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LAWMAKERS, FEEDING FAT AT THE EXPENSE OF HUNGRY NIGERIANS

The Senate chambers, with empty seats, a sure indicator for part-time legislature
The Senate chambers, with empty seats, a sure indicator for part-time legislature
It was the legal luminary, Professor Itse Sagay who first broke the news that Nigerian lawmakers are the highest paid in the world. The lawyer made the assertion in his lecture on the subject, “Legislating for common good: contemporary issues & perspective” as part of activities to mark the 47 birthday anniversary of Hon. Opeyemi Bamidele, who was then Commissioner for Information and Strategy in Lagos. Sagay argued that President Barack Obama, reputed as President of the most powerful and richest country in the world earns $400,000 per annum.

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“The British Prime Minister earns 190,000 Pounds”, he said, whereas the Senate President, earns N250 million quarterly or N83 million per month whilst his deputy earns N50 million per month. The Senate President, he assumed has allocated N1.024, 000,000 as quarterly allowance to its 10 principal officers known collectively as Senate Leadership. Each of the other principal officers earn N78 million every three months or N26 million per month”, Sagay alleged.

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Nigerian Legislators, he argued have awarded themselves the highest salaries and allowances in the world. “In other words, Nigerian law makers in Abuja are the highest paid in the world. In 2009, a senator earned N240, 000,000.00 in salaries and allowances, whilst his House of Representative counterpart earned N203, 760,000.00. In other words, a senator earned about $1.7 million and a member of the House of Representative earned $1.45 million per annum”, the lawyer supposed.

By contrast, the lawyer averred that an American Senator earned $174,000.00 while his counterpart in Britain earns $64,000 per annum in the same period.
“This tragic state of affairs is clearly unsustainable. Those engaged in this feeding frenzy are endangering our democracy”, he said. In 2009, Sagay added, federal legislators received a total of N102.8 billion comprising N11.8 billion as salaries and N90.96 billion (non-taxable) as allowances. The lawyer argued that by the current computation, the 109 senators and the 360 members of the House of Representatives gulp five percent of the total annual budget while less than 150 million Nigerians receive about N1000 each. It was expose that shocked many Nigerians.

For Sagay, instead of serving the people of this country, “the lawmakers are engaged in the pursuit of self interest, to a degree that can only be regarded as shocking”, the well respected lawyer had warned. What followed was public outcry, forcing members of the legislators to embark on what many have described as feigned reduction in emoluments. Ironically, about two years after the alleged reduction The Economist of London has again rated the same lawmakers as the highest paid in the world.

The magazine, which quoted from a survey put together by International Monetary Fund (IMF), noted that a federal lawmaker now earns a basic pay of $189,500 per annum besides all other allowance. According to the magazine, that amount is 52 percent higher than what a legislator in Kenya, reputed as the second highest paid lawmaker in the world earns. That sum, The Economist argued, is 166 times Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person of $1, 600.

Speaking on the development, an Associate Professor at Ekiti State University, Dr. Abel Awe described this cheer waste of public fund in a country where many are hungry as indicative of the huge gap between the poor and the rich as well as between the ruler and the ruled.

“This is part of the reason why 70 percent of the nation’s budget is allocated to re-current expenditure. We are using a huge chunk of the nation’s resources to service just less than 1,000 people in a country of over 160 million people.
“We are running the costliest democracy in the world. We can’t develop this way when we spend huge money to service a few people. How will you get money for productive activities to expand the economy? An average Nigerian cannot access good medical care, good roads and other basic things of life when the legislators are smiling to the bank”, he said. Also speaking on thesame issue, an economist of repute, Mr. Henry Boyo, said the study has shown the cost of governance in Nigeria be extremely high.

His views also tally with the remarks of former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, who once wrote an article, he titled, ‘the salary time bomb’, decades ago, wherein he warned that the current structure is unsustainable.And it appears, that has been the language coming from prominent Nigerians since this crazy salary structure was unveiled. But it seems that all the political parties, including the Peoples Democratic Party, (PDP), All Progressive Congress (APC) and All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), which are represented in both houses, have been very united in milking Nigerians, even without members of the so-called opposition, standing out in the interest of Nigerians.

Rather than address issues raised in the report, Chairman House Committee on Electoral Matters, Hon. Jerry Manwe described the survey as incomplete, adding that it did not present all the facts.

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“They have compared the salaries of legislators in Nigeria with those of our counterparts in Europe and America but they should also go further to ask how many of the legislators from Europe and America have their supporters queuing in front of their houses every morning asking for one favour or the other. How much do they spend for them to become parliamentarians? Don’t forget that we have different cultures. If you are comparing us with legislators in Europe and America you are not been fair to us. The United State is well over 200 years as a democracy and we are barely 13 years. So may be with time, we might get to a situation where nobody may even want to come to the parliament”, he said, stressing that the Nigerian parliamentarian is the most exposed person to the electorates.

“He is the one that the electorates see and he is the one that they go to when they have problems. How many people go to any minister or director in the ministries? Yet these ministers and directors also receive huge salaries and allowances”, he said, adding that an average lawmaker spends nothing less than N100 million to win election.
Ironically, analysts are of the view that Manwe seems to have forgotten that spending in an election or engaging in philanthropy is a matter of choice which ought not to be a justification for pillaging Nigeria’s commonwealth, more especially at a time that the facts stand out that Nigeria’s earnings are dwindling. It is therefore in order that prominent Nigerians are canvassing for part time legislature as part of efforts to get out of the woods.

The Nobel Laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka, an avid believer in part time legislature however noted that the legislators are not alone in this orgy to milk Nigeria dry, leaving the carcass for the masses to feast on.

“Do we know what the ministers earn besides the salary figures that are published? The effrontery by legislators to appropriate such ridiculous sums to themselves is because they see what is going on at the executive arm. Do we know how much ministers build into inflated contracts? What about the governors? You dare not question their security votes and their deals on various fronts”, he said.

Notwithstanding his arguments, it appears that the time has come for the lawmakers to listen to common sense as Nigerians from all walks of life storm Abuja on Thursday as part of efforts to celebrate International Right to Know Day, with a litany of demands for Nigerian lawmakers.

They will be invading the National Assembly under the auspices of the United Action for Democracy (UAD). A statement signed by Mr. Yemi Adamolokun for ‘Enough is Enough’ organisers said that the demands includes immediate comprehensive breakdown of the National Assembly budgetary allocation of N150 billion for the year 2013 since the lawmakers have been very vocal that the money is not only for total emoluments but for the entire structure of the assembly.

The group will also use the occasion to demand how the N1 trillion it has received since the year 2005 was spent and whether Nigerians have received value for the money disbursed to the assembly. The cluster will also exact functional emails and addresses of constituency offices of members and names of at least two contact persons attached to the list in addition to voting records on all constitutional amendments till date.
Besides the civil societies will also be asking that the assembly furnish it with register of attendance of plenary sessions with photographs since the sessions are usually empty whereas members are opposed to call for part-time legislature.

“How many people actually attend plenary and contribute to discussions”, the group said. This mission by the group will perhaps be the boldest initiative ever to get the lawmakers to tell Nigerians how they have spent the trillions they have appropriated to themselves under the democratic dispensation and what they intend to do about their jumbo pay now that Nigeria appears to be broke.

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