LAWMAKERS JUMBO PAY
The latest voice added to the serial condemnation of the outrageous pay package of our federal legislators is that of former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.
At a retreat held for senior civil servants by the Niger State government, Obasanjo accused the National Assembly of being a burden to the nation's lean purse, adding that the amount spent in maintaining federal lawmakers is draining the country's resources, and should be checked immediately.
According to the former president, it takes more than N250 million to maintain each of our 109 senators annually, while each member of the 360 House of Representatives gulps about 204 million annually.
We recall the furore at the lower chamber of the National Assembly recently, when the legislators wanted their collective allowances increased from N9.8 billion to N15,120,000,000.00 per year. That would have jerked the emoluments of each of them from N27.2 million every quarter to N42 million.
We are distressed and distraught that federal lawmakers earn such unreasonably high pay packages in a country where the average citizen lives on less than $2 dollars a day (N300.00), and the minimum wage is still N7,500.00 monthly. That means that each Representative earns about $1.45 million annually, while the Nigerian senator earns at least eight times as much as his American counterpart, and three times more than the American president.
Worse still, according to the Transform Nigeria Movement (TNM), while a senator in the United States earns about N21 million annually, a UK member of parliament the equivalent of N15 million per year, our own legislators earn in hundreds of millions, while shamefully doing little or no work.
Our National Assembly is plagued by absenteeism, slothfulness and tardiness, and at the end of each legislative year, the number of bills that have been passed into law are so negligible. Yet, each goes home with the scandalous pay package. It is plunder, despoilation, stealing by another means. The lawmakers have just turned themselves into parasites, leeches on the national treasury, and we agree with ex-president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, that the trend be checked immediately.
What are these federal lawmakers provoking the populace to, in a country where there is grinding poverty and deprivation? The result can only be anti-social acts like armed robbery, kidnappings, and other violent acts. For instance, the do or die trend in our politics is largely linked to the excessive emoluments that go with elective offices. In Edo State recently, an aspiring federal lawmaker unveiled his ambition, and less then 24 hours later, he was assassinated. In many parts of the country today, there are threats, intimidations and actual violent attacks on opponents, ahead of next year's polls. This is sordid, to say the least.
We have stated many times that legislating need not be a full-time assignment, and we restate it again. Let our lawmakers do it on part-time basis, as politics need not be a full-time vocation, with such immoderate salaries and allowances. This will restore dignity and decorum to the calling, and also save the country of resources that could then be ploughed into projects that would touch the lives of the citizenry directly. As things are now, our federal lawmakers stand the risk of turning themselves into enemies of the public, and the repercussions can only be unpalatable.
We urge civil society groups, human rights organisations, the media, and other stakeholders in this polity to speak with one voice against the jumbo pay packet of the lawmakers. It is egregious, intolerable and vexatious. It can only do our democracy great damage if it continues unabated. We dare to ask: what has happened to service and public spiritedness? Is politics not for the common good again? Is it now an avenue to feather one's nest and luxuriate in ill-gotten wealth? The fallout, we are afraid, can only be regrettable and lamentable.
Before our democracy is undermined and eventually torpedoed, it is time to do something about the time bomb at the National Assembly. For the lawmakers to continue with a devil-may-care attitude, is to invite unpleasant consequences, which the polity can do without.