Since the issue of legislative allowance came to limelight, many have compared it with the recent bizarre happenings in America. For commentators without the requisite critical bent, it will be inconsequential to link what is happening in Nigeria’s hallowed chambers to the shooting of some innocent worshippers in a church in South Carolina in the United States of America.
But, the public resentment of the planned payment of what many has described as insensitive pay package to legislators in the largest black democracy, indeed, calls for comparison. Even if for no other reason, it is critical because the resentment refocuses attention on a key area through which disaffection could be engineered against the government. And any person remotely familiar with governance will understand that disaffection is one of the easiest means through which a government could be brought to its knees.
Before the trial of the 21-year-old South Carolina shooter, the Police had labelled the tragedy hate crime. What that suggests is that the shooting is a throw-back to the era of slavery and black persecution, especially in the southern parts of America. It also translates to the fact that old habits die hard- that is, if they really do. In like manner, it appears to be difficult for Nigeria’s legislators to accept the transmission of society from the era of primitive prejudice to enlightened or civilised racial integration. This is because the country’s legislators, even in this touted era of change, are finding it hard to accept change.
Their traditional tendency to blackmail the rest of society with indecent demands comes fraught with the danger of engineering disaffection for the government. It looks like an old habit that is proving quite challenging to handle. According to the former governor of old Kaduna State, Alhaji Balarabe Musa, members of the National Assembly, who have earmarked over N9 billion for their pay, are speeding down a well-beaten path. “It was public disaffection with similarly obscene allowances for legislators, among other factors, that facilitated the collapse of the Second Republic under the leadership of President Shehu Shagari,” he said.
The 109 Senators and 360 Representatives are poised to receive about N9 billion as wardrobe allowances. In this arrangement, each member of the House of Representatives will receive N17.5 million, while Senators will get N21.5 million for the same purpose. The sum does not include allowances for furniture, housing and official vehicle. According to reports, each of the Senators will be paid N4, 052,800 million as housing allowance yearly. That way, the 109 member of the upper legislature will receive N433, 649,600 million as housing allowance yearly. However, the Senate President and his Deputy are said to be excluded because their accommodation is provided by the Federal Government. Similarly, each member of the House of Representatives are expected to be paid N3, 970,425 million as housing allowance. This translates to N1, 421,412,150 per annum for all the members.
Again, the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker are not included from this allowance as the Federal Government provides their accommodation like the two most senior ranking officers in the senate. Describing the figure as obscene, Musa recalled that similar provisions laid the foundation for the failure of the Second Republic. He dubbed the planned pay political corruption, which, according to him, should be checked before legislators undermine the credibility and relevance of President Buhari. The former governor said the legislators should not be allowed to get away with the planned hefty pay. He recalled how Shagari was helpless then; hence he could not stop the National Assembly from fixing the high remuneration even when the economy was poor. Musa urged Buhari to resist what he described as high-level stealing and criminality, which could have adverse effect on the stability of the nation. Incidentally, the elder statesman is not alone in his resentment. Like Musa, the factional president of the Nigerian Labour Congress (NLC), Comrade Ayuba Wabba, believes that the allowances are not healthy.
He is of the opinion that such do not reflect the harsh economic reality in the country, especially now that workers in many states are being owed salaries for months. “We are definitely going to protest it. Many Nigerians cannot get three square meals a day. So, we won’t allow it to be implemented,” Wabba promised, adding, “we should be reasonable in our actions. The decision of the law makers in this regard is not patriotic and we will surely protest it. We are happy that the President has promised to reduce wastages in the economy by slashing the pay of political office holders and trimming down their numbers.
Why should legislators not follow in his good steps?” he asked. Also, a ranking royalty in Lagos State, High Chief Muritala Elegushi, believes the said allowances cannot be true. “If it is, then it’s quite unfortunate. In a country where some states are owing civil servants months of salaries, our National Assembly are being paid billions as wardrobe allowance? This is nothing but sheer greed and President Buhari must not allow this or else, the whole essence of change will be defeated,” he noted. Chief Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), was also no-less scathing in his criticism.
According to him, “I’ve said it before that I don’t see any change, at all from this government. I don’t see any change because things are even getting worse. The light situation is worse, Boko Haram is becoming more daring, corruption is getting to an unprecedented level and here we are talking about jumbo pay; just for wardrobe. Nigeria is actually under a siege, which is Armageddon.” If the situation reminds Ozekhome of Armageddon in the making, Professor Itse Sagay, SAN, is wont to describe the development as suggestive of a farce, featuring over-pampered children bristling in anticipation of prized toys for a festive season.
“That sounds like a fantasy. Can it possibly be true? Are we in fairyland? Even the richest country of millionaires cannot do that. Are you suggesting that the National Assembly members were naked before they were elected? Were they not wearing clothes and if they were wearing clothes, why do they need this wardrobe allowance? Are they actors and actresses who require costumes?”
Re-affirming his disgust, Sagay said: “The whole idea is mad. That’s all I can say. It’s absolutely mad. That amount is brazen robbery and anybody taking it should be shamed in the public square. If Buhari allows that to happen then, for me, the whole idea of change is defeated.”
However, there are those who tend to disagree with this position. For instance, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Falae, sees nothing wrong with the allowance of the National Assembly.
He said: “As far as I am concerned, there is nothing jumbo about the money being budgeted for the National Assembly. That is what it has come to. If you told me that their salaries were increased from what it was in the past, then we can begin to talk about it and raise eyebrows but that has not happened. What people should appreciate is the enormity of work being done by these people and the places these monies are channeled to. “That the states are owing salaries has nothing to do with the allowances the National Assembly members are being paid,” Falae emphasised.
The controversy surrounding the allowances of legislators has, invariably, justified the report by The Economist of London. The magazine had revealed before the present brouhaha that federal legislators in Nigeria, with a basic salary of $189,500 per annum (N30.6m), were the highest paid law-makers in the world. Quoting from the International Monetary Fund and independentlygenerated data, the study compared the lawmakers’ basic salary to a ratio of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per person across countries of the world. According to the report, the basic salary (which excludes allowances) of a Nigerian lawmaker, is 116 times the country’s GDP per person of $1,600.
The $189,500 earned annually by each Nigerian legislator, IMF said, is estimated to be 52 per cent higher than what Kenya legislators, who are the second highest paid lawmakers, earned. An associate professor of Economics at the Ekiti State University, Dr Abel Awe, described the jumbo remuneration as indicative of the huge disconnect between the poor and the rich as well as between the ruler and the ruled.
He said it was regrettable that the country was running the costliest democracy in the world. In concrete terms, this translates to resentment, which invariably breeds disaffection that conscious political leaders should dread for the bad news that is.
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