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Editorial: Still on National Assembly’s jumbo pay debate

THE statements credited to some key National Assembly leaders as reactions to the public rage against the national lawmakers’ outrageous pay clearly demonstrate that the venal parliament is not in a hurry to make a realistic adjustment to its obscene privileges. Despite an unprecedented wave of criticism, the National Assembly members are yet to unveil plans for an extensive downward review of their scandalously high wage bill. Rather, the NASS leadership have been mounting a spirited effort to implicate other arms of government and, particularly, vilify the Central Bank Governor, Lamido Sanusi, whose disclosure that the upkeep of the National Assembly gulped 25 per cent of the Federal Government overhead in 2010 helped to thrust the issue of legislators’ jumbo pay in public domain afresh.


 


After a desperate but failed bid by the angry lawmakers to brow Sanusi into recanting his claim, the Senate President, Senator David Mark, last week accused the CBN of accounting for 50 per cent of the Federal Government’s overhead, while his House of Representatives counterpart, Dimeji Bankole, insisted that the executive arm of government and the CBN were actually running up far more bills than the NASS. Speaking in Benin, while on a condolence visit to the bereaved Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole, Mark reportedly claimed that the CBN had an overhead of N300 billion or 50 per cent of the Federal Government’s overhead.Also speaking at a public lecture at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Bankole reaffirmed the claim that the CBN budget of N300 billion translated to 50 per cent of government overhead. “So, if we take 25 per cent, he (Sanusi) takes 50 per cent. It is there on record. What the governors take is higher,” he was quoted as saying. On his part, Senator Jubril Aminu, claimed that the allegation was deliberate and was sponsored to smear the image of the legislators. Without stating how much he earns, Aminu said the allegation of bogus pay was false. “Where do we have this kind of money? Do we print money? Is the treasury in the National Assembly?”, he asked.

But, dwelling on the percentage of overhead that each arm of the government spends, as the lawmakers have chosen to do, is a distraction; N136 billion for just 469 people is not justifiable. Instead of this desperate bid to tar everyone with the same brush, the lawmakers should accept that they have let Nigerians down, particularly in the way and manner they have appropriated wages for themselves far beyond what has been prescribed by the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission, the agency statutorily responsible for fixing public office holders’ salaries.

Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN) put the salaries and allowances of the legislators at between N240 million (about $1.7 million) and N250 per annum. According to Sagay, the Senate President pockets over N88 million (about $586,667) a month, which outstrips the $400,000 that President Barack Obama of the United States earns per annum. This is not only preposterous, it is difficult to justify in an economy that is still struggling to meet workers’ demand for a minimum wage of N18, 000 per month. How can the legislators explain their outrageous pay in a country where poverty level is over 60 per cent and infant and maternal mortality is one of the highest in the world? It is a classical case of “parliament let loose.”

Compared to the pay of their counterparts in other climes, the Nigerian lawmaker is the highest paid in the whole world. In India, which has one of the fastest growing economies globally and is usually referred to as the largest democracy in the world, a lawmaker takes home about $23,000 per annum. It is estimated that an Indian lawmaker would work for about 50 years to be able to earn the annual remuneration of his Nigerian counterpart. A Nigerian senator also earns more than his United States and British counterparts who are on salaries of $174,000 and $104,000 respectively. In fact, British parliamentarians earned a salary increase of 2.33 per cent (about £1,500) last year and it was reportedly “based on those of public sector employees, ranging from judges to senior military officers to teachers.”

It is a betrayal of trust that the lawmakers who have failed to make laws that could bring positive change to the society, are busy taking care of themselves by legitimising the looting of the nation’s treasury in the name of remuneration. Over 300 bills are pending at the National Assembly, some for critical areas of the economy. Nigerians should therefore insist on the refund of the excess of the outrageous allowances that the lawmakers have appropriated for themselves outside of what the RMAFC approved.

Attempts by the legislators to accuse other agencies in the looting are also a failure on their part, as the legislative functions of the lawmakers include checking other arms of government through the exercise of their oversight functions. Things have deteriorated to this level because Nigerians have not shown adequate interest in activities of those who are supposed to be representing them. It is therefore time for Nigerians of all walks of life, labour groups, civil society groups and students, to rise and insist on equitable distribution of resources for the development of infrastructure and improvement in the quality of life of Nigerians. Above all, Nigerians must also take advantage of the coming 2011 elections to flush out the self-serving lawmakers at all levels and replace them with those who are true representatives of the people.

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Posted by on Dec 25 2010. Filed under Legislature. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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