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NBA AND LAWMAKERS JUMBO PAY

By NBF News

The Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) took a step that should warm the hearts of all right thinking Nigerians, last week. The lawyers' group went a step beyond our collective bellyaching over the jumbo pay of lawmakers in the National Assembly. It demonstrated that it is not enough to just sit down and mope, gripe or complain, when things are going wrong and the law is being turned on its head.

The group, just before its annual conference in Kaduna which kicked off on Monday, dragged the leadership of the National Assembly, the finance minister, the National Assembly, Clerk of the National Assembly, Accountant-General of the Federation and Attorney-General of the Federation to the Federal High Court, Abuja, over the controversial jumbo allowances of lawmakers at the federal level.

In an affidavit deposed to by one Ifeanyi Egwuasi on behalf of a team of senior legal practitioners, the NBA is seeking an immediate stoppage of the payment of any salary or constituency allowance payable to National Assembly members, but which were not determined by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).

The NBA is insisting that the determination of salaries and allowances of all agencies of government is the sole responsibility of RMAFC. It wants a declaration that the payment by the Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives and other members of the National Assembly, to themselves, quarterly allowances of N48 million for each senator, and N27.5 million for each member of the House of Representatives, constitutes a breach of duty imposed on them by section 13 and 16(2) of the 1999 Constitution.

The association also wants an order that the legislators have no right or power to alter the annual budget estimates prepared and laid before the houses of the National Assembly, either by increasing or reducing an item of expenditure, or by adding a new item of expenditure into the budget estimate, thereby altering budget estimates that are submitted to them.

The NBA maintained that the annual basic salary plus all regular allowances determined by the RMAFC for members of the Senate is N8,409,560 which includes constituency allowance of 250 per cent of their annual basic salary.

It maintained that neither the N27.5 million that House of Representatives members collect as quarterly allowance, or the N45 million that they are seeking for, was determined for the House by the RMAFC, which is the fifth defendant in the suit. Ditto, the N45 million quarterly allowances now paid to senators, which they want increased to N90 million. And, the N350 million constituency allowance for the Speaker, and N400 million constituency allowance for the Senate president.

The association therefore requested for an order restraining the Finance Minister and Accountant-General of the Federation from paying, releasing or making available to the legislators and the National Assembly, any salaries, allowances or any other payment by whatever name called, in excess of the amount determined by the RMAFC.

This step of the senior lawyers and the NBA is in good faith. They have taken a step that should, hopefully, resolve an issue, that has become a headache to many Nigerians, but which nobody has taken a serious step to address.

The complaints and grumblings over the matter of the legislators' super pay have achieved nothing, so far. Not even the widespread castigation of the leadership of the National Assembly over the matter has touched the legislators. All complaints on the matter have been rolling off the legislators, just as water rolls off the back of a duck, without sinking in.

Instead of considering the views of the people, including that of former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, the lawmakers preferred to maintain a studied silence. They leveled their own charge of corruption against Obasanjo, for bribing them with N50 million each, to back his third term agenda plan. They have given no direct response to the allegations against them.

Now that the NBA has taken the bull by the horns by taking the matter to court, it is important for all Nigerians to support their bid.

The association should not only be given moral support, other groups, including the media and civil society groups, must take up the challenge and design a strategy to make government stop the jumbo pay.

A media summit to tackle this menace of our time is necessary. The civil society coalition must also design a strategy. It is necessary to put the legislators at the Federal level on the spot, to stop them from the pillaging of the country, because this is exactly what they are doing.

All well meaning Nigerians should be involved in the campaign, which is at the root of the desperation for public office today.

Because of the unchallenged extra-legal pillaging of the national treasury by politicians, political office in the country has become a do or die affair.

The byword is no longer service, but access to loot the treasury. The situation has become so bad that a man who declared his interest in a political office in the Southern part of the country, recently, was killed the very night he revealed his aspiration.

This desperation to win, and to hold on to public office, by all means, is a result of the high stakes, and mind-boggling pay of politicians, especially those in the National Assembly.

It is important to tackle this trend. Already, an aspiring senator in next year's election, has vowed to address the issue of jumbo pay for legislators. The matter has obviously become so bad that it is now a campaign issue, even for aspirants to the National Assembly. It is a problem that should be viewed seriously by all Nigerians, to reduce the unnecessarily high cost of governance.

However, aspirants to the office of president have so far not said anything on the issue, possibly out of self-interest and self-preservation instincts. President Goodluck Jonathan, who should provide leadership, is comfortably sitting on the fence and looking the other way. This attitude will not get Nigeria anywhere.

Already in England, a poll carried out last week to garner suggestions on how to reduce the cost of governance in that country threw up two recommendations that are relevant to Nigeria.

Firstly, some of the respondents called for an end to the monarchy. This is not likely to happen, but it is instructive that the people who so much love their monarchy are even thinking of jettisoning it, possibly because of the huge financial cost of maintaining the royal family, and the wide disparity between the royals and the ordinary members of society.

The second recommendation is similar to what has been commonly suggested in Nigeria: making lawmaking a part-time job, with much lower pay.

But, in the latest poll in England, the respondents recommended that legislators only sit about four times a month, which they believe to be sufficient for the work they do.

The lesson from this is that current thinking suggests that legislative work can actually be done, part-time, and should therefore not attract the type of jumbo pay that Nigerian lawmakers have assigned to themselves.

NBA has shown leadership in the matter of the lawmakers' jumbo pay. All right thinking Nigerians should be part of the campaign to stop the practice, so that more funds can be freed for development projects.

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President Goodluck Jonathan is Nigerians' popular demand in 2011 general elections. His scorecard, so far, in 100 days of office is recommendable for main elections in 2011 polls. We need continuity to make progress. The issue of zoning formula should be put aside for now, so we can move to the next level. We hear of good governance in other parts of the world, but now, Jonathan us giving us dividends of democracy in fullness.

Gordon Chika Nnorom.