CULLED FROM THE NATION NEWSPAPER’S EDITORIAL
Report that the Federal Government would spend N8.35bn on the accommodation, housing and vehicle allowances of members of the in-coming eighth session of the National Assembly simply confirms the widely-held notion that our brand of democracy is indeed a money guzzler. The fact that this excludes the amount that would be spent on the Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives (who already enjoy lavishly furnished apartments and ride in some of the exotic cars money can buy); as well as the political aides to the lawmakers, makes it much more so. What the political aides get depends on the recommendations of the National Assembly Commission and it would be worked out as soon as they are named by the legislators.
A breakdown of the N8.35bn shows that each senator is entitled to N4,052,800m for accommodation, representing 200 per cent of annual basic salary of N2,026,400.00; N6,079,200, representing 300 per cent of his annual basic salary for furniture and N8,105,600, representing 400 per cent of his annual basic salary as car loan. In all, the 107 senators would get N433,649,600 for accommodation, N650,474,400 for furniture allowance and N867,299,200 as vehicle loans. The eighth session of the National Assembly (NASS) resumes in June.
And to think that these are only some of the allowances the law makers are entitled to, aside their monthly salaries that pale into insignificance considering the other mouth-watering allowances that they smile to the bank with regularly. For instance, the lawmakers are also entitled to duty tour allowances and estacode allowances for their local and international travels. This excludes the quarterly allocation which runs into hundreds of millions!
The absurdity of the emoluments is further exemplified by the wide gap between capital expenditure and recurrent. Between 1999 when the present democratic dispensation took off and 2010, a total of N712.8 billion went to the National Assembly for recurrent and capital expenditure from the annual budgets, excluding supplementary allocations within the period. In 2007, N48.76 billion was allocated to the assembly from a total federal budget of N2.39 trillion. It rose unreasonably to N106.6 billion, made up of N5.25 billion capital expenditure and N101 billion recurrent expenditure in the N3.1018 trillion 2009 package. In 2010, N154.205 billion out of N4.6 trillion 2010 federal budget was provided for the NASS, made up of N138.015 billion recurrent and N16.9 billion capital expenditure.
With this ballooning cost of governance we can rightly question the rigour that went into the formulation of the monetisation policy by the Obasanjo administration, especially considering that much of the NASS budget goes to recurrent expenditure. The monetisation policy was one of the measures taken to reduce the cost of governance, facilitate budgeting and budgetary control; minimise waste and abuse of public facilities, obtain savings for capital projects, promote a culture of discipline and maintenance, among others. The fear in some quarters that the objectives of the policy might be good but its implementation was likely to run into stormy waters has now been confirmed. Otherwise, we would not be spending so much on overheads in the NASS.
Beyond all of these, however, is something we have been running away from; and that is whether we need full-time law makers and if we do, must they be maintained by digging holes in the taxpayers pocket? In the First Republic, we had part time lawmakers and we still enjoyed quality debates and lawmaking. In many parts of the world, there is nothing extraordinary in being a law maker. Many lawmakers in Britain live in modest apartments and travel by some of the common means of transportation. There are no airs surrounding the position. We wonder why the reverse is the case in Nigeria.
It is annoying that the lawmakers’ proclivity for extravagance has continued unabated since the beginning of this dispensation. We recollect that the matter reared its ugly head in the early days of the dispensation when the NASS members awarded themselves outrageous furniture allowances which Nigerians protested against. With such insensitive allowances that are out of tune with the country’s economic reality it is not difficult to see why there are cut-throat battles for seats in the National Assembly as with other political offices in the land.
On Thursday, the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, said the National Assembly had reduced its overhead in the 2015 budget by 25 percent in response to the economic realities in the country. Much as this is commendable, we are yet to know what impact this would have on the overall budget proposal, especially with regard to provision of infrastructure. What is required is not an arbitrary cut in budget but a holistic approach to see which of the loads the taxpayers are now carrying that should be shelved, not just by the NASS members but the entire government machine