As the Nigerian masses are continuously hobbled by economic headwinds, the scale of which they have not experienced before, members of the National Assembly appear only concerned about how to live comfortably in Abuja, in what ought to be a season of belt-tightening. They have approved for themselves a staggering N110 billion for this purpose, from the N819.5 billion Supplementary Appropriation they recently considered, out of which N500 billion has been earmarked for the so-called palliatives for the generality of needy Nigerian.
The President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio, in carefully chosen words said N70 billion will be used “to replace some of the things that are not there” in the Assembly. While the remaining N40 billion will be for the procurement of Sports Utility Vehicles (SUVs) for the lawmakers and bullet proof cars for the principal officers of both chambers. Besides, the House of Representatives has called for an increase in the salaries and allowances of its members, even as the Federal Government is yet to approve a living minimum wage for workers, beyond rhetoric.
It, therefore, runs against the grain of morality or public service for national legislators to make such a huge fiscal accretion to themselves at the expense of Nigerians who are groaning under an economic yoke. As things stand, this cohort of legislators has given itself away as greedy and irresponsive. This is provocative and insensitive, to say the least.
Senator Adams Oshiomhole, a former governor of Edo State, inadvertently hinted at what the N70 billion will be used for, when he revealed in a television programme that members of the erstwhile Ninth assembly vandalised office equipment across the legislative chambers, which compelled him and others to improvise in the interim. Television sets, printers, computers, rugs, chairs, were carted away. Oshiomhole, a first-time senator, said “I had to use my money and someone also decided to deliver to me a printer; give me a laptop to use in my office. I had to buy the carpet and pay the cost of fixing it…” The lawmaker is not given to facetious remarks. He said it as he saw it.
For his brutal frankness, he received a parliamentary reprimand via a motion during a plenary, for which he apologised just to calm frayed nerves. But the horse had already bolted from its stable. The crux of the matter is a broken national system in which properties in the offices of lawmakers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria disappeared at the end of their tenures and nobody is being held to account for such. This is shameful!
In presiding over the session during which the vexatious N110 billion was approved for himself and his colleagues in the two chambers, Akpabio could as well have explained to the public the meaning of patriotism, loyalty and devotion to the country that he rhapsodised about in his inaugural address. Decidedly, he has started on a wrong note. And it will take some extraordinary measure for him and his colleagues to convince Nigerians that they are truly representatives of the people.
New policies of the two-month old Bola Tinubu administration, headlined by petrol subsidy removal and merger of the foreign exchange rates in the official and parallel markets, have aggravated hardship in the land, devalued the naira, and accelerated the annual inflation rate to 22.79%, considered as the highest since 2005. Transport fares have increased stratospherically. As a result, most commuters in the cities trek and feel exhausted to their marrows. Food inflation was 24.82% in May, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. There is outrage in public universities with the raft of fees introduced, which is as high as N256,000 for a final year medical student.
A hostile socio-economic climate of this proportion requires a sober reflection from these lawmakers and a legislative response to mitigate it, rather than unabashed self-seeking, in terms of obscene quests for luxuries and a demand for an indecent hike in emoluments. This type of attitude underpins the popular clamour for the business of federal legislation to be made a part-time pre-occupation. In this case, only sitting allowances will need to be paid. The shocking revelation by ex-lawmaker Shehu Sani in 2018, that a senator’s monthly office running cost was N13.5 million and that of a Representative, a little less, for legislative duties perfunctorily carried out, still rankles Nigerians.
This is a parliament that The Economist once described its lawmakers as the most paid in the world, when the highly-respected UK newspaper reviewed the remunerations of lawmakers across 29 countries. It put a Nigerian lawmaker’s obnoxious earning at $189,500 per annum, as against $105,400 for his counterpart in the UK. It did not matter then to the institution and the lawmakers that it was an embarrassment, given that Nigeria’s economy was not reckoned with globally, and it is still not so, for it to then have to deal with such obscenity. If the lawmakers can gauge the public mood properly, the best they should do is to cut the salaries and allowances of members as part of their own sacrifices, against the backdrop of belt-tightening that the masses are currently subjected to. Flowing from this, the predilection for public office holders to make themselves fat cats at public expense, as the federal lawmakers’ actions evince, should be resisted.
Avarice and insensitivity have no place in public service. The legislators should not be oblivious of this imperative. In other jurisdictions, this is the norm. Therefore, we urge National Assembly members to borrow a leaf from the book of their counterparts elsewhere. For instance, a few months ago, a video that went viral showed a Gambian female legislator, Touma Njie, deprecating, in the strongest of terms, a budgetary proposal to increase the salaries of lawmakers in 2023.
“I gave myself for service. I did not give myself for poor people to feed me and my family. When I saw this, I felt embarrassed…It is embarrassing for me to go back to my poor constituency and tell them that the meagre resources of this country – I’m paid that much at your expense,” she exclaimed. When a similar idea was muted in the UK in 2013 for implementation in 2015, the Chairman of Labour Party, Keith Vaz, warned: “The last thing the MPs should be talking about is their own pay rise.” This is the right way to go in Nigeria now.
With the lawmakers angling for more cash in their pockets while Nigerians suffer, it seems reasonable to deduce that they were the mastermind of the recent Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission’s (RMFAC) 114% pay rise proposal for public office holders, which sparked a pushback from the Presidency. The down-trodden in the society, 133 million of whom are multi-dimensional poor, according to NBS data, deserve serious attention and not the comical “let the poor breath” motion passed by the Senate last Thursday.
About 30% of the lawmakers seeking more cash from the treasury were part of the Ninth Assembly that shared N40 billion as severance perks in June. About 14 of the senators are ex-governors, who also collect humongous pensions; own mansions built for them in their home states and Abuja; ride SUVs and have house helps all at the expense of their states. The Senate President leads the pack. Yet, states are wallowing in unpaid pensions and gratuities, even salaries, of workers, while 96% of national revenue is used to service debts standing at over N82 trillion.
That the economy is haemorrhaging must sink into the ears of these lawmakers and they should play a crucial role to rescue it from the cliff. Consequently, the Speaker of the House, Yusuf Abbas, should void his increment of House Committees from the 110 of the Ninth assembly to a present 134. They serve no purposes beyond being areas of influence and enrichment for a coterie of lawmakers who helped to elect him as Speaker. Invariably, this will increase the operational costs of running the committees, as evident in the buses usually procured for each, for the so-called oversight duties, and cars each member still collects to boot.
Nigerians have had enough of these shenanigans by their parliamentarians. If the oversight activities of these assemblies were executed the way they should have been in the past, the national treasury would not have been taken as spoils of war, the way it is in the country. There is a $62 billion Supreme Court judgement debt of Joint Venture profits yet uncollected since 2017. The lawmakers closed their eyes to the punitive measures that should have been taken against the criminal-minded state officials that are refusing to act in the national interest. Further to this is the $17 billion worth of crude oil revenue theft, with paper trails at home and abroad and already verified, that the Muhammadu Buhari regime vowed to collect, which strangely it did not. The official silence on these debts is curious.
The Nigerian Extractive Transparency Initiative (NIETI) says the country lost $46.16 billion to oil theft between 2009 and 2020 and the current House has identified $9 billion unremitted fines against oil companies for gas flaring. Yet, Senate and House Committees on Petroleum, Gas, the NNPC and Finance have existed since 1999. PREMIUM TIMES dares to say that these leakages and gaping holes in the system persist because of the transactional oversight of the federal legislature. By acting as a leech to the treasury, amid an economy in a seeming state of emergency, the Tenth National Assembly deserves all the flaks it is getting and closer scrutiny.
Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie – +2348098788999