go to the website of the national assembly, you will not see how they spend the money allocated to them. Their salaries and allowances have been shrouded in secrecy that even a former president, Obasanjo, had to decry the bleeding that some of us have been writing about without any serious attention (I am happy though, that lately, the heat is being turned on those wreckers of our commonwealth). He admitted that no one was really sure how much each lawmaker appropriates for himself, but said it was about N 250 million per senator annually. Of course, he was taken on by the legislators.

Last year, when the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), under pressure by some of us, sought to reduce allowances being paid Nigerian public officials (all of whom, less than 18,000, take more than N 1.2 trillion annually), Senator Ayogu Eze said that the senate was ready to concede only 10 percent. Let the senate tell Nigerians if even that 10 percent reduction in their allowances has been effected.  

If a public official says anything displeasing to the national assembly he will be threatened. If one of their own, with a conscience, speaks his mind, he will be harassed. Where then is the principle called freedom of speech in a democracy? Does the national assembly know that if the spending on public officials in Nigeria is not reduced, and quickly too, the economy shall be shut down only few years down the line? The senate recently approved life allowances to former heads of state, former senators and deputies, former speakers and deputies, and former chief justices until their last spouse dies! Just consider the weight that would bring on the fiscal frame of the nation. Consider the turn-over of such officers in Nigeria. Finally, consider the fact that many of those officials keep a harem of wives (if they are males, as the majority of them are).

President Goodluck Jonathan was recently confronted by some journalists, including the indefatigable Gbenga Aruleba, with the egregious remuneration of the national assembly against the very low per capita income of the nation. Rather than stay on the side of Nigerians, he went ahead to defend such horrendous pay, claiming that legislators had a lot of responsibilities, including helping members of their constituencies and districts. Mr. President should let Nigerians know if he still stands by that position he took about five months ago. I need to know because his answer will help some Nigerians to make up their minds about his candidacy for the office of president of the federal government in 2011. Will President Jonathan assent to bills that seek to pay life allowances to Nigerians who don't even need those allowances, and further destroy our economy? Will President Jonathan not request the RMAFC to complete the work of reducing significantly, the allowances of Nigeria's public officials?

Sections 84 (3) and 124 (3) of the Constitution of Nigeria (1999) state that: ' The remuneration and salaries payable to the holders of the said offices and their conditions of service, other than allowances, shall not be altered to their disadvantage after their appointment.' The significance of this is that the RMAFC can review downwards all allowances (even expunging some) of serving public officials mentioned in subsection 4 of the respective sections. Only their remuneration and salaries cannot be reviewed downward while they are serving. We know that what has contributed to the butchering of the Nigerian economy in the past eleven years are the nondescript allowances, some of which don't make sense, and the amounts are extremely obscene. Even then, salaries of all public officials taking office from May 29, 2011 can be reviewed downwards before they are sworn in. Furthermore, the RMAFC is the only body empowered by the constitution to fix maximum salaries and allowances for all public officials, not subject to any other authority in the land. Subsection 1 of the respective sections states that: 'There shall be paid to the holders of the offices mentioned in this section such remuneration and salaries as may be prescribed by the National Assembly [a House of Assembly], but not exceeding the amount as shall have been determined by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission.' The ball is now in the court of the RMAFC.

The late President Yar'Adua had requested the commission to reduce the allowances last year. President Jonathan should announce to Nigerians if he is ready to follow up on that, and how significant the reduction on the more than N 1.2 trillion being paid annually to those public officials shall be. One of the functions of the RMAFC, as stated in the Third Schedule 32 (d), is to: 'determine the remuneration appropriate for political office holders, including the President, Vice-President, Governors, Deputy Governors, Ministers, Commissioners, Special Advisers, legislators and holders of offices mentioned in sections 84 and 124 of this Constitution.'

If there is a significant reduction in the allowances paid Nigeria's public officials (including travel allowances, furniture allowances, newspaper allowances, sitting allowances, dressing allowances, and such sundry inane allowances), the Nigerian civil servant will be guaranteed a living wage, without necessarily adding to the wage bill of the nation. This would improve on the quality of life of Nigerians, boost workers' morale and consequently increase productivity, and reduce significantly the resources available to public officials for nuisance purpose, and consequently drive down the volume of thuggery in our society.

If the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) would rise up to be counted at this time, they shall have allies in people like me. If they fail to rise up and physically stop further bleeding of our nation, then we shall continue to have under-paid civil servants in Nigeria and under-funded public schools in Nigeria, whose graduates will not be respected, neither by hiring agencies in Nigeria nor by those abroad. Accordingly, I urge the two national social power groups to mobilize against the RMAFC, put pressure on President Jonathan not to frustrate the RMAFC, and picket the national assembly as they seek to intimidate Mr. Sanusi and Dr. Aganga.

Even if, by the admission of the national assembly, only 3.5 percent of the total federal budget is spent on the national legislature, it is still unacceptable! According to our constitution, even if the RMAFC should fix outrageous salaries, a responsible legislature could determine salaries far below the exaggerated RMAFC-fixed bar [See sections 84 (1), 124 (1) cited above]. I would advice Mr. Sanusi to seize his appearance before the senate with two hands, and in great details unveil before Nigerians and the world what those legislators each takes for themselves without a twinge to their conscience. Being the CBN governor, his words carry great weight. At a difficult period in our generation, when responsible governments in the world are freezing salaries of public officials and plugging areas of waste, the least a Nigerian legislature should be doing is to take public outcry against its lifestyle seriously and voluntarily submit its total emoluments for a review.

Leonard Karshima Shilgba is an Associate Professor of Mathematics with the American University of Nigeria and President of the Nigeria Rally Movement (www.nigeriarally.org ). EMAIL: